Roots, History, Ancestry. We all have our own. And together, one with another, they form the rich fabric of life that we often refer to as our heritage. There's a heritage in everyone's life story, and there's a heritage in the life story of our business, too.
The heritage of our business is about people, the decisions they made, and why they made them. It's a story that knits together the realities of past and future, of dreams and determination, of courage and attitude. It's a story about the beauty of the human connection and how essential we all are, one to another, from generation to generation. People like Fred Hollebeek, Joe Oele, and Lawrence Van Zee. They gave careful thought to the issues of the day, were compassionate professionals, and looked to the future. Before them it was folks like the Van't Hofs, the Van Striens, the Almans, the Alts, and the Derezinskis. Today, all of the characteristics and history associated with these names falls under the care of locally owned Heritage Funeral Service. The strong will, character and kindness of all these people are part of everyone who follows in their footsteps.
Today it's Mart and Matt Hollebeek, Ron and Lee Karelse, Paul Uzarski and the rest of their dedicated staff who listen to the families they're serving, look for new and better ways to serve them, and then make business decisions based on what they feel in their hearts. Funeral service, you see, is all about feelings; guiding people through the loss of someone they love by helping them remember treasured moments and celebrate them.
Every life has a story, just like the story of Heritage Funeral Service. In a world where the pace of life is becoming ever faster, we need things to remind us of what life is really all about. To remind us of the meaning of friendship, of the uniqueness of each individual, that each life makes a difference and deserves to be celebrated.
Scott BurdickLife Story Funeral Director
With a servant’s heart, Scott Bradley Burdick always had a desire to work in funeral service. Born on December 14, 1964 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Scott was the youngest of three children in their family home in Madison, Wisconsin where he was raised. His father was a minister while his mother was a busy minister’s wife, mother and homemaker, and also worked outside the home as a secretary and realtor. After moving to Raytown, Missouri, Scott attended Raytown South High School where he played baseball and the French horn in the school band. He graduated from Raytown South with the Class of 1983.
Having always enjoyed sports, Scott also played basketball and football, and is an avid Detroit Tiger and Kansas City Royal fan. He worked at the local gun club and participated in trap shooting, as well.
Scott furthered his education at Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing, Michigan where he earned his bachelor’s degree in religious studies. While in college he also worked as a youth minister in Niles, Michigan, and before long he also met Vicki Green whom he happily married in 1986. Together they have three children, Tyler (Brenda), Carly and Emery.
From 1988 to 1996 Scott served as the senior minister at Michiana Church of Christ in Dowagiac, Michigan and volunteered as Chaplain of Cass County Hospice. He then moved his family to Kalamazoo, Michigan when he took a senior pastorate position at Comstock Church of Christ where he remained for 16 years. Scott’s strong desire and calling to be a funeral director came to fruition when he took a step of faith and began working with Langeland Family Funeral Homes in Kalamazoo. In 2013 Scott earned his degree in mortuary science, becoming a licensed funeral director.
Scott loves spending time with his family and enjoys various types of music genres. In January of 2016, Scott secured a funeral director’s position with Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes in Grand Rapids where he now lives with his wife and daughter, Emery who remains living at home.
Martin HollebeekLife Story Funeral Director
Martin is a natural at helping people celebrate the life of someone they love. This is partly the result of some valuable life lessons he learned at an early age. Growing up in his family’s funeral home on W. Leonard St., he saw first-hand how fragile life can be and then, as a young boy stricken with polio, he saw the compelling potential of human strength and determination.
Martin is a graduate of Calvin College and Wayne State University School of Mortuary Science. With the war in Vietnam going on after college, Mart enlisted in the Army Reserve. He and his long-time sweetheart, Mary Dekker, were married three days before he left for basic training. After a two-day honeymoon in Chicago, Mary dropped him off at O’Hare Airport to catch a flight to Ft. Polk, LA (an unconventional start to a marriage).
In addition to being a life story funeral director, Martin is a leader in funeral service as a business and as a profession. After his military training Mart joined his dad and Joe Oele at the Van’t Hof Chapel on W. Leonard St. Eventually they bought the Creston Funeral Home on Plainfield, NE, merged with Ron Karelse and the Van Strien-Alman Funeral Home, then bought the Alt Mortuary and merged it with the Shawmut Hills Chapel. Heritage Funeral Service believes every life is special, that every life has a story, and that every life deserves to be honored.
Mart has made a major contribution to funeral service in the State of Michigan by playing a leading role in the Michigan Funeral Directors Association including serving as association president in 2000-2001. This important work requires countless hours of meetings and consultations all devoted to improving and strengthening the commitment of funeral directors to meeting the needs of the families they serve. He followed his father’s footsteps in this endeavor as his dad, Fred Hollebeek, served in the same capacity in 1986.
