Life Story / Obituary
When reflecting on the life of Harriet Visser, it is easy to see that there was no greater joy in her life than her family. She was generous and welcoming to all who were near with a zest for life that was contagious. Harriet took her roles as a wife and mother to heart, but she just might have argued that nothing was better than becoming a grandmother later on. Hardworking and dedicated to whatever task was at hand, she gave everything her all. Life will never be the same without Harriet here, but she leaves behind a brilliantly colored mosaic of memories that her loved ones will forever cherish.
Life during the 1930s was anything but easy as the entire decade was cloaked in the hardship of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce, the unemployment rate soared, and countless American families lost their homes as a result. Despite the trials around them, John and Nellie (Kwant) Orange were pleased to announce the birth of the baby girl they named Harriet Lois on April 14, 1935, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Raised in the family home on East Fulton Street, she was one of five children, joined in her family by her siblings, Lawrence, Lambert, Sidney, and Ken. The family attended the area Christian Reformed Church. As a student, Harriet attended Central Christian High School and graduated in 1953. After school, she worked as head waitress for the Ladies Literary Club.
Big changes were in store for Harriet when she met the young man of her dreams. His name was Gerald H. Visser, and they met on a double date - although they were not on the date with one another. Gerald dropped his date off and promptly asked Harriet out. They began dating and soon found themselves deeply in love. Sadly, their love took on a different form when Gerald was drafted into the United States Army, causing them to continue their relationship through letters. Once he returned home, Harriet and Gerald were married in November of 1954. The newlyweds bought a home on Jeanette St. NW.
Together Harriet and Gerald lived a vibrant life. They welcomed five children including Linda in 1956, Brenda in 1959, Glenda in 1962, and twin boys, Gerald and John in 1963 into their hearts and home. Although Gerald had worked as a tech for Standard Oil Company for a time, he and Harriet later started their own company in which they sold and serviced petroleum equipment to gas stations. They owned and operated Visser Sales and Service together for nearly 30 years with Harriet working as the office manager. As their children grew older, their family moved to 1331 Northrup Avenue, which is where they lived until 1990.
There was never anything of greater importance in Harriet’s life than her family. They attended Fairview Reformed Church, which merged with Bethany Reformed and became Orchard Hill Reformed Church while their children attended Christian schools. They took several memorable vacations including two car trips to California with all the kids piled into a station wagon and pulling a camper so they could camp along the way. They also rented a cottage on Platt Lake and went boating on Lake Michigan in their cabin cruiser while visiting many of Michigan’s coastal cities. The family belonged to a snowmobile club from church, and together they went snowmobiling nearly every weekend throughout Michigan. Over the years they experienced numerous memorable family events in both the summer and winter. They frequently went to Roaring Twenties Pizza for pizza and music, which was always so much fun. Harriet was also actively involved in the lives of her children including on the yearbook staff at West Side Christian and also serving on the PTA. She loved watching her family grow, and she was filled with unspeakable joy to become a grandmother. Harriet never missed any of their school activities, sporting events, or birthdays. The family bought a motorhome called “Harriet’s Chariot,” which was often driven by “Hot Rod Harriet.”
Throughout her life Harriet was a woman of many interests. She and Gerald belonged to the 1881 Square Dance Club. They met every month and attended many square dances together. They also went to to several square dance conventions over the years. Harriet and her husband frequented Jerry’s Road House and the Beltline Bar. She also served as past president and member of the Women's Auxiliary of the Grand Rapids Sail and Power Squadron, a boating club. She was a wonderful cook whose specialties included liver and onions (also known as black fish), creamed cauliflower, banana salad, hoagie burgers, chicken broccoli casserole, potato salad, breakfast casserole, and braised spaghetti among others. Harriet was an avid Detroit Red Wings fan and also attended several Detroit Tigers and Lions games with the family. She loved Christian music as well as reading romance novels and the newspaper as it was important to her to stay up with current events and politics. Harriet loved word search puzzles and was talented when it came to knitting and crocheting. She made countless gifts for family and friends; baby blankets, afghans, hats, mittens, scarves, and prayer shawls.
In November of 1988, Harriet’s life was forever changed with the death of her beloved husband. Her strong family ties and loving family sustained her, and she continued to run the business for a couple years but then closed it. Harriet moved to Ironwood Condominiums for a while and then to Covenant Village of the Great Lakes for a year. She suffered a pinched nerve in her neck, which severely limited her activity. As she got older, Harriet developed heart problems and moved to Vista Springs, an assisted living community. As her health declined, she moved to Brookcrest Nursing home in 2017. She was hospitalized last week and returned to Brookcrest where she was put under hospice care.
With unending devotion to her family, Harriet Visser was a blessing in the lives of so many. She was faith-filled and compassionate, and although she could be a bit feisty at times she had one of the biggest hearts around. Harriet loved nothing more than being with her grandchildren, especially during the holidays, and her love for her family was easy to see. Deeply treasured, she will be forever missed.
Harriet Lois Visser (Orange), aged 83 of Grand Rapids, passed away on Tuesday morning, May 22, 2018, at Brookcrest Nursing Home. She was preceded in death by her husband, Gerald H. Visser, all her siblings and their spouses. She is survived by her chldren, Linda (Ron) VanderVeen, Brenda (Ralph) Veenstra, Glenda (Darryl) Pelletier, Gerald (Jan) Visser, John (Michele) Visser; 19 grandchildren, 11 Great grandchildren; brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, Thelma Vandehoef, Peter (Deb) Visser, Jay (Kathy) Visser; many nieces, nephews and friends. Harriet was a loving and dedicated wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother who will be dearly missed and lovingly remembered. A service to celebrate Harriet’s life will be held on Friday, May 25 at 10:00 am at Heritage Lifestory Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Burial in Washington Park Cemetery. Contributions in her memory may be made to American Diabetes Assn. of West Michigan. Relatives and friends may meet her family at the funeral home on Thursday from 2:00-4:00 pm and 6:00-8:00 pm and again on Friday from 9:00 am until the service begins at 10:00 am. To read more about Harriet’s life, to sign her guest book and to leave your own memory of her, visit her web page at www.lifestorynet.com