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Life Story / Obituary
When reflecting on the life of Gerald Van Manen, it is easy to see how his kindhearted, compassionate, and selfless ways were deeply rooted in his love and compassion for those around him. He was a hardworking man who accomplished much of which to be proud, but there was nothing that was more near and dear to his heart than his beloved family. Jerry was blessed to share over 65 years with his true love, and together they welcomed children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren into the family. Known for his unwavering faith, he exemplified what it means to be the hands and feet of the Lord he loved. Jerry will be deeply missed but never forgotten.
Although the 1930s were filled with trial and tribulation because of the Great Depression, there was great celebration when Howard Earnest and Evelyn (Daling) Van Manen announced the birth of the baby boy they named Gerald Howard on August 23rd, 1931. He was one of seven children as he was joined in the Van Manen family by his siblings, James, Esther, Paul, Dan, Sue, and Robert. Raised in the family home on Kenowa Avenue, South of 6 Mile Road North of the Marne and Walker area, Jerry’s father worked as a farmer and later for General Electric, and his mother was a homemaker. He and his siblings were separated by several years, but they were always close and remained that way throughout their adult years.
In many ways, Jerry was a young boy of his generation. He could get into a bit of mischief at times such as when he jumped the fence to get into the Berlin Fair and left sporting a tattoo bearing his name, Jerry, which he tried to hide from his father by wearing long sleeve shirts. Later that summer, Jerry’s secret was out when his dad caught him in the bathroom without his shirt on! For years he had his grandchildren believing that his tattoo was because “that is how they kept track of the babies when I was born,” but by the time they were teens they were onto him! Holidays were spent at Jerry’s home. As a student Jerry attended Clayton School North of Marne and later West Side Christian. He also attended Grand Rapids Christian High and took short course in the agricultural field at Michigan State University. Jerry played baseball for a Standale baseball team, loved playing neighborhood games, and regularly helped his father plow the fields.
New and exciting changes were in store for Jerry when he met the young woman of his dreams. Her name was Dorothy Byker, and they met at a hymn-sing at Coldbrook Christian Reformed Church while she was still a high school student. They began dating, and over time they fell deeply in love. With a desire to establish a life together, Jerry and Dorothy were married on March 17, 1950, in Grand Rapids. The newlyweds took a honeymoon to Northern Michigan later in the year, and they settled into a home on Dick Street on the Northwest side of the city.
To support his family, Jerry first worked digging ditches, septic systems, and footings for a local contractor, Rich Dykstra. However in 1952, a man named Russ Skipper saw how hardworking Jerry was and asked him to come drive truck for him. Russ was a driver/agent that delivered petroleum on the West Side of Grand Rapids for the Standard Oil company. In 1958 Russ retired, and over the years Jerry grew the business to become Van Manen Petroleum Group, a large and very diverse distributor of petroleum products in Western Michigan. He was a pioneer in Michigan for the commercial fueling “card-lock”, an unattended fueling station where commercial customers purchased their gasoline and diesel fuel. Through his vision and the help of family members and talented and dedicated employees, Van Manen Petroleum Group operates one of the largest network of card-locks in the Midwest.
While he was busy working hard, Jerry and Dorothy welcomed four children, Jerry Allen, Mary Lynn, Randal Leigh, and Bradley Jon, into their hearts and home. As a father he was loving, strong, and affectionate towards his children. The drive to provide a good life for his children was the driving force behind all of Jerry’s hard work as he even worked a second job providing custom spraying services to farmers in order to have the funds to give his children a Christian education. They made priceless memories together while on a few vacations including a 1964 trip to the World’s Fair, a trip to Washington, D.C., and to visit relatives in Owens Sound, Ontario, Alabama, California, and Iowa. The Van Manen family also spent many Saturdays at the cottages that belong to Jerry’s brothers-in-law and their families.
Throughout his life Jerry was an active part of his community, and much of his involvement was related to his faith. As a young boy he was a member of Walker Christian Reformed Church, as a young newlywed he was a member of Lamont Christian Reformed Church, and during his retirement years he was a member at Grace Protestant Reformed Church. While at Lamont CRC Jerry served as an elder and a deacon numerous times, and he was also an integral part of the formation of Lamont Christian School where he was also on the board. All of his children graduated from the school in ninth grade, and his daughter, Mary, was in the first class to go all the way from kindergarten through ninth grade there. During the 1960s, Jerry was also a leader in the Calvinist Cadet Corp enthusiastically serving as a Northwest council president. Over the years Jerry attended and organized many cadet campouts, conventions, snow-derbies, and camporees, many with his younger children and wife Dorothy in tow. Jerry has also served as elder for Grand Valley Orthodox Christian Reformed Church and Grace Protestant Reformed Church. Through his work, he also served on many committees and advisory councils for Standard Oil, Amoco Lubricants, BP, and other oil industry associations.
