Life Story / Obituary
Marvin Jay Laansma was a devoted family man, dedicated entrepreneur, and above all a joyful follower of Jesus Christ. He was humble and patient, fun-loving and kind. He was fond of saying, “Mighty are the preparations” when there was work to be done. Among his wise words, he liked to quote Dr. Seuss: “It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how.” And Marvin did know how to have fun! He viewed the world as God’s magnificent gift and enjoyed it as a steward of its natural resources and its daily provisions. He lived gratefully toward those around him and for the family he loved with all his heart.
Marvin’s story began just days after Charles Lindbergh completed his historic transatlantic flight in 33.5 hours, spurring the can-do spirit that had brought mass production of the automobile by Henry Ford. He was born May 30, 1927, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the second child of John D. and Johanna (Thomas) Laansma. His father worked as an IRS agent while his mother cared for their four children at home.
Already as a student at Aberdeen Elementary School, Marvin Jay was contributing to the family’s economy. At age 9, he and his brother removed coal ashes from homes and brought them to a disposal wagon on the street. He also delivered morning newspapers and set pins at Northview Bowling Lanes, where he was privileged to meet top bowling star Marion Ladewig. When he wasn't working, Marvin’s interests were in outdoor sports: snow skiing, fly fishing and becoming a die-hard fan of University of Michigan football.
Marvin graduated from Creston High School in 1945 (a semester early) and enlisted in the US Navy. From boot camp he went to officer training school at Auburn University. World War II was coming to an end and after a year of service, he was honorably discharged and returned home to Michigan.
Wanting to pursue a career in dentistry, Marvin first enrolled in Grand Rapids Junior College where he met a young pre-med student who attracted his attention. (He later changed his degree to accounting.) Anna Smith - known as Ann - and Marvin were in the same English class, and because they were both in medicine, they shared a few other courses. The time spent in class was enough for them to learn that they were both involved with other people, but the attraction between them was evident and the two soon began dating. Their relationship grew into love and commitment over a two-year period, and they made their vows on August 26, 1949, at East Congregational Church in Grand Rapids. They honeymooned in Yellowstone—a beautiful destination that was alleged to be Marvin’s choice because of the great trout fishing. Still, it was the perfect spot because Ann didn’t mind sitting on the bank and watching him—a scene that would repeat itself many times over the years of their long and happy marriage.
From Montana, the newlyweds headed back to Michigan and moved into U of M married housing in Ann Arbor. Nicknamed “zero housing,” the old WWII barracks had very few amenities, which may have had something to do with the fact they packed up their model A and visited back in Grand Rapids as needed. During the years that Marvin was completing a master’s degree in accounting, their first two children were born. The little family eventually moved back to Grand Rapids, first to Parkhurst Avenue and then to their permanent residence on Parmalee Court in 1959. It quickly became home for their nine children—JoAnn, James, David, Mary, Sue, Jan, Jon, Lisa, and Carrie—and the place where countless parties were hosted and memories were made.
To earn his accounting accreditation, Marvin had taken a job with a local firm and briefly worked for American Box Board before launching his own company. He started from the bottom, literally working out of his basement until he had built a solid client base and eventually shared office space with his neighbour, Jim Ritsema. Being his own boss, Marvin worked hard to grow the business but he also commanded his own time for other priorities in life. First was his love for the Lord Jesus Christ, which shaped the rest of his life as a family man and business executive. Early in his career, he found the Bible passage from Proverbs 9:10 to be very meaningful and he carried it into all his activities: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.”
Family and church were especially important to Marvin, and they frequently went hand-in-hand. The children grew up with sound biblical teaching on Sundays and Wednesdays at Highland Hills Baptist Church. They learned Christian service from the example of their father—a youth leader, deacon, elder, church treasurer and choir member. Marvin loved music and singing to the degree that he not only joined the choir, he sang bass in a quartet as well. His passion for the arts also came out in poetry, which he read and wrote.
Fun family routines continued throughout the week. On Friday evenings, Marvin took the kids to West YMCA while Ann made pizza that treated the swimmers when they came home. Wintertime Saturday mornings were spent at Cannonsburg Ski area, where Marvin could purchase a season pass for the whole family for $110. In summer, they picnicked at Holland State Park, camped up north, visited many of the country’s National Parks, hiked, fished, and indulged Marvin’s sweet tooth with ice cream topped with Spanish peanuts or cashews. Most often when they camped, Marvin and Ann had the youngest children with them in the RV and the older kids were in a tent. The family also had a cottage at Big Star Lake and spent time there and on the Pere Marquette River—fishing, of course.
Marvin and Ann were committed to family time, so much so that they didn’t hesitate to take the children out of school for a day to go on a fall color tour. They were bold to make a major purchase on behalf of the kids. As it happened, an empty lot next to their house was the neighborhood gathering space to play ball. The nearby school owned the property, and when the school board decided to sell it, the Laansmas bought it. It proved to be an excellent decision for their kids and the entire neighbourhood. Some years later, one of the neighborhood boys contacted Marvin to ask if he could hold a wiffleball tournament there for his bachelor party. There was quite a crowd in attendance, and once again the fun times rolled because of the Laansma’s foresight and generosity.
When it was just the two of them, Marvin and Ann spent time traveling, reading, playing Cribbage, and enjoying sports. They toured Europe, Israel, Scotland, and Australia, and read hundreds of books together—history, novels, and the Bible. In recent years, they read books aloud to each other and made their way through the Bible yearly cover-to-cover. Ann and he were still playing tennis with their friends every Thursday when, at age 80, Ann broke her hip diving after a tennis ball. Understandably, she and Marvin got a lot of laughs but mostly admiration when they showed up at the hospital ER. It didn't slow them down, however, as they continued the sport they loved for several more years. It goes without saying that they remained active long after retirement, which Marvin didn’t actually do because he stayed engaged with the business long after he sold the CPA firm, Laansma & Laansma, to his son Jim in 2005. In fact the day before he died he went in to his office for the morning.
Marvin was still young at heart when he died suddenly at his home on Wednesday, September 7, 2016. He will be deeply missed and lovingly remembered by his wonderful family and cherished friends.
Mr. Marvin J. Laansma, aged 89 of Grand Rapids, Michigan, passed into the presence of the Lord and Savior he loved and served. He was preceded in death by his brother, Donald Laansma. Marvin is survived by his loving wife of 67 years, Ann; children, JoAnn Pearson, Jim (Patti) Laansma, David (Robin) Laansma, Mary (Jack) Van Slambrouck, Sue (Kevin) Doenier, Jan Laansma, Dr. Jon (Lisa) Laansma, Lisa (Scott) Courey, and Carrie (Thomas) Stoner. He was a beloved “Paka” to his 38 grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren. Also surviving are his brother, John “Jack” (Sharon) Laansma; sister, Beatrice Scheltema; and many nieces and nephews. Marvin was a lifelong member of Highland Hills Baptist Church, 1415 Northrup NW, where his funeral service will be held at 11 AM on Saturday, September 10, 2016, with Rev. James Wells officiating. His family will receive visitors from 6-8 PM on Friday, September 9, 2016, at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Contributions in his memory may be made to Highland Hills Baptist Church Mission Fund or Building Fund. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to read his lifestory, archive a memory, photo, or sign the guestbook online.