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Life Story / Obituary
Helen M. Vander Velde was a loving and dedicated wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother and a friend to everyone she met. She was a most loving and welcoming person that many people knew, championing the cause of the underdog was her standard mode of operation. Helen cherished her children and grandchildren as gifts of God. Her love for her husband ran deep, and he was always ready and willing to help her in the many and marvelous ways she served her Lord.
Helen Muriel was born August 29, 1929 in Grand Rapids, Michigan just months before the U.S. stock market crashed and countries around the world experienced long years of scarcity. Families were forced to live frugally and rely on what mattered most: faith and family. Sacrifices were made and parents willingly did what they could to better the lives of their children. This was true of Christian and Adrianna (Ekster) Rickers, who raised their family on 9th Street NW, supported them through his work as an insurance agent and planted the seeds of faith in their children at Broadway Avenue Christian Reformed Church. There, Helen’s commitment to Jesus Christ blossomed and continued to grow throughout her life.
Helen was the youngest of eight children—Henrietta, Peter, Neil, Henry, Little John (who died as an infant), John Calvin and Nella—and was known as “Hilch” to her family and closest friends. She was happy being outdoors playing ball with her brothers and content to be indoors playing piano, which she took up at age 10. At age 18, Helen’s mother died and the loving and responsible teen helped care for her siblings, her father and Uncle Henry. It was her nature to be caring and it influenced her academic pursuits.
Having attended Westside Christian Elementary School and graduating from Central Christian High School in 1947, Helen then earned her Practical Nursing Certificate at Grand Rapids Junior College. For a year, she worked as a private duty nurse for U.S. Senator Arthur Vandenberg and then as a secretary at Eikenhout building products for 5 years. The young working woman met her future husband while socializing at the roller rink at Ramona Park in East Grand Rapids. Roger Vander Velde and Helen dated for a year and a half before making their vows of marriage on October 3, 1952, at Broadway Ave. Christian Reformed Church. Fittingly, the ceremony and reception were held in her home church, where Helen’s spiritual family and friends also gave their blessing to the couple.
Returning from their honeymoon at Niagara Falls, Helen and Roger set up housekeeping in an apartment on Oakhill Street for a year. They moved to a series of other apartments before buying a house on Jennette Street NW. It became the family home for 30 years until they moved to Leonard Street NW, their present home. The couple was blessed with four beautiful children; Deborah was born in 1954, David in 1957, Daniel in 1959 and baby Christian died at birth in 1960. Like their mother, Deb, David and Daniel attended West Side Christian School, but then Deb went to high school at Central Christian while the boys attended Grand Rapids Christian. Also like their mother, the three each worked at the Christian Rest Home, where Helen was employed for a time was a regular visitor for over 40 years.
In 1960, the Vander Velde family joined the new Westview Christian Reformed Church and became very active. Helen led and participated in Bible studies and was Children’s Choir director for many years. Singing had always been a part of Helen’s life, not only at church but also at home. Music filled the family home with Helen at the piano to sing traditional hymns and contemporary songs. Music had always been a staple of family life and Helen often played the piano putting the children to sleep after they were tucked in bed. As a family, they spent many-a summer vacation camping at Interlochen music camp as well as the Christian Reformed Conference Grounds, Glen Lake, Pioneer Park and The Blue Ridge Parkway. Being always fond of water, Helen enjoyed camping. She contined to be close to all those she loved, and looked forward to holidays and family gatherings at their home
Family was very important to Helen, and instilling Christian values in her children was her calling as a parent. Along with Roger, she taught them by word and example to love and serve the Lord. “The only way to peace and contentment is to know the Lord personally,” she would say. And she truly believed these words that arose out of her own experience, “God always brings good out of tough trials.” When she would say, “I love people,” her family saw her words play out in how she treated others. Her home was an open door, and for everyone and anyone who needed a place to stay, Helen made them feel welcome. Those who had the pleasure of meeting Helen not only became her friend but she had a way of making everyone feel like each was her best friend.
Part of the Vander Velde hospitality was Helen’s good cooking that included beef pot roast, chop suey, spaghetti and hot fudge sauce. If she watched television, her choices went back to the old westerns like Gunsmoke, Bonanza and The Virginian. She tried knitting for a time but never liked it. Instead, she was more inclined to play ball with her children and later her grand children, teaching them how to throw. After all, Helen was at her best when she was interacting with people.
In 2000, Helen was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the treatment caused her heart valves to malfunction, and she underwent valve replacement and repair in 2005. In 2014, she underwent successful colon cancer surgery, but her heart remained weak and within the recent five weeks, her health diminished to the degree that she could no longer stay at home. However, when she moved to the Christian Rest Home, it was as if she was at home because she knew everyone and she received a constant stream of visitors.
Helen went to be with her Lord and Savior on Wednesday morning, November 25, 2015 at 1:20 AM, with her loving family at her side. Described as a faith-filled, loving and dedicated sanctified saint, Helen shared her faith willingly. She was a very friendly person and true servant of the Lord. Her family finds peace in knowing that Helen is now in heaven with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Helen Muriel Vander Velde (Rickers), aged 86 of Grand Rapids, Michigan is survived by her husband of 63 years, Roger Vander Velde; her children, Deborah and James Kok, David and Sherri Vander Velde, Rev. Daniel and Sara Vander Velde; her grandchildren, Joshua (Jen) Kok, Jonathan Kok, Amanda (Aaron) Rossell, Matthew Kok, Sara (Eric) Asubontain, Daniel Vander Velde (fiancé Sam Stawara), Adrianna, Eli Vander Velde, John David ((Hannah) Vander Velde, Alexis Vander Velde, Johnna Vander Velde, Jahari Jones; great grandchildren, Sydney Kok, Christian Kok, Nella Mae Rossell and Samuel Rossell and another great grandchild due in April; her brother, Neil Rickers, Rev. John (Millie) Rickers; sisters-in-law, Jackie Vogelzang and Donna Rickers; many nieces, nephews and friends. Helen was a longtime member of Westview Christian Reformed Church, 2929 Leonard St. NW, where the service to celebrate her life will be held on Tuesday morning at 11:00 AM. Burial in Washington Park Cemetery. Relatives and friends may meet Helen’s family at Westview Church on Monday from 2:00 – 4:00 and 6:00 – 8:00 PM. Contributions in her memory may be made to Christian Rest Home Foundation or Faith Hospice. To read more about Helen’s Life, to sign her guest book or to leave your own memory of her, visit her web page at www.lifestorynet.com