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Life Story / Obituary
Loving, intelligent, and fun-loving, Phyllis Ann VanHeest lived a life rich in family and faith. Selfless and caring, Phyllis embraced each day with gratitude and generosity. She freely gave of her heart and was a gift to all who knew her. A loving wife, mother, grandmother, and friend, Phyllis’ joyful devotion to those she loved will long live in the hearts of those she loved.
Despite the obvious gloom of the Great Depression, the power of hope undulated in the hearts of many. With a natural drive to not just endure but thrive in the face of uncertainty, the nation continued to put one foot in front of the other to build a better future. Nowhere was there more hope than in the home of John and Barbara (VanDaalen) Helder as they welcomed their daughter Phyllis into their family on April 27, 1933.
Born in a time of struggle and having grown up in the wake of WWII, like many in her generation, Phyllis’ early years were firmly centered in the values of family, faith, and community. While her father provided for the family through his work as a baker, her mother ran the home. Having immigrated from the Netherlands, the Helders instilled a deep appreciation of the freedoms and privileges available to their daughters. Raising Phyllis and her three sisters, Barbara, Harriet, and Jeanne on the west side of Grand Rapids, afforded the family many opportunities enjoy one another’s good company in a lovely community. The Helders were members of Twelfth Street Christian Reformed Church and often enjoyed family picnics in the summer and celebrating holidays together. They also shared many wonderful times vacationing at rental cottages and camping.
Phyllis spent a good deal of her childhood jumping rope and riding her bike. She attended West Side Christian School and then Grand Rapids Christian High School. She liked to sew as well as play the piano and organ. A very good student, Phyllis excelled in school.
While enjoying the entertainment at Ramona Amusement Park on Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids, Phyllis had the good fortune of being introduced to Philip VanHeest by a mutual friend. Still in high school at the time, they began dating and soon were a couple. Two years later, with their eyes and hearts on a future spent together, Phyllis and Philip married at Twelfth Street Christian Reformed Church surrounded by their family and friends on October 27, 1953.
A week after the wedding, Philip shipped out to proudly serve our country in Korea. For the next 18 months, the newlyweds communicated by letters and anticipated the future they planned. After safely returning home, the happy couple soon welcomed their son Todd and Heather into their family. Though Phyllis worked as a secretary for the local board of education, she happily left her position to become a full-time homemaker.
Without a doubt, creating a loving home for her family was Phyllis’ greatest joy. She relished in motherhood. With a heart that knew no bounds, Phyllis supported her children in all their endeavors. With signature love, care, and selflessness, Phyllis raised her children upon the firm foundation of her own childhood values; values she not only believed but also embodied. Phyllis taught her children the value of faith by living hers; she encouraged their schooling by sharing her own intellect and hard work, she modeled the importance of family and inspired many fun times with her quick wit and happy nature. The family shared many summer trips and enjoyed lots of celebrations where Phyllis’s good cooking took center stage.
Generous in her time and talents, Phyllis enthusiastically volunteered in many ways at her church and the school children’s programs. For a long time, she lovingly taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. It’s easy to say that many children’s faith was fortified by Phyllis’ teaching.
In retirement, Phyllis was blessed to enjoy many adventures with her beloved. She and Philip traveled the world and went on various cruises. They also created many treasured memories with their grandchildren whom Phyllis absolutely adored. She was a wonderful grandmother whose love was not only abundant but also unwavering. In their grandmother’s eyes, Lucas, Brandt, Jared, Caleb, Justin, and Mackenzie always knew they were loved, valued, and enough just the way they are. And in each of their eyes, Phyllis saw the bright spark of her beautiful legacy. They were truly her heart’s delight and watching them grow proved a singular pleasure.
It is hard to imagine life in the absence of Phyllis’ bright presence. May the memories of her joyful spirit and the beautiful traditions she gifted us afford deep comfort. May it also provide comfort to know that with each hymn we sing, stitch we sew, fun we make, and prayer we offer, we celebrate the best of Phyllis’ legacy in our own lives. In this way, we continue to keep her bright spirit shining and inspiring others as she so inspired us.
Van Heest (Helder) – Phyllis A. VanHeest aged 85, of Grand Rapids, went to be with her Lord and Savior on June 11, 2018. She was preceded in death by her sisters, Barbara De Haan and Harriet De Haan. Phyllis is survived by her husband of 65 years, Philip; children, Todd (Harriet) VanHeest M.D. and their sons, Lucas, Brandt, Jared and Caleb VanHeest; and Heather (David Ph.D.) Schutt and their children, Justin and Mackenzie Schutt. Also surviving are her sister, Jeanne (Rev. Milton) Doornbos and the extended VanHeest family. The Funeral Service will be held at 11 AM on Friday, June 15, 2018, at Westend Christian Reformed Church, 1015 Westend Ave NW with Rev. Henry Admiraal officiating. Friends and family will gather from 2-4 and 6-8 PM on Thursday at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Interment in Rosedale Memorial Park. Contributions in her memory may be made to West Side Christian School. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to read Phyllis’ lifestory, submit a memory, photo or to sign the guestbook.