Robert Sonneveldt

November 23, 1942 - August 1, 2016
Grand Rapids, MI



Friday, August 5, 2016
6:00 PM to 8:30 PM EDT
Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes
Alt & Shawmut Chapel
2120 Lake Michigan Dr., N.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
(616) 453-8263
Driving Directions


Saturday, August 6, 2016
10:00 AM to 11:00 AM EDT
Trinity Reformed Church
1224 Davis NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504


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.

Heifer International
1 (855) 948-6437
Web Site


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

Ball Park Floral
8 Valley Ave.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
(616) 459-3409
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


Robert John Sonneveldt was born on the West Side of Grand Rapids on November 23, 1942, the son of Arnold and Esther Osterhaven Sonneveldt. A mischievous child with a twinkle in his eye, a big grin and a penchant for building and tinkering, Robert was the kid with his head down in a barrel and his feet sticking out the top as he dug for treasure. Whatever he found, he used for his next building project or invention. This was accompanied by his ownership of two pigs, Susie and Diane, who were infamous in the neighborhood for their escapades. Taking numerous weeklong canoe trips with his Uncle Gene Osterhaven in Northern Michigan and the wilds of Ontario was always one of his most precious memories.

Much to his chagrin, Robert spent his early years at home with 4 women, so he installed a doorbell under the kitchen sink to call him to dinner. He would then crawl out of his bedroom window, climb onto the garage roof, climb down the ironwork trim and appear at the dinner table. Robert also spent many happy hours as a child in his bedroom listening to voices from afar on his ham radio, as well as meeting fellow enthusiasts at a ham radio club.

In high school Robert was a part of a car club that met in a large garage next to the family home on Leonard. Robert and a group of friends spent many hours tinkering with cars. Robert's car was a '48 Ford with the shifter flipped on the other side of the steering column providing him with a free right arm to drape over his date. Since it had a backward shift pattern, no one else could drive it. Susie and a gaggle of teenage girls had the misfortune of riding to high school with Robert, who had a lead foot and enjoyed the screams of the ladies.

He attended West Side Christian School, Grand Rapids Christian High School, Northwestern College in Iowa, and Hope College. In Iowa he admittedly enjoyed working on a farm more than attending his classes and stayed in touch with his friends from Northwestern the rest of his life. At Hope he was reunited with his sisters Nancy, Susie and Cindy. Robert met Sharon Schouten whom he would later marry.

Robert felt a sense of duty to serve his country and in 1966 he and a friend went to join the US Marine Corps. Although initially rejected due to partial deafness in his left ear, he returned several more times to the recruiter’s office and eventually bluffed his way into the Marine Corps by flipping the headphones around during a hearing test. This sense of duty and commitment, to his friend who was accepted, was consistent with his personality. He was sent to Vietnam and eventually to Hawaii where he served honorably and achieved the rank of Sargent First Class. He was not braggadocios about his military career and rarely spoke of it. When asked he would turn the conversation more to making peace and seeing reconciliation and understanding of and with others.

Upon his discharge in 1969 he returned to Grand Rapids with his wife Sharon to start a family. Robert Shane was born in July 1969 and Shalom Angela in May 1971.

He happily joined his father Arnie at Buttercup Bakery, a family business begun by his grandfather. Reflecting on this later, he called his first year back, “the best year of his life.” For the next 2 decades he continued to work with his father and larger extended family in the bakery. Robert and Arnie shared a work ethic that was second to none, and they continually set the bar for all employees to follow. Through a combination of thoughtful deliberation and will power, he helped Buttercup expand the bakery in the 1980’s, adding restaurants and institutional customers. Robert’s style was always in a supporting role, giving most of the credit to others including long time employees whom he truly respected. He was also involved in the West Leonard Business Association and Rotary International.

In 1992 Robert chose a different path and retired as a baker and restaurateur. Consistent with his love of building, he became a finish carpenter for the next 2 decades. Carpentry was his real calling and he took great pride in the work he did with such precision and skill. In those years he was freed of managing hundreds of employees, and could be found sipping coffee in his white work van, listening to NPR on his way to install a kitchen, help a friend paint a room, work on a community project, or bail out family members with their own home emergencies. He was a prodigious reader: he always had a book in his hand, and was routinely seen at Zondervan or Barnes and Noble buying multiple copies of his last favorite read to hand out to friends and mail to family members.

Robert deliberately started the second half of his life with a month long hang-gliding adventure in North Carolina. Upon his return he dove into two decades of DeColores embracing his faith and spirituality, dancing at the Wheatland Music Festival, befriending a neighbor or clerk at a store, creating inventions for his delighted grandchildren, playing in an accordion band which he loved but referenced as an awful pack of wheezing instruments. He was active in soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity projects, and community outreach programs as much as Broadway musicals and theater. He attended Trinity Reformed, Unity Church, and Fountain Street Church. Skiing in the winter and trips to Lake Michigan in the summer were cherished annual family events.

Robert will, above all, be remembered by all who knew him for his kindness, humility, caring, generosity, selflessness, and acceptance of all people. His relationships with people were deep, meaningful, and lasting. He was totally without prejudice and saw the good in people. He loved others unconditionally with no expectation of anything in return. He was the ultimate helper who made life better for those who came into his life whether showing old family movies for the kids on the side of the garage, inviting a lonely acquaintance to attend a concert, slipping inordinately large tips into the hand of an unsuspecting server, or befriending the lonely and friendless. Robert touched lives wherever he went and will be deeply missed by scores of people who remain anonymous as well as those closest to him.

Robert Sonneveldt died on August 1, 2016. He is survived by two children, Shane and Brenda Sonneveldt of Chevy Chase, MD and Shalom Jaconette of DeWitt, MI, as well as 5 grandchildren: Gwyneth and Emma Sonneveldt and Ariana, Claire, and Charlie Jaconette. He is also survived by three sisters and their spouses, Lucinda and Bob Fedewa of Grand Rapids, Susan and Bruce Neckers of Grand Rapids, and Nancy and Philip Miller of Holland, MI. and many nieces and nephews. Visitation to be held on August 5th from 6 to 8:30 pm at Alt & Shawmut Chapel 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW. Funeral Service at Trinity Reformed Church 1224 Davis NW at 10:00 am on August 6th. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Heifer International at www.heifer.org or 1-855-948- 6437. To read Robert’s lifestory, sign the online guestbook or to leave a memory of him, visit his webpage at www.lifestorynet.com