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Life Story / Obituary
A kind, loving and personable man, Pete De Meester lived his life in service towards others. Whether caring for his family whom he deeply loved, or serving those in his church and community, Pete’s fair and easygoing nature found him to be a friend of many and a stranger to none. In all ways, Pete’s integrity and faith shone bright in all he said and did. For these things and so much more, he will be fondly remembered.
As the Roaring Twenties ushered in new ways of thinking, by 1921 jazz was all the rage and Charlie Chaplin starred on the big screen. Prosperity and good fortune created a sense of exhilaration never before seen while baseball continued to be America’s favorite pastime. Yet in the riverfront city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the birth of Peter James De Meester on November 12, 1921 was the greatest blessing of all that year in the lives of his parents, Ryan and Lucy (Van Wingen) De Meester. The youngest of four, Peter joined his older siblings, James, Raymond, and Marie on the northwest side of Grand Rapids on Crosby Street where his family made their home.
From his earliest beginnings, faith was an integral part of young Pete’s life. His family was faithful members of 12th Avenue Christian Reformed Church where the seeds of Pete’s faith were firmly planted. Despite the trials of the Great Depression, Pete enjoyed a childhood typical of his generation sharing boyhood adventures with his brothers and neighborhood friends. However, Pete knew his share of mischief during his youth, too. From some of the stories he shared with family members through the years, it is reasonable to conclude that young Pete was a bit of a challenge for his parents who often referred to his friends as, “characters.”
Pete attended Union High School and was quite a popular sight to see when riding around on his Indian motorcycle. Following high school he began working for a few concrete companies. With the onset of World War II, Pete felt the call to duty and enlisted with the U.S. Marines. Stationed on Midway Island in the Pacific Theater as a paratrooper, Pete never really spoke of his time in the service, and one thing was certain, he never had any desire to visit Hawaii again. Even so, Pete was proud of his service, having been honorably discharged with the rank of master sergeant.
Pete returned home to Grand Rapids and became reacquainted with a young lady who was his friend’s sister. His friend and their family lived just across the alley from Pete growing up, but now something special was in the air between Pete and Maxine Van Portfliet. They began dating and soon fell deeply in love. They were happily blessed in marriage on August 6, 1948, and together they would raise their daughter, Sandra “Sandy”.
Pete built their family home on Four Mile Road NE. He did most of the work himself, and only as he could afford it. In so doing, Pete never had a mortgage to contend with. He made a good home for Maxine and Sandy, and even though he had his rules, he never once spanked his daughter.
A few years after building his house, Pete found his true niche when he began his 32 year career with the Grand Rapids fire department. Pete loved his work and over time he came to be an equipment operator. He drove the pumper truck and operated all the controls while onsite. Having begun at Station 5, Pete moved to Station 6, to 12 and completed his time with the department at Station 10 on Franklin Street which was also the site of the fire department’s training center. Due to the fact that Pete always had to know where to go, he possessed a keen knowledge of the city and could give accurate directions to anyone.
As a family they spent much time on Scram Lake near Greenville at several cottages that for years had been in their family. Eventually, Pete and Maxine came to own their own little cabin, as well. Since his work schedule rotated with numerous days off in a row, Pete and his family enjoyed staying there whenever they could. Pete loved the wide open spaces and all the area had to offer, and he used his skills doing remodel projects there, too.
Even though Pete had a fulfilling job working for the fire department, he often held down a second job. For a time he worked at a concrete company, and he also had a route and drove a delivery truck for Henry J. Fox Distributors.
When Pete was not working he loved to tinker and putter. Very handy, he was considered a jack-of-all-trades. And when Pete worked on something, it was done right the first time. In his opinion, if it was worth building, it was worth overbuilding! Woodworking was a worthwhile hobby for Pete. He was quite talented, having made a wooden rocking horse for his great-granddaughter as well as various planters. Pete had a servant’s heart and he loved helping others. He even encouraged his grandson to do things himself, and he taught him well along the way. He spent a lot of time with his grandson, Steve, and in all ways Pete was a wonderful, supportive grandpa. Together they shared many excursions and trips which will always be treasured.
Pete and Maxine loved taking off for a trip every now and then, and sometimes on a whim. Through the years they took several trips in Michigan up north to Sault Ste Marie, and they also enjoyed trips all around the country, including several trips out west, and to Gatlinburg. On one of their excursions their car was washed away in a flood. Helpless as they watched from their motel room, they had no choice but to fly home. As a couple they also enjoyed the coastal waters at Madeira Beach, Florida each year. For years they headed south between Thanksgiving and Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed walking, shopping, socializing and having dinner with their good friends there.
Eventually Pete and Maxine moved on Aberdeen NE. It was there where Pete lovingly cared for his beloved Maxine for six years while she suffered from breast cancer. Sadly, she passed away in 1992, and for Pete, life was never quite the same. He had already done much of the cooking, and he did enjoy getting together with his many friends and other retired firefighters. It also gave him joy lending a helping hand for friends from church with their home repairs. For many years, Pete served as an usher at 7th Reformed Church where he was a member. Pete continued taking trips which seemed to refresh his heart. He loved nothing more than driving and a particular day may have found him taking in the boardwalk all the way in Manistee. Needless to say, he put on a lot of miles during these times.
After suffering from a fall in 2011, Pete moved in with his daughter. He longed to be independent, and he remained very social and active. He especially loved this time being around his great-grandchildren and enjoyed being playful with them. In the last year, Pete began feeling frustrated and agitated as his health limited his abilities, and more than he would recognize. Around eight months ago he moved to an assisted living facility where he remained for the rest of his days.
Pete was a rather quiet person, but the gears were always turning. He listened intently to others, and quietly watched for the right moment to interject a quick witted comment or two. Even though he tried to portray himself as a tough guy, his friendly and fun-loving grin often gave his true, gentle self away. Always patient and kind, Pete’s caring and genuine nature was always a welcome addition. Pete loved, served and gave from the heart fully and completely at every opportunity. Although deeply missed, Pete leaves a lasting legacy to be forever remembered.
Peter De Meester, age 94 of Grand Rapids, passed away February 5, 2016. He was preceded in death by his wife, Maxine and by his son-in-law, Martin Vander Lind. Peter is survived by his daughter, Sandra Vander Lind; grandchildren, Steven and Donna Boersma, Tim and Renae Vander Lind; great-grandchildren, Ashley Boersma, Brandon and Zachary Vander Lind; and several nieces and nephews. Peter’s funeral service will be held on Tuesday, February 9, 2016, 12 Noon at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home – Van’t Hof Chapel, 851 Leonard NW where friends may visit with his family on Monday from 7-9 PM. For those who wish, memorial contributions to Spectrum Health Hospice are appreciated. To read more about his life, to share a memory or to sign his guestbook, please visit www.lifestorynet.com.