As his family and friends can attest, Jerry was a bustle of activity. Even the things he did in his time away from work involved work more times than not. He loved any kind of work if it included a tractor, and he could often be found out in his barn tinkering on anything mechanical or tending to his immaculately kept yard. Jerry restored antique gasoline pumps, restored a “Gym Dandy” surrey, and has also restored seven Allis Chalmers tractors, an AC Row Crop 66 combine, and an AC Roto Baler. The Allis Chalmers tractors and equipment were the pride of his retirement years. Early on, Jerry enjoyed hunting pheasants with his boys, Jerry and Randy, when they were younger. He loved working out in his garden and took great pride in the foods he grew. Jerry became known for his strawberries, sugar peas, raspberries, and butter beans. Every year it was a challenge for him to see if he could get his sugar peas in the ground before anyone else and of course get them growing first, too, since this earned him local bragging rights. There was also his “second business” growing flaxseed. According to Jerry, flaxseed cures everything since in his book it is good for your heart, lowers your cholesterol, helps with diabetes, helps with digestive issues and even “softens your hair.” Jerry grew and sold his own flaxseed in two pound bags at farm markets and in health food stores in the Grand Rapids area and beyond. He proudly proclaimed on his label, “Grown at DJ Acres in Tallmadge Township Michigan.”
Although he worked hard, Jerry did know how to just have fun, too. He enjoyed going to Mr. Burger, which he said gave you the best bang for your buck, and during their retirement years he and his wife traveled rather extensively to places such as Hawaii, Spain, Netherlands, Canada, on an Alaskan cruise, and also to the Ukraine to visit a granddaughter who was a missionary there at the time. Jerry was filled with unspeakable joy to become a grandfather, and he always lit up whenever they were around. He was often there to share in their successes such as when they scored a goal, made a basket, or hit a single, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren also loved doing the simple things with him like a ride on the tractor or just spending a minute or two on his lap. The boys were affectionately known as his “Tigers” while the girls were his “Lollipops.” Jerry loved his Bible and anything having to do with Christian doctrine, but perhaps what people will remember most about Jerry and his faith was the way he loved singing hymns. Wow, could he sing, too, as his kids have several memories of him belting out the classic hymns with great fervor and strong emotion. It was easy to see that Jerry loved his God, and he loved to sing His praises. He did enjoy eating out, especially when he could have a good homemade pie with ice cream. When friends and family came to visit them at their Florida home, Jerry made sure he took them to the “Der Dutchman,” which is an Amish restaurant.
Most recently, Jerry experienced both peaks and valleys. It was a celebration to remember for his 65th anniversary with his wife since they were there for one another through thick and thin. Jerry was right by Dorothy’s side holding her hand through surgeries and sicknesses. He was always there for her, often praying and holding her hand. No matter what, Jerry never gave up on her.
An extraordinary man to know and love, there was no one who met Gerald Van Manen and left unchanged. He was a man of strong principles and unwavering moral convictions with a vibrant and personal faith that was easy to see. Everything Jerry did was filtered through his desire to be the hands and feet of the Lord he loved. He was compassionate, accepting of everyone, and more than willing to do whatever he could to help others in ways both great and small. Although life will never be the same without Jerry here, but his timeless legacy will be proudly carried on by those who follow in his footsteps.
VAN MANEN- Mr. Gerald H. Van Manen, aged 84, of Grand Rapids, passed away on August 25, 2015 and is now experiencing the Glory of Jesus. Jerry is survived by his wife of 65 years, Dorothy (Byker); children, Jerry (Kathi) Van Manen, Mary (Dave) Beute, Randy (Joan) Van Manen, and Brad (Mimi) Van Manen; 18 grandchildren; and 34 great-grandchildren. Also surviving are his siblings, James Van Manen, Esther (Bruce) Drukker, Paul Van Manen, Dan (Linda) Van Manen, Sue (Dave) Remelts, and Robert (Sandi) Van Manen; sisters-in-law, Alice Byker, Dorothy Byker and Margaret Byker; brother-in-law, Loren (Myra) Renkema; and many nieces, nephews, cousins, and the many who loved “Uncle Jerry.” Jerry was the founder of Van Manen Petroleum Group and an inspiration to its employees and the customers whom he served. The Family wishes to extend their thanks to the staff at Stonebridge Manor and Spectrum Health Hospice for the compassionate care shown to Jerry over the last few months. A special thank you to the members of Grace Protestant Reformed Church, where Jerry was a member, for the love, support and friendship shown over the years. The Celebration of Life Service will be held at 11 AM on Monday, August 31, 2015 at Remembrance Church, 4575 Remembrance Rd. NW. Friends and relatives will visit from 7-9 PM on Saturday and 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. Contributions in his memory may be made to Lamont Christian School or the Christian School of your choice. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to read Jerry’s lifestory, archive a memory, photo, or sign the guestbook online.