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Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Irene Stehouwer would agree that she was an extraordinary woman to know and love. She was strong and determined, a force in many ways, while at the same time she was so gracious and genuine. Deeply devoted to her family, Irene cherished her roles as a wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, but even her nieces, nephews, and other extended family members were so very close to her heart. It was no secret that she was able to share the best years of her life with her true love, and together they experienced so many of the best things that life has to offer. Positive and happy, Irene could also be so funny. A blessing to everyone she met, she will be forever missed.
As the 1930s dawned in America, the future was unclear. It was in October of 1929 that the crash of the stock market sent our nation spiraling down into the depths of the Great Depression, and the years that followed were anything but easy. Despite the uncertainties around them, Samuel and Bartola (Glover) Cornett were able to focus on an exciting time in their lives as they announced the birth of the baby girl they named Irene on March 20, 1930, in Hazard, Kentucky. The fifth of ten children in her family, tragedy struck with the death of her father when Irene was very young. She and her siblings all moved together to a home in Ohio for about five years as their mother was having a difficult time. They returned home once her mother had remarried.
Although life was difficult while growing up, Irene always spoke fondly of her siblings. Life was an adventure, and later in life she had the most amazing stories to tell about her colorful siblings. Irene frequently helped out with her younger siblings, and she also helped around the house and with the outdoor chores as they had chickens, pigs, and cows. She attended local schools and graduated from the high school in Hazard.
Life was forever changed for Irene when she met Homer Napier at a VFW hall shortly after he had returned from the war. They married in 1948, and moved to Grand Rapids because the jobs were better, settling on the Southeast side of town before moving to a home near Houseman Field. They family grew to include three children, Debby, Terri and Ben. Irene worked for a short time after Debby was born, but she couldn't stand to be away so she then remained at home to care for her family. She was a very involved mother and tried to be a disciplinarian, yet she wasn't necessarily that firm. Every summer, the family looked forward to taking a week or more to go to Hazard and visit her family. Irene kept a neat and tidy home, and her skills in the kitchen were fantastic. Irene cherished any time that her family was together, and she worked tirelessly to get everything just perfect for holidays. Although her marriage ended in divorce after 20 years, she was forever grateful for the children they shared.
New and exciting changes were in store for Irene when she took a job at AJ Stehouwer Sales and Service because it was there that she met the love of her life. She and AJ fell deeply in love and they married, growing her family to include his three boys and their families. They lived on Richmond Street for many years. Irene continued helping him at work for many years, taking care of the books and running the office. Irene later became his office manager. When asked how he did it all, AJ would always say, “Caffeine, nicotine, and Irene,” as he fully realized that she was the woman behind the man. She was always so proud of the way that AJ tried to help people and was honored and proud to be the First Lady of Walker during AJ's ten years as Mayor of the city. They even had their special spot at Big Boy that doubled as AJ's office as he carried his paperwork in the trunk of his vehicle for his mobile office. Irene stayed busy also managing much of their snowplowing business.
Irene and AJ were truly meant for one another. They were such a social couple who loved going out with friends and could talk to anyone as they always greeted everyone who walked by. Irene and AJ did some traveling, but they didn’t have a lot of free time outside of work, socializing, and politics. They both treasured the time they spent with family above everything else. It was important to Irene to make every birthday, holiday, and anniversary or other special day memorable. As grandchildren came, Irene enjoyed spending time with them and attended all their events as they grew older. She was involved at Berlin Raceway as they were there every Saturday race day for years. Irene also kept track of the points for the racing series. In 1998, she was deeply saddened with the death of her beloved husband, but she continued to be active at the business for several years and stayed busy. The family historian, Irene kept in touch with her siblings by letter and continued to check in on her nieces and nephews after her siblings passed away.
Truly beautiful on the inside and out, Irene Stehouwer was such a gift. She was proud of her southern roots and loved keeping everyone together and in touch throughout her extended family. Irene’s life was filled with both peaks and valleys, but she faced whatever came her way with both grace and courage. Feisty and determined, Irene was also tender, loving, and giving beyond compare. Deeply loved, she will never be forgotten.
Mrs. Irene "Mima" Stehouwer, of Walker, devoted and loving mother, grandmother and great grandmother passed away October 11, 2016. Although born and raised in Hazard, Kentucky, this strong woman lived most of her life in Michigan. Irene was preceded in death by her husband AJ who passed 18 years earlier, son, Roger, brothers and sisters Samuel "Clarence" Cornett, Joseph "Dick" Cornett, Marjorie Carignan, Ruth "Peanut" Gadd, Bill Cornett, Janice Cornett, Olga "Billy" Luckert and Ersel Stallard. Together with AJ, they worked side by side running AJ Stehouwer Sales and Service. This family business continues to thrive even though both have now passed. Irene will be lovingly cherished in the hearts and minds of those she leaves behind: her children Debby Napier, Terri (Tom) Bernott, Ben (Sue) Napier, Edward (Kelly) Stehouwer and David (Linda) Stehouwer; sister, Lois (George) Adams as well as many grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Friends are invited to visit with her family on Monday, October 17 from 3-7 PM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home - Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW. The service to remember and celebrate her life will be held on Tuesday at the funeral home at 1 PM. For those who wish, memorial contributions to either Faith Hospice or a charity of your choice are appreciated. To read more about her life, to share a memory or to sign her guestbook, visit www.lifestorynet.com