Mart and Mary have three children. Matthew and his wife, Robin, live in Grand Rapids and Matthew is a licensed funeral director and Robin is a physical therapist. Dirk and his wife, Stacy, live in Holland, MI where Dirk is the Middle School Principal at Holland Christian School. Stacy is the Communications Manager for the school system. Emily and her husband, Phillip Brechting, live in Hudsonville, MI. Phil works for Herman Miller and Emily is using her doctorate in psychology to teach some classes at Hope College.
Mart has been an elder and a deacon and has served on the board of West Side Christian School and also Grand Rapids Christian High School. Mart and Mary are members of Madison Square Christian Reformed Church.
Mart enjoys spending time at Big Star Lake and loves fishing and boating. Also, he and Mary enjoy traveling, especially on his Harley motorcycle; it renews his connection with the world in general and refreshes his outlook on life. Probably his favorite activity in the winter is to spend time on woodworking projects for the family. Obviously, Mart’s eleven grandchildren continue to play a big role in his own life story as he lives the stories of tomorrow each moment of each day.
Matt HollebeekLife Story Funeral Director
Matt always thought funeral directing seemed to be the way for him to go and he liked the idea of following in father's and his grandfather's footsteps. He grew up on the West Side in a funeral service family and began working at the funeral home as a teenager. After getting his business degree at Hope College Matt went to Mid-America College of Funeral Service. While he was there he furthered his funeral service experience by working in a funeral home in Sellersburg, IN.
As a little boy Matt says he was the kid who'd make other couples say they were never having children. Matt has a twin brother, Dirk, and a sister, Emily. He had fun growing up with his twin brother; he was by nature the instigator of things and then would tease Dirk to follow-through. After graduating from Grand Rapids Christian High School Matt and Dirk went to Hope College together and lived in the same dorm. But is quick to point out, not room mates! Matt's been a swimmer since he was eight years old and also is a runner, participating in long distance races like the Old Kent River Bank Run and Triathlons.
After college Matt returned to Grand Rapids and joined the staff at Heritage Funeral Service. About the same time he met a girl from Fremont. Her name was Robin Essebaggers who was his cousin's roommate and lived near where Matt lived in Grand Rapids. You've heard the saying that opposites attract. Well, Robin is the quiet side of Matt and together they make a great couple. They are proud parents of Jack, Avery, Kacie, and Charlie. They are members of LaGrave Ave Christian Reformed Church.
In his spare time Matt likes being with his family. He also likes fishing on the big lake at Port Sheldon, bow hunting, and just spending time outside. Being with family and friends is important to Matt and so is his heritage in funeral service. He knows that all lives gain something special by combining with the meaning of other lives.
Lee KarelseLife Story Funeral Director
Lee truly enjoys people, meeting them, getting to know them and learning about their lives and families. His desire to help people, a natural inclination to interact with people and steer them through a difficult time are just the skill set that a life story funeral director needs.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, the lone boy in a family of four, Lee had a memorable childhood. Attending Creston Mayfield Christian Elementary, as a youngster his life was one of wonderful family times; summers at Sand Lake and memorable family vacations to the great landmarks of our country, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore. Summers were also spent mowing lawns at the summer resort at Sand Lake, from 4th. grade through college. Formative years of fun and learning mixed with work; the type of balance that creates a person who can lend balance to families at their time of loss. Lee went on to get his degree at Calvin College. Sometime in his sophomore year his ideas of being a doctor changed to being a funeral director. Following graduation he attended Worsham College of Mortuary Science and served his internship with Heritage.
Lots of good things happen when you attend church; for Lee one of those was meeting his wife Kelli there. He had to side step a boyfriend but easily won her heart. Kelli is the balance for Lee, her openness, and joy help temper his organized and disciplined ways. They were married October 16, 1999, Sweetest Day. The highlights of their life together are their children: Emilee born in 2001, Molly in 2003 and Nate in 2004. Lee loves his family life and off days are still filled with being on the water, skiing, fishing or playing with the kids. They live in Rockford and attend Ada Bible Church where they enjoy the way the pastor makes things relevant for people from all walks of life. No surprise there; that's exactly what Lee does as a life story funeral director. When someone dies, he helps their family create a ceremony that is relevant to the life that was lived.
Lee Karelse, a man who loves his family and feels blessed to have a profession where he can touch peoples' lives.
Rich KarelseLife Story Funeral Director
Certified Pre-Planning Consultant
Many families have become the grateful beneficiaries of Rich’s passion for helping people talk about the end of life and pre-arrange their services. He gives wise counsel and brings peace of mind to all those who seek his guidance.
Rich was born and raised on the West Side of Grand Rapids, just two miles from the Van’t Hof and the Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel. Rich has always been a resident of Grand Rapids and attended local West Side schools and graduated in 1971.
