Helen Ancans

October 17, 1918 - August 20, 2018
Grand Rapids, MI

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Life Story / Obituary


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Helen Ancans was a loving wife, mother, and grandmother. A faithful woman, she lived her life serving others and was richly blessed with an abundant family. A talented seamstress, she enjoyed many years sewing and making clothing and special gifts for her growing family. Known for her strong work ethic as well as her generous ways, Helen will be deeply missed and lovingly remembered for generations to come.

The year 1918 was during a period of time known as the Progressive Era. An influenza pandemic infected roughly one-third of the planet’s population, the first World War was underway, and there was widespread growth in social activism and political reform. An exciting time in our nation’s history, when Daniel and Mary Ellen (Hayes) Nelson welcomed home their precious baby girl, Helen Mae on October 17, 1918, in Coral, Michigan. Born the youngest of six children, her birth was a sign of much promise and happiness to her family.

Growing up on the southwest side of Grand Rapids in what was once known as the Black Hills neighborhood, Helen lived a childhood typical of the times. She attended South High School where she excelled as a student. Shortly after graduation, Leonard Vogelaar stole her heart and she moved with him to the Carolinas where he was stationed in the United States Army. After he was discharged, they moved back to Grand Rapids where they welcomed home two beautiful daughters. When their marriage dissolved, Helen poured herself into raising her family while also working outside of the home. She spent her weekends doing meal preparation to get them through their busy week ahead. Primarily involved with manufacturing companies, she enjoyed working as a bookkeeper at Buddy Cleaners and later for Woodman. As a mother, she held firm expectations. The children knew they were in real trouble when she would grab them by their hair to get their attention! All in all, they never doubted her love and support for them during their most challenging years.

Once the kids had grown and moved out, Helen was afforded the time to cultivate her many interests. An avid bowler, she had worked her way up to local championships and was well known throughout the bowling community as a lead contender. Socially active, it wasn’t long before she met her second husband, Al Ancans. Both attracted to the simple things in life, they married and Helen moved to with him to Lansing where he was recently transferred. Not one to remain idle, she landed a position with Michigan Refrigerator. As an employee, she never complained and was never sick. Dependable and determined, she put everything she had into anything she set her mind to doing!

She and Al had a fondness for travel and would faithfully visit their friends in Canada each year. The two of them loved to entertain and mostly surrounded themselves with other Latvian couples, as Al was Latvian. Helen was a wonderful cook and she relished in her years of preparing meals for her special friends and family. As their family grew to include grandchildren, Helen continued on with her tradition of making clothes for each of them. They loved having her measure them to see how much they had grown in between visits, something she never grew tired of. Helen also followed their every success in school often sending them special care packages loaded to the brim with sugary treats!

Although she was independent for much of her life, after Al passed away in 2004, Helen leaned on her family for support. Over the years, each of her loving daughters spent time living with her. They made many lasting memories together during those years and each of them have no regrets! They recognized that these were precious moments that would last a lifetime. Helen spent time relaxing as well as keeping her mind sharp by completing crossword puzzles, knitting, crocheting, as well as jigsaw puzzles. An avid reader, she never went without a stack of books nearby to bring her comfort. There is no doubt that Helen leaves behind a wonderful example of living life to the fullest. She modeled a life of integrity and grace. May all who knew and loved her be comforted in knowing that she loved them each unconditionally and without measure.

Helen Mae Ancans, age 99 of Grand Rapids, passed away at home on August 20, 2018. She was preceded in death by her husband, Albert Ancans; her brothers Ivan and Orville Nelson; and her sisters Gladys Koolman, Marie Bye and Bergetta White. Helen is survived by her daughters Nancy (Eddie) Cook and Janice Vander Henst; grandchildren; Randee Azzar, Erin Vander Henst, Daniel Cumberworth, Amanda Dawson and Olivia Kalis; 12 great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. A private graveside service was held at Woodlawn Cemetery.

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