At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
Eleanor's Great granddaughter Sloan (care of Sarah St. James)
Eleanor's great granddaughter Sloan was born in April. She was diagnosed with a rare liver disease, requiring a transplant and is being treated by a team of world renowned liver and surgical doctors. Her parents, Chris and Sarah have not left her side and appreciate any support.
New City Neighbors
1226 Union NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
With a life that spanned times of war and times of peace, times of plenty and times of want, Eleanor DeFouw made the most of every day she was given. She was gracious, kind, and giving with a soft and genuine heart. Eleanor fully embraced her roles as a wife and mother, and she was so proud to witness her family tree blossom to include numerous branches of grandchildren and great-grandchildren who made her so very proud. Life will never be the same without her here, but Eleanor leaves behind a timeless legacy that her loved ones will proudly carry on in her footsteps.
The Roaring Twenties were an exciting time in America when cars had become more affordable, motion pictures came to life in both color and sound, and Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh took the world of flight to new heights. Amidst this exciting time was a time of great celebration for Earl and Velma (Beemer) Wolfinger as they welcomed the birth of the baby girl they named Eleanor May on September 17, 1923, in Grass Lake, Michigan, located near Jackson. She had two brothers, Lyle and Wayne. When Eleanor was just a few months old, her mother died. She and her brothers then spread out to live with their aunts. Although her father later remarried, Eleanor and her brothers remained living with their aunts.
Growing up wasn’t so easy for Eleanor. It was difficult to move around to a variety of places during the years of the Great Depression. It was not uncommon for her to get a comb and a pair of socks for Christmas during that time. Eleanor did what she could to bring some money in to help by babysitting, picking berries, or cleaning houses. She attended local schools and graduated from Grass Lake High School where she played on the basketball team.
After graduating from high school, Eleanor moved to Grand Rapids where she lived with her Aunt Osa Madison. She found work at Joppe's Ice Cream on Plainfield, and it was there that she met the man who would change the course of her life forever. His name was William "Bill" DeFouw, and he caught her eye right away. It has been said that she may have even made him an extra nice sundae! He was in the service at the time, but when he was home on leave Eleanor and Bill were married on June 17, 1944 at the old Fourth Reformed Church. Shortly thereafter, Bill returned to the Air Force while Eleanor spent a short time living with him in Boise, Idaho. She worked at the telephone company for a few years.
When Bill returned, they lived in an apartment for a time before building and moving to their longtime house of 63 years at 964 Ellsmere, NE. Together they raised their three children. Eleanor was an extraordinary mother who made sure that her children knew they were unconditionally loved and saw to it that they had more than she did as a girl. She devoted her days to being a wife and mother, and this was something she did on her own since she didn’t have a mother to model herself after. Eleanor made sure they had healthy meals and did the baking from scratch. In fact, her pies were so good that she was known as the “pie queen.” She also did plenty of sewing, which was also something that was self-taught - and she was amazing at it. Every summer they rented a cottage on Stony Lake near New Era. Eleanor liked laying out in the sun, usually on Bill's Army blanket. When the kids got a bit older, they put a pool in the backyard, and this was the backdrop for so many amazing family memories.
Although caring for her family certainly kept her going, Eleanor kept busy in other ways as well. Bill was the more social of the two, but she loved frequently getting together with a group of friends from church, Fourth Reformed. She had a great sense of fashion and always wanted to look her best. Bill wanted to make up for what she didn’t have as a child so he often went shopping with her to make sure she had exactly what she wanted. This also meant that selling Avon products was a great fit for Eleanor once all of her children were in school. She built a successful business, even earning some trips and rewards over the years. Although selling didn’t come naturally for her, she discovered that she was actually good at it. Eleanor loved her gardens and caring for the roses as well as watching and listening to the Detroit Tigers. Their dogs, Penny and Mandy, were important in Eleanor’s life, and during their later years they had many cats.
During their retirement years, Eleanor and Bill remained active. They bought a home in North Fort Meyers where they spent their winters for several years. There were even a few of their local friends who also lived there. Eleanor and Bill often spent Thanksgiving in Massachusetts with their daughter, Julie’s family. In later years, they did some more traveling including to Hawaii, on a few cruises with family, and on some of Bill’s trips with some of the men he had served with. Eleanor also loved spending time with her grandchildren, and she often watched the ones who lived nearby.
Later in life Eleanor experienced both peaks and valleys. She was deeply saddened with Bill’s death in 1996, but she was able to be independent enough to take on the things around the home that allowed her to remain living there for many years. Eleanor enjoyed going to family events and watching her grandchildren and later her great-grandchildren take part in their activities. She loved talking to Julie on the phone, which she did most days while Julie was driving home from work. As she aged, Eleanor didn’t hesitate to let others know what she was thinking. She met Bill Tibbets, and they were great companions who brought joy to one another for several years. Tragedy struck again in 2015 when her son, Richard, passed away. Later that same year, she fell in her home. Eleanor moved to Vista Springs for a short time, but after another fall she moved to Porter Hills. This was helpful since Eleanor’s dementia had also continued to progress.
Throughout her rich and rewarding life, Eleanor DeFouw was a blessing to everyone she met. She was a hardworking woman who also took the time to enjoy life along the way. There was no greater gift in Eleanor’s life than her family, and she was the sort of person who was willing to do whatever she could for others. Deeply loved, she will be forever missed.
Eleanor May DeFouw, age 94, of Grand Rapids, peacefully slipped into the arms of Jesus on November 18, 2017. She was preceded in death by her husband, William; and son, Richard. Eleanor is survived by her children Susan & Del (Skip) Hawkins, Julie & Jeffrey Payne, Debbie DeFouw; Grandchildren Melissa (Robert) Boogaard, Amy (Ken) Coeling, Greg (Leslie) Hawkins, Megan (Jeff) Kaiser, Emily (Matt) VanVliet, Sarah (Chris) St. James, Matt and Katie Payne; 17 Great-grandchildren; brother, Wayne (Jean) Wolfinger; sister-in-law Norma (Robert) Neimeyer, as well as several nieces and nephews. The service to remember and celebrate Eleanor's life will be held on Friday, December 1 at 12 Noon at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home - Van Strien Creston Chapel, 1833 Plainfield Ave NE, where friends may visit with her family from 10:30 AM until the service. For those who wish, memorial contributions may be made to either Eleanor's Great Grand-daughter Sloan (care of Sarah St. James) or New City Neighbors (care of 4th Reformed Church). To read more about Eleanor, to share a memory or to sign her guestbook, visit www.lifestorynet.com.