Rich’s interest in funeral service came in 1986 when Michigan law for pre-funding funerals changed and allowed payment plans through the use of limited life insurance for the payment of pre-paid services. Rich pursued the required training and licensing and has been serving families ever since. For the past 26 years, Rich has guided thousands of families through the process of funeral planning and helping them create a ceremony that focuses on the significance of the life that was lived.
Rich and his wife, Linda, have three daughters: Melanie (Travis) Buys, Bonnie (Mark) Sytsma and Valerie Karelse all living in the Grand Rapids area. They have four grandsons, Lucas and Dylan Buys and Seth and Levi Sytsma. Rich and Linda met in 1971 and married in December of 1975. Rich and Linda enjoy traveling and have done so domestically as well as in the Caribbean and throughout Mexico. Linda is a 15 year employee of the Grand Rapids Press now known as M-Live Media Group. Rich and Linda are members of Third Reformed Church.
In 1999, Rich became a Certified Pre-Planning Consultant through the National Funeral Directors Association. The recipient of this certification is required to know and understand all of the laws pertaining to pre-planning and pre-funding of funerals. This certification requires on-going training and verification of such training to retain the certification. In the past 26 years Rich has helped countless families through the process of Medicaid spend downs. To educate families and to simplify the understanding of Medicaid, Rich has written a brochure on allowable assets for those going on Medicaid and is available by contacting the chapel.
In 2011, the Michigan Funeral Directors Association offered the Certified Michigan Advanced Planning Professional Certification which Rich also holds.
Many changes have come to funeral service in the years that Rich has been serving. In June of 2008, Rich became a Certified Celebrant through the industry’s highly accredited In-Sight Institute. A celebrant is one who is specifically trained to design a service for loved ones that is completely personal, incorporating those unique stories, songs and experiences that define the life of a loved one. The many eulogies Rich has written and delivered include attendees of as many as 2000 or as few as a gathering of 8 people. Rich’s eloquent delivery and personalization make every service different and personal.
Rich also serves on the West Michigan Advisory Board for Hospice of Michigan and is a past Board Member of the Christian Rest Home Association.
Ron KarelseLife Story Funeral Director
Ron is a first generation funeral director but he has a life-long history with the business. He grew up on the West Side and funeral service became a part of his life story at the tender age of 13 when he started washing cars and mowing grass at the Van't Hof & De Meester Funeral Home on W. Leonard St.
Ron went to Grand Rapids Community College thinking he wanted to be a high school biology teacher. He continued working at the funeral home during college and with a little coaxing from folks at the funeral home decided he might as well serve his apprenticeship because he was there all the time and he might change his mind someday about being a teacher. Ron did just that. He served his apprenticeship, changed his mind about teaching and decided to pursue a career in funeral service. Ron went to Detroit, enrolled at Wayne State University and graduated with a degree in Mortuary Science.
Ron is married to the former Priscilla Graf whom he met in a history class at Grand Rapids Community College. Ron and Pris have four children who all live in the Grand Rapids area. Lisa and her husband, Joel DeVries, have three children. Lisa is a nurse at Spectrum Health and Joel is a teacher at Byron Center Christian School. Lee and his wife, Kelli, have two children. Lee is a second generation funeral director with Heritage Funeral Service. Becky and her husband, Brian Tubergen, have two children and Becky is a special education teacher with the Grand Rapids Christian Schools. Brian works with his father at Graphic Arts Service and Supply. Beth and her husband, Dan Triezenberg, have one son and Beth works as a nurse at St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Rapids. Dan is a C.P.A. with a local accounting firm.
In 1968 Ron became part owner of the Van Strien-Alman Funeral Home on Plainfield Ave. A few years later he was instrumental in the purchase of the Edison homestead on Lake Michigan Dr. which became the Shawmut Hills Funeral Home. Eventually, Ron joined forces with Hollebeek, Oele, Van Zee and together they formed Heritage Funeral Service which today includes the Van't Hof Chapel on W. Leonard St., Van Strien - Creston Chapel on Plainfield, NE, Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel on Lake Michigan Dr, Achterhoff Chapel in Muskegon, and Stephens Funeral Home in Scottville.
Ron is a member of Riverside Christian Reformed Church and the Grand Rapids North Kiwanis Club. In has spare time he enjoys the outdoors, especially boating, fishing, and watching birds. Birders, as you may know, are inspired by the enjoyment and protection of wild birds; they know the identification features of birds and also the details of their distribution. Ron keeps a life-log of his bird sightings which stretches from his cottage on Pentwater Lake all the way to Africa. In a world where the pace of life is becoming ever faster, we all need things to remind us of what life is really all about. Birding does this for Ron and says a great deal about the value he places on the awesome beauty of life and the world we live in.
