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Life Story / Obituary
With a life that spanned nearly a century, Willard “Bill” Veenstra touched the hearts and lives of others in a special way. He was a self-described loner, yet he also enjoyed being around people. Bill spent a lifetime with faith as a cornerstone, and he was so proud to pass his Christian faith on to the generations who followed in his footsteps. He was deeply devoted to his wife and children, and later in life he was so proud to welcome grandchildren and great-grandchildren into the family. Bill will be deeply missed, but he leaves behind a priceless collection of memories that his loved ones will forever cherish.
During the exciting decade of the Roaring Twenties, there was much to celebrate. Radios and refrigerators made their way into our homes while cars that were mass produced on assembly lines became more affordable for the average American. Amidst this exciting time was a time of great joy in the lives of Gerritt and Lena (Ruster) Veenstra as they were blessed with the birth of the baby boy they named Willard Edwin on December 16, 1925, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was the youngest of his ten siblings, Ray, Louis, Ruth, Arthur, Leslie, Robert, Marion, Charlotte, and Ernest. Bill’s father worked as a house painter and his mother was homemaker. Sadly, his mother died in July of 1940.
Raised in the family home at 1345 Covell Road NW, Bill experienced a typical family childhood. He and his siblings were close, and with such a large family, holidays were often spent celebrating in the basement of the family church, Richmond Reformed Church. As the hard days of the Great Depression set in, The Veenstra family often went to the beach at nearby Lake Michigan which remained one of Bill’s favorite places to be for the rest of his life. Bill loved riding bikes during the summer months and sledding down Leonard Street Hill as well as ice skating during the winter.
He attended local schools including Oakleigh School from kindergarten through the 10th grade. Bill always joked that he was in kindergarten twice since his birthday was so late in the year. His junior and senior years found him at Union High School. Bill was a team manager for many of the sports teams, and in addition to holding down his studies he worked as a bicycle newspaper delivery boy with his dog. Bill was a milkman and bottle washer at Ruster Dairy and also worked at a toy factory in downtown Grand Rapids. As a teen Bill enjoyed going to the Midget Auto Races on South Division and “cruising” in his 1939 Hudson. He also went to Grand Rapids Junior College and Michigan Veterans Vocational School at Pine Lake.
After graduating from high school in 1944, Bill served in the U.S. Army during WWII. While fighting in Germany, he was shot by a sniper in 1945. After undergoing many surgeries in both Germany and in the United States, he was discharged with a Purple Heart medal. Bill was also awarded with some additional medals including the Bronze Star, Good Conduct, WWII Victory, European/African/Middle Eastern Campaign with one Bronze Service Star, American Campaign, Combat Infantry Badge, Honorable Service and Marksman Badge.
New and exciting changes were in store for Bill when he met the young woman of his dreams. Her name was Donna Lou Mackey, and they met at “Odie’s” Drug Store where she worked. After he spotted her the first time, Bill just couldn't get her out of his mind so he kept going back to see her until she finally agreed to go on a date. They fell in love and were married in 1950 at Richmond Reformed Church where Bill would become a lifelong member. The newlyweds then settled in an apartment on Myrtle Street in Grand Rapids. Together they welcomed five children including Shari, Scott, Janis, Brent, and Julie into their hearts and home. To support his family, Bill worked as an estimator in the construction industry for Houseman Steel, Carlson Construction, Marquette Fabricators, and Dorr Construction. After the building industry in West Michigan experienced a recession, Bill started selling tools for Cornwell Tool Truck Route until retiring in 1990. As a family, Bill and Donna camped all over the country with their children. And they enjoyed camping well into their retirement years. The two of them had visited all 50 states at least once. Later on, Bill and Donna were thrilled to become grandparents and great-grandparents. As a parent he always loved and supported his children in everything they did, and although he could be strict, he was always fair.
Throughout his life Bill was a man of many gifts, talents, and interests. He had a way with people and could get along with anyone, which is why he often served in a variety of roles. Bill was elected to run the 4-H program and was both a deacon and an elder at his church. He also enjoyed singing in the church choir. As someone who was also very good with numbers and finances, Bill was often asked to be treasurer for various organizations. Also within his community he was president of the Walker Go Getters 4 H Club, a youth group leader at his church, and he also volunteered chauffeuring cancer patients and distributing Words of Hope Devotionals to area restaurants and retailers. Bill enjoyed music from Bennie Goodman, Frank Sinatra, The Gaithers and the Boston Pops, and he was a prolific reader who liked reading Tom Clancy novels and murder mysteries. He loved the Detroit Tigers and Lions and the Michigan State and the University of Michigan football teams. For years Bill loved to watch his own children and grandchildren at their sporting events, especially his son play professional golf. Although he was a picky eater, Bill did love Donna’s Dutch pea soup and anything chocolate. He enjoyed Pop’s Family Restaurant and hot fudge brownie sundaes and Hershey bars. He was a great griller and was the best at making popcorn and scrambled eggs. Bill loved his “cool” tennis shoes and his enormous collection of picture slides of his children, grandchildren, events, vacations, and other important happenings. Bill was a very good photographer and liked watching the slides with family and telling the stories that went along with the memories.
Very late in his life, Bill was very proud to be invited by the Talons Out Honor Flight of West Michigan to visit the WWII War Memorial in Washington D.C. with fellow veterans of WWII and the Vietnam War.
All who knew Willard “Bill” Veenstra would agree that there was no one quite like him. He was more quiet and reserved by nature, and at times he just enjoyed sitting and listening. While at other times he could be quite a jokester with a great sense of humor. Bill treasured time spent with loved ones and generously gave of his time whenever he could. A dear man to many, he will be forever missed.
Veenstra, "Bill" Willard passed away peacefully on Monday October 29, 2018. He was born in Grand Rapids, MI in 1925, the son of the late Gerritt and Lena Veenstra. Also preceding in death was his spouse of 66 years, Donna [Mackey] as well as his son Brent and great grandson, Deacon Mickus. Bill had 9 brothers and sisters all who have preceded him in death. He is survived by his children, Shari (Richard) Jonsson of Holland, MI, Scott Veenstra of Dollar Bay, MI, Janis Huisman of Boynton Beach, FL, and Julie (Rob) Cordes of Comstock Park, MI; grandchildren, Anna, Aaron, Sarah, Jessie, Kerry, Lindsay, Kelsey, Christopher, Charlee, Cassee, and Cristee; and 8 great grandchildren. Bill was a life time, active member of Richmond Reformed Church and had proudly served his country as a member of the U.S. Army where he was awarded a purple heart. Visitation will take place on Friday, November 2, 2018 from 5-8 PM at the Heritage Life Story Funeral Home - Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504. Funeral services, officiated by Pastor Christopher Westerbeek, will be held Saturday, November 3, 2018 at 11:00 AM at Richmond Reformed Church, 1814 Walker Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504. Bill will be laid to rest next to Donna in Rosedale Memorial Park. Memorials may be made to Christian Rest Home Association, (1000 Edison Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504) or to Talons Out Honor Flight (PO Box 280 Portage, MI 49081). Please visit Bill's personal web page to learn more about his story, leave a memory and a condolence. www.lifestorynet.com.