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Life Story / Obituary
Dorothy Van Manen lived a long, rich life marked by boundless love for her family and unshakable devotion to her faith. A nurturing soul, with a special place in her heart for all children, in many ways her role as a mother defined her. Dorothy took great pride in seeing her family grow, and her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were her greatest treasures.
The early 1930’s were a tumultuous time of technological innovation, economic difficulties, and political upheaval that would shape the world for decades to come. In 1933, the Great Depression was at its peak, with over a quarter of the nation’s workforce unemployed, the Midwest was ravaged by drought and dust storms, and in Europe, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, setting the world on a course for World War II. There were signs of hope on the horizon though: newly inaugurated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began implementing his New Deal policies that slowly worked to turn the economy around, and held the first of his “fireside chats” directly addressing the American people over the radio. It was an era of trials and triumph and rapid change. It was also a time of joy for John and Jennie Byker, as they welcomed the birth of their daughter, Dorothy Gertrude, in Rock Valley, Iowa on August 17, 1933.
Dorothy’s devotion to family can be traced back to her own childhood. Growing up the second-youngest of nine children, she was very close with her siblings Gerrit, Helen, Kay, Stevena, John, Elizabeth, Eugene, and Bette. They were a very diverse group, and despite a significant age gap they enjoyed spending time together and remained very close throughout their lives. In their later years, telephone conversations between the Byker sisters would sometimes last all day on what came to be known as the Byker Hotline. These were the days before email and facebook, and with that big a family, it took all day to make these calls! In the end, everyone knew what was going on in each sibling’s family, good, bad, or indifferent.
Raising a family during the Depression was no easy task, and Dorothy’s father had seen many hard times farming in Iowa and South Dakota, so in the fall of 1938 John and Jennie moved their family to Grand Rapids, Michigan where more stable year-round work could be found. In 1940 Dorothy’s father was able to buy a home on Beechwood Street just north of the city. Dorothy’s mother was a homemaker who cared for the children, and shortly after moving to Michigan, the family began attending the Coldbrook Christian Reformed Church.
In addition to establishing the foundations of her faith, Dorothy’s time at Coldbrook CRC also led her to her future husband and true love, Jerry Van Manen. Dorothy was still in high school, working on the side cleaning houses and babysitting for a few families, when she met Jerry at a hymn-sing. Before long, Dorothy and Jerry fell in love and were married in Grand Rapids on March 17, 1950. After enjoying a honeymoon in northern Michigan, the couple settled into their first house on Dick Street on the northwest side of Grand Rapids. From there, they spent some time on a farm where Jerry worked in Comstock Park before eventually moving to Lamont where they became members of the Lamont Christian Reformed Church.
It wasn't long before Jerry and Dorothy began a family of their own, welcoming the births of four children: Jerry, Mary, Randall, and Bradley. Dorothy was a loving mother who served her family and worked hard around the house to provide for their needs and support them. Church was very important to Dorothy and she taught her children Christian principles through reading Bible stories, singing devotional songs to them, and encouraging church attendance. While her kids were in elementary school, Dorothy was an active member of the Lamont Christian School Ladies Circle which took on projects to support the Christian education of not only her children but many, many others. Dorothy cared deeply for all children, not just her own. Whether she knew them from Church, perhaps they were neighbors, or through some other connection, Dorothy saw all children as precious gifts. Her support and prayers for Bethany Christian Services and Right to Life over the years were a testament to her love and support for all children.
Dorothy’s connection to her family was deep and profound. She would always tell her children stories of relatives both near and far away. Their accomplishments were big events to her and she loved to share these stories with her children. To keep that family close, Jerry and Dorothy spent many Saturdays at two of her siblings’ cottages on Scram Lake in northern Kent County. This was a great getaway for Jerry and Dorothy and the rest of the family on summer Saturday afternoons. Many priceless memories were made with the Byker brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. “Aunt Dorothy” was fondly loved and cherished by her brothers and sisters and the many, many nieces and nephews. One of Dorothy’s sons recalled a memory during the early years when Jerry and Dorothy attended Lamont Christian Reformed Church. The Sunday evening service would start at 7pm and usually end at 8:15 or 8:30. After that, they would pack all three kids in the car and drive to East Grand Rapids where Grandma Byker lived. They would often not arrive at Grandma Byker’s house until 9:00, where they were joined by every Byker aunt, uncle, and cousin in the Grand Rapids area. This happened EVERY Sunday Night until Grandma Byker died.
