At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
Joseph David Stokkerman was born to Joseph and Jean (Smith) Stokkerman on October 10, 1941 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He and his two younger siblings, Jon and Jill, were raised on the city’s east side, where their mother worked at Harding’s Market on East Main and their father was a maintenance employee with Holiday Inn.
Joe had a fun childhood. His favorite pastime was skipping school, which he managed with the help of girlfriends who wrote excuses for him. In fact, the one-time Joe really was sick and his mom wrote a letter of excuse, the school didn’t believe him because it wasn’t his “mom’s” handwriting. Needless to say, St. Augustine Catholic School asked Joe not to return and he became a student at Kalamazoo Central High School. KC liked him so much, he would tell everyone, that he graduated twice—in 1959 and in 1960 because he had to complete some classes in order to graduate. Joe wasn’t unmotivated, however, and during high school he worked at a pharmacy, where he was able to get the phone numbers of all the pretty girls.
In 1960, Joe enlisted in the US Air Force, in part because of his fascination with airplanes. He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan and then Tampa, Florida at MacDill Air Force Base where he was crew chief for F-4 Phantom fighter division. He was deployed to DaNang in South Vietnam for one year and served two more tours of duty before going to Davis- Monthan in Tucson, Arizona. Joe found his place in the service and considered making a career of it. But not wanting to go back to Vietnam for a third time, he left the military in 1968, having earned the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Joe never truly left the military, because each time a plane flew over, he would guess what kind it was. He was a life member of the VFW Post 2532 of Michigan and the American Legion Post 232 of Hammond, Indiana. The books he read were about military history and the intrigue of Tom Clancy mystery novels and NCIS dramas on TV captured his interest. When he had children, he passed on his enthusiasm for the Air Force to son Joseph and daughter Deanna.
During his years of service, Joe Stokkerman and Judith Pajatsch had maintained a long distance relationship that began when Judy broke up with Joe’s Air Force friend, Bobby. It was Bobby who challenged Joe to write Judy a letter, which he did with the help of his buddies, and he included his picture. As it turned out, Judy fell in love with the picture and wrote back. Her return letter was intercepted by Joe’s buddies, who ran it over to Joe and announced, “And it smells good, too.” That was the beginning of a year-long letter-writing marathon. The first time the two met was when Joe went home with Bobby. It was true love at first sight. Joe and Judy had just one week together before he returned to the service, but they continued to write. They became engaged exactly three years later, but in that time, they had only been with each other for a total of three weeks. Love conquered distance, and Joe and Judy were married August 8, 1964 at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in her home town of Struthers, Ohio. The newlyweds settled into the base at Tampa, Florida and loved military life but had good reason to leave it as well. During their first year of marriage they had only seen each other for 30 days. In their second year, they started a family with the birth of Pamela in 1966, then Joseph in 1968 and Deanna in 1973.
Within a week of leaving the military, Joe had landed a job that lasted 36 years. In April of 1968, he was hired in the Upjohn Co. doing various jobs until he worked his way to the hangar (Upjohn had its own planes). He first served as janitor, then assistant cook (known for making an amazing strawberry rhubarb pie), security guard (where he found many stray dogs and took them home), aviation services and finally lead line aviation services. That last job topped them all!
The only downside of Joe’s time with Upjohn was that he worked a lot of nights and missed many of his children’s activities. Still, he made himself available to build a float for a school function, and he liked coming home with a special little gift for each child. He had good relationships with his extended family—especially nieces and nephews—and counted them as friends.
Around the house, Joe was constantly doing projects—whatever Judy asked—but he preferred to be outside maintaining a perfect yard or tending to his tomato plants. That inevitably led to another favorite pastime: sitting in a lawn chair in the garage or under a tree and waving at passing cars. Little wonder that the Stokkerman front yard became the place where everyone hung out. Over the 40 years that they lived in Mattawan, “Mayor” Joe and Judy hosted BBQs in which he fixed ribs and delicious steak smothered in garlic and beer. All the holiday family gatherings were held at their house, and Joe did Christmas up big. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, he began assembling a huge display of lights, deer and wooden Christmas cards. Bobby had become a good friend of the family and came up from Indiana each first Sunday in December for the annual Christmas tree hunt and a giant party.
Joe preferred home to big public places and was a fan of NASCAR, especially Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He watched or played golf, even putt-putt golf, and made an outing of looking at tools at Sears. During his time at Upjohn, Joe had bowled on Tuesday mornings, and over the years he eagerly stayed in touch with the guys. Every weekend he and Judy could be found at Applebee’s, TGI Fridays or at Main Street Pub. On their anniversary Joe would take Judy to the Great Lake Shipping Co.
When Joe became a grandfather, he was amused by his grandchildren at play, but he also joked with them. He knew just how to tease each one of the grandkids. He was fond of saying, "You got 50 cents to use the bathroom?" or when people called on the phone, “It’ll cost you a nickel to talk to Judy.” Being a fan of the TV show, Big Bang Theory, Joe was given a large cut-out of his favorite character, Sheldon, and even had family pictures taken with him. As for musical tastes, Joe preferred 1950s music, the Kingston Trio and Johnny Cash. In certain ways, Joe was “old school,” and he liked it that way.
Of his many pleasures in life, Joe reached for an Old Milwaukee until it got too expensive and he turned to Red, White and Blue. However, when he developed Cirrhosis of the liver over a decade ago, he quit drinking cold turkey, but he never managed to give up smoking.
Joe suffered a heart attack and was admitted to the hospital. A week later, he died on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 at Borgess Medical Center.
Joseph David Stokkerman, age 73 of Mattawan, Michigan, leaves his wife, the former Judith Pajatsch, and his three children: Pamela (Michael) Jager of Byron Center, Joseph (Greg) of Marshall, Deanna (Jasmine) Earle of Kalamazoo; seven granddaughters and five great-grandchildren; a sister in law, Diane (Richard) Pennell of Poland, OH; a brother in law, Keith (Barbara) Desselle of Alexandria, LA and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
Besides his parents, he was preceded in death by his brother Jon and his sister Jill. He belonged to St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Mattawan.
Cremation has taken place. A memorial service will be held on Monday, June 29, 2015 at 11:00 AM at the Life Story Funeral Homes, Betzler – Kalamazoo; 6080 Stadium Drive (269-375-2900). Following the service, food and fellowship will be shared in the Life Story Center. Burial will be at Maple Grove Cemetery with military honors.
The family would like to express their heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all the doctors and nurses at Borgess Cardiac Care Unit for all the special care and guidance that was given to Joe and his family. Memorial contributions may be made to Wounded Warrior Project.