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Life Story / Obituary
When reflecting on the life of James “Andy” Jaarsma, we are reminded that each day is a gift to spend with the ones we love. He was a hardworking, vivacious man with a heart of gold that drew others near with ease. A devoted father, Andy adored his daughter and treasured every moment they had to spend with one another. He was a daredevil who was game to try anything once as he only needed to hear a mere whisper of a crazy idea or stunt of some kind to be on his way to try it. Life will never be the same without Andy here, but the memories he made with his many friends and loved ones will never be forgotten.
The 1960s were a time of great strides forward coupled with numerous trials that very much defined the times. Civil rights and women’s rights were front and center while we elected our youngest United States President ever, only to mourn his death as a nation just a short time later. It was within this unprecedented time that a young couple from Grand Rapids, Michigan, was delighted to welcome a healthy baby boy into their hearts and home on July 4, 1964, sharing his patriotic birthday with his grandfather. James Andrew was the oldest of three children born to his parents, James and Kathryn (Kulhawik) Jaarsma, and was raised in the family home on the Northwest side of the city alongside his siblings, Mary Kay and Tara. His father was in the construction industry while his mother was a homemaker in whatever place they called home as they moved around a bit since his father was a builder.
Right from the start Andy, as he was usually known, was a bit rambunctious and full of life. He enjoyed playing baseball and first rode a dirt bike when he was just four years old. When the family purchased a cottage at Hess Lake, Andy had the perfect place to ride his bike in addition to the hills near Croton and Hardy Dam. He also raced bikes on the ice in Cedar Springs. Of course spending time at the cottage also provided Andy with the opportunity for plenty of water skiing. It should come as no surprise to those who knew Andy to hear that he was also into being the top of a pyramid on the water. The Jaarsma family was active at Remembrance Church, and Andy was a student at Zinser Elementary during his younger years. He went on to Kenowa Hills High School where he played tennis. Andy also took classes at Kent Skills Center where he learned the carpentry trade just like his father and grandfather.
After graduating from high school in 1982, Andy and some buddies moved out to Winter Park, Colorado, where they lived it up as ski bums. He cleaned toilets in exchange for lift tickets, which suited Andy just fine. He later went on to become a ski instructor and even took first place in the amateur longest jump contest with a jump near 76 feet.
A bit later Andy returned to Grand Rapids where he began working with his father and grandfather in their business, Jaarsma Builders. He still skied regularly at Cannonsburg where he worked as a ski instructor for a time. Because his mother worked for WOOD radio, Andy also landed a job as the station’s mascot, the woodpecker, and walked in several local parades. He even skied in the costume!
Life was forever changed for Andy when he met a young girl who stole his heart. Her name was Linda Mansfield, and after dating for seven years they were married in 1990. With this union Andy welcomed her three children, Elizabeth, Jillian, and Jimmy, and together they were blessed with the daughter they named Kay Lee. Although their marriage ended in divorce in 1992, Andy was forever grateful for the daughter they shared. He was an attentive father, and he loved hanging out with his daughter doing things like playing video games and listening to music. A big kid at heart, Andy was always up for an adventure with his daughter.
Throughout his life Andy was a man of many interests. He was mainly into classic rock and groups like Van Halen, AC/DC, and Rush, and he despised country music. Later in life Andy even taught himself to play the guitar in addition to being able to play the drums. At one time Andy started a band with some of his friends. He had a way with animals and loved the companionship of his many dogs including Casey, Homeboy, Zeke, Elvis, and Arthur. Steak and lobster were his favorite foods, although anything grilled was great, and he was known for always having hard candy like Jolly Ranchers on hand. Andy enjoyed watching the History Channel and playing around with remote control airplanes.
As his family and friends can attest, Andy’s fearless spirit was his constant companion. He had over 2500 skydives to his name. He even jumped out of an airplane attached to a skateboard, and he also did some BASE jumping as well. When they were building the new Kenowa Hills High School, they asked Andy to drop in the ceremonial first shovel, which he was more than happy to do. No one will ever forget his grand entrance into his sister Tara's high school graduation open house when he skydived his way in! Andy also loved to skateboard, and was known to unicycle, too.
New and exciting changes were in store for Andy when he met Joy VanDyke who was a waitress at Hub’s where Andy was part of the construction crew putting on an addition. They began dating and later married, which brought her two children, Gordie and Holly, into his life. Andy and Joy’s marriage spanned 10 years. It was also a bit later in life that his father sold the business, which brought both Jaarsma men to Houseman Construction where they worked for Andy’s brother-in-law, Mike Houseman. More recently Andy had begun traveling for work.
Described as laid back, outgoing, and well-loved, James “Andy” Jaarsma was a blessing in the lives of those around him. He faced struggles in his life, but he was a fighter who was always striving to be the best that he could be. Andy had a dry sense of humor and was always the most daring guy around. He will be deeply missed and warmly remembered.
JAARSMA – Mr. James Andrew “Andy” Jaarsma, age 49, passed away unexpectedly on August 18, 2013 and is now at Peace in the arms of his Lord and Savior. He is survived by his daughter, Kay Lee Jaarsma; parents, Jim and Kay Jaarsma; sisters, Mary Kay & Mike Houseman and Tara Jaarsma; nephews, Chad, Ryan, Tyler, and Brayden Houseman; and many friends. Andy was an enthusiastic daredevil and loved spending time with his daughter, Kay. A service to celebrate his life will be held at 11 AM on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at Remembrance Reformed Church, 4575 Remembrance Rd. NW. Friends are invited to visit with his family from 2-4 and 7-9 PM today at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Contributions in his memory to Mel Trotter Ministries would be appreciated. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to read his lifestory, archive a memory, photo, or sign the guestbook online.