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James VanDuinen

October 27, 1935 - December 24, 2018
Grand Rapids, MI

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Life Story / Obituary


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When reflecting on the life of James VanDuinen, it is easy to see that he lived fully in each moment he was given. He was a man of honor and courage who enjoyed serving others, even in his work. James loved traveling and saw so many of the best things that life has to offer, but what made these things truly extraordinary was sharing them with the ones he loved. A lifelong member of the community he loved, he was known by many. Life will never be the same without Jim here, but he leaves behind a priceless collection of memories that his friends and loved ones will forever cherish.

The 1930s were primarily defined by the Great Depression. The harsh reality of a soaring unemployment rate touched the lives of the majority of Americans in some way. There were steps forward, however, as it was during this time that we celebrated the completion of the Empire State Building and the first ever Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There was also much to celebrate in the lives of Charles and Olive (Dykehouse) VanDuinen as they announced the birth of the baby boy they named James Gordon on October 27, 1935, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The second of five children, he was raised in the family home near Fulton Street, SW, alongside his siblings, Tom, Mike, Maryann, Charlene, and Dale. James’ father was a plumber while his mother was a homemaker.

In many ways James was a young boy of his generation. He attended local schools including Straight Elementary. He also played football and some baseball. Jim’s high school years found him at Union High School, and in addition to holding down his studies he worked at a printer for some extra money.

Not to be forgotten during Jim’s years as a young man was his introduction to the young woman who would forever hold the key to his heart. Her name was Kay Haan, and they were classmates who met at a dance at Harrison Park when they were 16. It didn’t take them long to fall in love, and with a desire to spend the rest of their lives together Jim and Kay were married on February 6, 1954, when they were just 18. The newlyweds initially lived with her parents on the corner of Leonard Street and Valley Avenue, NW. Later on, they moved to a home right across the street at 1220 Valley Avenue, NW, and this was the only place they ever called home. Together they welcomed three children including Gary, Jimmy, and Robert into their hearts and home. With grandparents right across the street, the VanDuinen kids could often be found over there.

Throughout his life Jim was one to work hard. His first job was at Meadowgold Creamery making ice cream. Jim would only eat French vanilla as it was the top cut of the ice cream whereas chocolate was made by adding all the leftover ice cream together and then mixing the flavorings in. His career in serving the community started at the GRPD, but after a couple of years he switched to the GRFD. James was also in the Army National Guard for several years, but he gave it up to go full-time with the fire department. For years he alternated between 24 hours on and 24 hours off for three cycles followed by four days off. Jim worked as an equipment operator and firefighter. He once suffered a broken collarbone when he fell through a roof on Alabama Street while fighting a fire. Jim loved being on the fire department, especially the camaraderie of being with all the guys. They often hung out after work and were there to help one another with various projects. Every year on New Year’s Day they spent the day together making the rounds at each other’s homes. On his days off, Jim took an extra job helping deliver beer for Fox Distribution and West Side Beer Distributing.

As his family and friends can attest, Jim was a man of many interests. He loved golfing, and he often went ice fishing for pike on Brooks Lake where his in-laws had a place. Jim loved traveling and visited all 50 states. He made sure to actually stop in each state, which meant having a beer in Jim’s book. They took several bus excursions all across the nation. Jim and his wife also traveled abroad all over Europe especially enjoying Ireland and Poland; New Zealand and Australia were favorites also. Cruising 19 times they explored Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean and the Mediterranean enjoying these times with family and friends. Jim liked playing cards like Cribbage or Setback. He also liked watching westerns or crime shows on television as well as history and reading historical fiction and James Michener novels. Outdoors he loved to cut grass and enjoyed his time keeping the greens trimmed at Boulder Creek or his own lawn cut just right. It has been said that James liked all beer - as long as it was Budweiser - and Bud Light didn’t qualify. When his son Robert recently took him to the Mitten Brewing Company just down the street, Jim loved that it is an old fire station with a Tigers theme. However, he sure was alarmed that they didn’t serve Bud there! Although Jim was a meat and potatoes guy who never much cared for sweets, this changed when he got older and discovered Kay’s chocolate candies. This finally came to light when her candies continually came up missing. Jim also liked Kay's pineapple upsidedown cake and banana cream pie.

With a journey that spanned times of great change in the world around him, Jim VanDuinen lived a life of purpose while holding his loved ones near. He was genuine and hardworking, and although he was a man of few words he did mean what he said. Jim was a loving husband and father who was so blessed to witness his family grow to include the grandchildren and great-grandchildren he treasured. Dearly loved, he will be forever missed.

James G. VanDuinen age 83, of Grand Rapids, passed away on December 24, 2018 at home surrounded by his family. He was preceded in death by his son and daughter-in-law, James and Jenifer VanDuinen; and brothers, Tom and Mike VanDuinen. Jim is survived by his high school sweetheart and wife of 64 years, Elisabeth “Kay” VanDuinen; sons, Gary (Pat) VanDuinen and Robert (Kelly) VanDuinen; grandchildren, Bryan (Hannah) VanDuinen, Chris, Jodi, Stephanie, Daniel and John (Karli) VanDuinen; and great-grandchildren, Lucas and Olivia. Also surviving are his siblings, Maryann Gressler, Charlene Drayton, Dale (Pam) VanDuinen; In-laws, Mike (Marge) Haan, Ruth Kikstra; and many nieces and nephews. Jim was a 1954 graduate of Union High School. He retired from Grand Rapids Fire Department after 31 years of service working as an equipment operator, spending most of his years at Bridge St. Station driving #3 pumper and then ending his career at Station #8. Jim enjoyed golf, travel, including all 50 states, various cruises and trips to many different countries. He was a platinum member of the Casino Club and American Legion Post #47. He enjoyed watching the Detroit Tigers and Lions as well as supporting Michigan Football. Cremation has taken place and a service will be held at a later date. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to read Jim’s lifestory, submit a memory, photo, or to sign the guestbook online.

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