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Life Story / Obituary
In as much as he gave, Art VanVels was loved abundantly and cherished in the hearts of many. A man of faith who lived by his convictions, life held many blessings for Art. He was thankful for much and provided a steady influence for which his family can be proud. Quiet in nature, Art was slow to anger and was a gentle soul. He stood by the wayside and let those he loved shine all while lifting them up in prayer, encouragement, and with unconditional love. Through his selfless, giving nature, Art has left an undeniable imprint and will be long remembered for his hard work, dedication and kindness.
Although the year 1934 ushered in some of the worst times of the Great Depression, it was also a turning point for many after years of struggle, and the hardships endured during these days left many hopeful for brighter tomorrows. Newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt pledged to bring about recovery, and Shirley Temple lit up the movie screens. In the midst of these changing times in the riverfront city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Thys and Anna (Koster) VanVels were blessed to announce the birth of their little boy, Arthur, born on January 29, 1934. Quite sadly, Art’s twin sister died at birth.
As a young immigrant, Art’s father came to America from the Netherlands with his family and eventually met Anna Koster here in the states. He worked at American Seating, a furniture manufacturer in Grand Rapids and Art’s mother remained at home as a homemaker. Art’s family made their home in Tallmadge Township in a rental house on the farm of family members. Devoted to their faith, they were members of Walker Christian Reformed Church. The third of eventually five children, Art grew up alongside his older siblings, Lou and Sarah, and was later joined by Al and Ted who rounded out their family. Art and his family were quite close as children and remained so throughout their lives. His sister, Sarah, the only girl, was considered the rose among the thorns! Art and his brothers enjoyed playing sports together, fishing, and eventually, late nights and fast cars. Together they also worked their uncle's farm they lived on where they each learned a valuable, hard work ethic.
Art attended Oakleigh Elementary School and West Side Christian School on the city’s northwest side. Eager to get out into the working world, he left his schooling behind at Grand Rapids Christian High School in search of work. Art tried his hand as a factory laborer and didn't care for it. In time he started working with his brother, Lou who was a tile setter. Art quickly learned the trade and it came to be the very career he’d have his entire life. In so doing, his business and life as a whole were navigated by his commitment to Christ, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Art worked as a subcontractor for several different builders along with many side jobs he acquired.
Barbara VanEss was the young woman who came to hold Art’s heart for the rest of his days. Set-up by his brother and his brother’s girlfriend, they attended a softball game and afterwards headed to Grand Haven to enjoy time at the beach at Lake Michigan. Art and Barbara made for a wonderful match and continued dating through the fall. Around Christmas that year, Art proposed and they went shopping for a ring. They were joined in marriage on February 26, 1960, at Fountain Street Chapel and following a honeymoon to Florida, they settled into a rented home on Fuller Street. As a couple they regularly attended Quarry Avenue Baptist Church which would later relocate and be known as, Highland Hills Baptist Church.
In 1961, Art and Barbara were blessed with the birth of their first child, Jeff, and Lisa came along in 1964. While they lived at various places, in 1965 Art built his family their forever home on Kinney Street and where several years later in 1968 they welcomed the birth of Amy who completed their family. A home filled with faith, trust, and love, Art’s often laid back, gentle nature found him always being the “good cop” in their home while Barb was the strict one. Art simply was never angry or showed anger in any regard. Fond memories were enjoyed and shared as their family took many trips to Florida, went camping in Michigan at Lincoln Lake and spent time out west. Art taught his children the game of tennis, and no matter their involvements, he was an attentive father and attended all of their games and events. A fine example, Art taught his children well by way of his actions and deeds.
Faith was the cornerstone for which Art lived. He attended Highland Hills faithfully, gave unconditionally and supported his church and its leadership. Through the years he served as a deacon and was very supportive of the church missionaries. He loved the old hymns which readily spoke to his heart. At home, Art was a wonderful steward of all he had been blessed. He loved keeping a vegetable garden and he maintained the cleanest swimming pool around. In his free time he enjoyed fishing, golfing, watching golf on TV and all Detroit sports teams, especially the Tigers. He loved Barb’s cooking and although a meat and mashed potatoes man, he did enjoy eating out at the former Lanning’s Restaurant on Leonard Street. Some of his favorite things included ice cream, any flavor but chocolate; banana splits and of course, Klondyke ice cream bars. When grandchildren came into Art’s life he felt truly blessed. He was very supportive of their endeavors, attending their many activities as he always offered a steady and unforgettable presence in their lives. The last months of Art's life were shared with the staff of Christian Rest Home. Art received excellent and loving care as he quickly became a favorite to many there.
A gentle soul, Art was a calming and constant force in the lives of those entrusted to his care. He never sought the spotlight, but rather lifted those he loved quietly with prayer and encouragement. He never complained and was a great listener with his sweet natured ways. Art was a happy, content man filled with the love of his Lord and family. In the last six months of his life, Art suffered from several strokes and other ailments, yet he had absolutely no fear of death. With no anxiety, Art truly looked forward to what awaited him with the certainty of God’s promises. Always faithful, devoted and unwavering, Art was an admirable testimony to his family. Although deeply missed, the heart of Art lives on in those who came to know and love him.
Arthur J. VanVels, age 83, of Grand Rapids, MI, a gentle, quiet soul, passed away on October 20, 2017 with his loving family at his side. Barbara, his wife of 57 years, survives along with his children, Jeff VanVels, Lisa (Dan) DeRuischer, Amy (Dean) Bronkema; grandchildren, Brian VanVels, Matt VanVels, Stephanie (Steve) Perkins, Andy DeRuischer, Cody DeRuischer, Alex (Nicole) Bronkema, Brittney Bronkema, Derek Bronkema, Courtney Bronkema; great-grandchildren, Sawyer and Trinity; brothers, Louis (Betty) VanVels, Alex (Vera) VanVels, Ted (Nancy) VanVels; sister, Sarah Sikkema; sister-in-law, Carolyn VanEss; many nieces and nephews. A funeral service will be held Monday, October 23, 2017, 11:00 AM at Highland Hills Baptist Church, 1415 Northrup Ave NW. Friends may visit with his family on Sunday, 3-6 PM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW and from 10-11 AM at the church. Interment in Rosedale Memorial Park. Memorials may be made to the Highland Hills Mission Fund or Christian Rest Home Foundation. To share a favorite memory or photo of Art, condolence and to sign his online guest book, please visit www.lifestorynet.com.