Tim OeleLife Story Funeral Director
Every good organization requires a dedicated man behind the scenes. For Heritage Funeral Service this would be Tim Oele. Tim has a great deal to do with making sure everything is ready when it's time for visitations and funerals. And he's very good at it. After all, he had one of the finest teachers in the world, Joe Oele, his dad.
Tim was born and raised in Grand Rapids in a family of three girls and three boys. With six kids in the family, life was always busy at home; plus Tim played baseball and basketball in school, washed cars for his dad, and worked at the gas station across from the funeral home. The summer before college he worked at the funeral home.
Tim went to Grand Rapids Junior College and then to Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Chicago. While at mortuary college he furthered his experience by living and working in a funeral home in Skokie. Tim got used to the "big city" quickly but says a year there was long enough. He was happy to return to Grand Rapids and went right to work at Van't Hof's.
Tim met his wife, Mary (VanderVeen) at church. They make their home in Ada with their son, Joshua, and daughter Rachel and attend Ada Christian Reformed Church. As a family, they love to go away for spring break, taking trips to Aruba, South Padre Island, Gulf Shores in Alabama, and out East. Mary and the kids fill the house with music (Joshua plays the trumpet, Rachel plays the violin and Mary is a cellist) but Tim is more the outdoors type. He prefers softball in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter. Actually, the whole family enjoys snowmobiling up north during our great Michigan winters.
As a life story funeral director Tim is the one who sees that all the important detail work is done on time every time. He knows the value of the process that makes the funeral relevant by helping people celebrate life and carry that life forward into the future.
Paul UzarskiLife Story Funeral Director
When he was just eight years old, Paul Uzarski’s mom began taking him and his brothers and sister with her to the funeral home for visitations and rosaries. The impressionable young Paul always marveled at the professionalism of the funeral director, and as he sat wide-eyed in the chapel chairs, he thought to himself, “That’s exactly what I want to be.” Today, that boy is now a man, with 25 years in the job of his dreams, helping people in their time of need tell and share their stories. This story is his.
Paul grew up on the West Side just a block and a half away from Sacred Heart Church. It was a great neighborhood for kids; friendly people who cared about each other and there were lots of fun things to do. Besides John Ball Park there was Lincoln Park which was a great place to swim, and there was Valley Field for baseball games. The kids walked or rode their bikes everywhere and knew where all the corner stores were. It was a great neighborhood with a wonderful heritage of food, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals.
After high school Paul got a job making cabinets at Stowe-Davis. Paul like the job and was good at it. With some coaxing from the older guys he worked with he decided to look to the future and signed up at Grand Rapids Junior College. He went to school full-time and worked part-time at the furniture factory and also at Van’t Hof Funeral Home. The job at Van’t Hof’s came through Paul’s uncle who knew Paul was interested in funeral service and told him to go see a man named Joe Oele at Van’t Hof’s. Joe Oele took one look at Paul and hired him; Joe knew a good thing when he saw it.
As soon as he got the credits he needed at JC Paul left for Chicago and the Worsham College of Mortuary Science. He graduated in 1982 and was licensed by the State of Michigan. It was a milestone in Paul’s life story.
Another milestone in Paul’s life story started with a motorcycle accident when he was on his way to work at Van’t Hof Funeral Home. He was only going 20 miles an hour but ended up in the hospital with a broken back. Elizabeth Patin, from Sand Lake, was one of his nurses—and you can guess the rest of the story. Elizabeth and Paul were married at St. Mary’s Church in Sand Lake in 1983.
Paul and Elizabeth have four children, Matthew, Joseph, Laura and Michael. Dr. Joe works as a Bio Medical Engineer at Northwestern University, Matthew and Michael work at Kenona Industry a local Manufacturing Co, and Laura works at Terryberry Mfgr and is active in local theater.
Paul’s wife Elizabeth is an RN at ABC Pediatrics, and the couple has been happily married for more than 32 years. Paul has been a licensed funeral director for the same length of time, and a proud member of Heritage Life Story Funeral Home® since 1979.
Paul knows how important family life is. He’s had his share of loss in life, from his dad when he was only a year and a half old, to losing his sister in auto accident, and his brother Bob in 2007 and his mother in 2008. So Paul spends as much time as he can with his family, and they do as much together as possible.
The family attends Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, where Paul is a lector. Paul also is a member of the Polish Falcons Aid Society and a Third Degree member of the Knights of Columbus, Sacred Heart of Jesus Council #13641. Paul loves all things Polish, including Polish music, food, halls, Pulaski Days, Polish food (did we mention the food?), and especially the people.
Paul cares about many things, though. Integrity, honesty, and caring about people just comes naturally to Paul, which makes him an excellent funeral director. And as Paul often says, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Thankfully for all of us, he doesn’t have to.