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Life Story / Obituary
Hard working and a friend of many are just a few of the ways Don Gingrich could be described. He was also an easy going man whose family was the center of his heart. Don enjoyed the great outdoors and was a man of faith who lived by his convictions. For these things and so much more, Don will be remembered fondly in the hearts of those who knew and loved him.
The year 1928 was an exciting time in our nation’s history as the Roaring Twenties redefined the culture of America. While the entertainment industry boomed, the discovery of Penicillin forever changed the field of medicine, and legendary baseball players set astounding records on the ball fields. Although the U.S. was on the brink of the Great Depression, a most welcome event in the lives of Walter H. and Elizabeth (Versluis) Gingrich was the June 26, 1928 birth of their youngest son, Donald Jack Gingrich.
Although both of Donald’s parents were born in the riverfront city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, as Mennonite, his grandfather's family came to Michigan from Ontario, Canada and Pennsylvania. His mother’s side of the family settled in Grand Rapids as Dutch immigrants in the late 1800s. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, young Donald was one of four children in the Gingrich household. He grew up in their family home on Bridge Street alongside his twin sisters, Jean and Jane, and older brother, Walter Jr. “Bud” whom Donald was especially close. Through the years, the two of them were hunting partners, and later worked side-by-side in the truck parts business. To support his family, Donald’s father worked in the trucking industry, I.H. Gingrich & Sons while his mother was a homemaker.
The onset of the Great Depression was cause for economic hardship from coast to coast, and Donald’s family was no exception. Even so, Donald enjoyed a childhood typical of his generation. He relished numerous boyhood adventures, and was an avid hunter and fisherman in his youth, often skipping school to go after pheasants, rabbits, and squirrels.
The Gingrich family was faithful members of Valley Avenue Methodist Church on the northeast side of the city. Don attended the local schools, and while attending Union High School, he met and dated a pretty young girl by the name of Phyllis Wimmer. A year ahead of her in school, he later discovered Phyllis sang in the church choir at church, but he never really paid attention to who was singing! Don went on to graduate from Union High School with the Class of 1946, and he soon began working at his family’s truck parts business, I.H. Gingrich on the northwest side of Grand Rapids.
Throughout this time, Don and Phyllis’ relationship blossomed. Once Phyllis graduated from high school, and deeply in love, they were happily married on August 20, 1948 before a congregation of family and friends at Valley Avenue Methodist Church. They spent a memorable honeymoon at Niagara Falls, but since there were no freeways at the time, it took them a few days to drive there.
Don worked hard to support his new bride and eventually, their four wonderful daughters, Sandra, Judy, Marilyn, and Barbara. Phyllis remained at home as a homemaker, and later took a job as a school aid for Grand Rapids Public Schools. Don loved his girls dearly and as a father he was gentle, attentive and loving. Don would always say, “Yup, I raised four of them”, meaning he raised the four girls, but everyone knew darn well it was Phyllis who put the hammer down on the girls! Their distinct little personalities made him laugh, and brought Don much joy. He even took the girls hunting with him, often using them, rather than hunting dogs, to run through the fields and scare up the ducks and pheasants. Don would even take the girls out behind Grandma Justices’ farmhouse for a little target practice, and even though they were girls, they still liked to shoot his gun.
Don and his family made their home on Collindale NW. Treasured memories were made there through the years raising their family and enjoying special times together. Holidays were enjoyed with a turkey dinner with all the fixings, including Phyllis’s delicious lemon meringue pie or her scrumptious apple strudel, Don’s favorite.
Over the years, Don and Phyllis enjoyed traveling with Phyllis' mother and father, Neva and John Wimmer on trips all around the U.S. Both couples absolutely loved Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and before long they made it their favorite destination for many years. Phyllis especially liked shopping in the local stores there. Just like the dedicated husband he was, Don would carry all of her findings back to the car, and then come back for more. Don particularly enjoyed the “Ole Smokey Candy Kitchen”. He loved the caramel apples and Rocky Road fudge offered there, and they were sure to bring home all sorts of goodies to share.
Don continued his love for hunting and fishing through the years, and also came to enjoy pursuing Steelhead and Coho Salmon on the Grand River. He loved coin collecting, and every time he received change back from a purchase, he always checked the coins, looking for a specific year or silver in them. When it came to dining out, Don enjoyed going to Bill Knapp’s, especially on birthdays because he so loved their free chocolate birthday cake! Don was also quite talented in his work as he could remember by heart where each and every axle or u-joint was located in their huge inventory of truck parts. When his family business closed in 1970, Don began working for his cousin at Neal’s Truck Parts in Grand Rapids.
As a longtime member at Valley Avenue Methodist Church, Don later made Faith United Methodist Church in northwest Grand Rapids his church home. When his beloved Phyllis passed away in 1993, it was Don’s faith and the love and support of family and friends that saw him through. It was during this time when Don became a regular at Mr. Burger Restaurant. He savored their olive burgers and chili dogs, never tiring of them.
In time, Don came to know the companionship of Louise (Goeldel) Huiskens. Together they shared much in common, and thoroughly enjoyed each others company. They were joined in marriage in 1994, and spent the rest of their days together enjoying the love of family, and all life had to offer.
An easy going man, Don Gingrich never met a stranger, and his integrity and kindness was admired by all. He loved his family deeply, and enjoyed their company at every opportunity. He will be deeply missed, but never to be forgotten are the cherished memories he leaves behind.
Mr. Donald J. Gingrich, aged 87, of Grand Rapids, passed away on Saturday, July 18, 2015. He was preceded in death by his first wife, the love of his life, Phyllis; siblings, Jean Waterson, Jane Baker, and Bud Gingrich. Don is survived by his wife, Louise; children, Sandra (Jim) de Waal Malefyt, Judy York, Marilyn (Sam) Ellison, and Barbara (Brad) Spiegel; stepchildren, Cathy (Bob) Lupton, Sharon Meendering, Jim (Mary) Huiskens, Rick (Linda) Huiskens, and Nancy (Kevin) Fransen; many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The funeral service to celebrate Don’s life will be held at 11:00 AM, Saturday, July 25, 2015 at Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Friends and family will gather on Friday from 6-8:30 PM at the funeral home. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Don’s memory may be made to the Christian Rest Home. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to share a favorite memory or photo of Don and to sign his online guest book.