Dorothy and Jerry traveled extensively. The family went to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and also visited Washington, DC and relatives in Owens Sound, Ontario. Pulling a 14’ trailer behind a 1960 six-cylinder Chevy Impala four door packed with three kids and no AC – it was a long ride and a lot of miles to put on! Other trips included visits and stays with extended family in Alabama, California, Ontario, Canada, and Iowa. Later in life, Dorothy and Jerry enjoyed an Alaskan Cruise, and also traveled to Hawaii, Spain, and the Netherlands. They also traveled to the Ukraine to visit a granddaughter who was a missionary there at the time.
In their later years, Dorothy generally liked any restaurant Jerry would take her to because it meant she would not have to cook that night. While one could say that Jerry loved any place that had a good pie, it could certainly be said that Dorothy’s favorite treat was a Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty. Their devotion to one another never waned in over 65 years of marriage, and Jerry would have driven to the moon and back to get Dorothy a Frosty if that was what she wanted, even if it was during a time that she should not have had them.
Dorothy enjoyed crocheting and painting ceramics, and was known for her apple pies and strawberry shortcake. Most of all though, Dorothy was committed to the twin pillars of her life: her family and her faith. In their retirement years, Dorothy and Jerry attended Grace Protestant Reformed Church. She loved the great hymns of the faith and could often be heard humming the tunes. She enjoyed reading the Bible and anything related to a person’s Christian walk of faith. One of the things that Dorothy most enjoyed was displaying her collection of ceramic birds, vinegar cruets, and angels. She especially loved her collection of angels, as did the granddaughters when they came to visit. Dorothy affectionately referred to her granddaughters as her little angels, and when it came time to move out of her house, Dorothy’s collection of angels was passed on to every granddaughter and great-granddaughter.
Dorothy was a proud grandma and great source of joy to 18 grandchildren and 36 great-grandchildren, plus one to come in March of 2017. These children were so precious to Dorothy and it would bring a big smile to her face when they would walk in the room, as of course all of them were perfect in her eye. Together with Jerry, she built a legacy of love that grows and endures through each new generation. She will never be forgotten, and will be greatly missed by her family and all those whose lives she touched.
VAN MANEN- Mrs. Dorothy Van Manen, aged 83, of Grand Rapids, passed away on November 14, 2016 and is now experiencing the Glory of Jesus. Dorothy is survived by her children, Jerry (Kathi) Van Manen, Mary (Dave) Beute, Randy (Joan) Van Manen, and Brad (Mimi) Van Manen; 18 grandchildren; and 36 great-grandchildren. Also surviving are her sisters-in-law, Dorothy Byker, Margaret Byker, Alice Byker, Esther (Bruce) Drukker and Sue (Dave) Remelts; brothers-in-law, Loren (Myra) Renkema, James Van Manen, Paul Van Manen, Dan (Linda) Van Manen, and Robert (Sandi) Van Manen and many dear nieces and nephews. The Family wishes to extend their thanks to the staff at Story Point for the compassionate care shown to Dorothy over the last few months. A special thank you to Nick and Ina Kleyn and the members of Grace Protestant Reformed Church for the love support and friendship shown over the years. The Funeral Service will be held at 11 AM on Monday, November 21, 2016 at Grace Protestant Reformed Church, 11225 8th Ave NW. Friends and relatives will visit from 2-4 and 6-8 on Sunday at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Visiting will also be from 10-11 AM on Monday at the church. Because of her love for children, contributions in her memory may be made to Bethany Christian Services or Right to Life – Michigan. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to read Dorothy’s lifestory, archive a memory, photo, or sign the guestbook online.