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Life Story / Obituary
With an infectious laugh, a twinkle in her eyes, and a smile on her face, Sally VanOtteren celebrated each day she was given. A woman of beauty and grace, class and style, intellect and playfulness, Sally was a gift to all who were blessed to know her. Treasured by many, Sally’s spirit will long warm the hearts of those she so wholeheartedly loved.
Daughter of Robert J. and Sarah (Thomas) Wood, Sally was born in Anniston, Alabama on July 29, 1931, in the midst of the 114-degree day. The treasured only daughter of a second lieutenant and his bride, though Sally was born while her father was stationed at Fort McClellan, the family soon moved to the Philippines via ship and the Panama Canal. It would prove to be the first of many moves that would take her to France, Iceland, New York, Newfoundland, and Virginia.
Sally had many fond memories from her childhood like the pet monkey she had while living in the Philippines, living at the Thayer Hotel when her father taught at West Point, and befriending the children of other high-ranking officials. She played Tiddlywinks with Mamie Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley’s children were playmates as well. Sally loved to bicycle, swim, and roller skate. Having moved so much, she possessed a natural ability to make friends. However, leaving those friends was always a struggle. Fortunately, at the age of 10, Sally’s love for dogs was rewarded while the family lived in Newfoundland. Her English Setter, “Govey” quickly became her best friend.
Eventually, the Wood family returned to Virginia where Sally attended high school at St, Margaret’s School. Though she was disappointed there were no boys in attendance, she soon found herself enjoying playing tennis for the all-girls school.
After graduating from high school, Sally attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. where she studied English and Latin. Sally had the opportunity to study abroad in France for a semester which may have sourced her lifelong passion for dressing with style and her love of hats. With her degree in hand, Sally was very particular and protective of the English language, and she never hesitated to correct its misuse.
While attending Dickinson College, Sally met her first husband, Bill Lorimer. The couple soon married and Sally embraced her role as a pastor’s wife with signature grace and warm-heartedness. She was very serious about her contributions to the church and her husband. She taught Sunday school, opened her home to the fellowship, and participated in Inner City Ministries. With her natural warmth and sincere interest in others, Sally had a special way with people. She was a skilled conversationalist who knew how to draw people out with curious questions and heart-centered listening. Many people found safe harbor from life’s storms in Sally’s effortless kindness. In the reflection of Sally’s eyes, it was easy for people to know their worth.
Sally’s great joy was being blessed with her three children; Brad born in 1956, Skip in 1959 and Lee in 1961. As Bill’s career moved them along the east coast through New England, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Sally relished in being a stay at home mother and the challenges that came with it. With tremendous savvy, Sally could stretch a dollar in the most creative ways. Possibly in spite of being raised an only child of an Army General, Sally loved the flurry of activity that came with a house full of children. She encouraged her kids to be active and even enjoyed when they rough-housed a bit. Sally could often be found quietly watching her kids with a smile that beamed pure joy. Sally also enjoyed playing Bridge with friends well into the night and celebrating Thanksgivings in New Jersey. Her favorite indulgence during these years was fresh lobster!
Six years after Sally and Bill separated and divorced, Sally had the good fortune of meeting Gerard “Gerry” VanOtteren while attending church in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Soon after their minister introduced them to one another, the couple went out on their first date to see a movie. Ten months later, they married on January 21, 1978.
As Gerry had already accepted a job in Grand Rapids, MI, the newlyweds packed up their things and began the move just four days after the wedding. Finding themselves in the middle of the famous “Blizzard of ‘78,” upon arriving at their new home, the newly blended family was instantly snowed in for several days.
Sally and Gerry, along with Skip and Lee, created a loving home in Grand Rapids that centered around the kids as they finished up their schooling at East Grand Rapids High School. As the kids grew into adulthood, Sally and Gerry began to explore the world. They traveled to Europe eight times, sailed The Great Lakes from the end of June thru September on their boat “Windy,” enjoyed season tickets to the Civic Theater, and listened to the Symphony Pops. Sally worked as a volunteer at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, was an administrative assistant at Butterworth School of Nursing and was a secretary for Michigan National Bank. She was also an active member of Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Without a doubt, Family was Sally’s heart’s delight. As her children married and gifted her with grandchildren, Sally’s joy grew beyond description. She treasured any time spent in the good company of her fourteen grandchildren and loved sharing books, nursery rhymes, trips to museums, and attending children’s civic productions with them. Dogs continued to hold a special place in Sally’s life. Though she had many dogs during her life, “Max” was her true love. Later in life, Sally loved when visitors brought their dogs to see her too. Sally’s family will attest to the fact that her passion for reading was as a part of their sense of home as anything. Her love of reading and learning was evidenced in her subscription for The New Yorker which was purchased through 2025! Sally loved the news. She spent hours clipping articles, recipes, or tidbits for her family members. Then she would carefully paperclip the clippings together, write the intended’s name on the top, and save the precious bundle. She was always so excited to present it as soon as she could.
A true lady, Sally will long be remembered for her grace and generosity. Her bright spirit and warm heart always resulted in an enthusiastic greeting and a delight in spending time together. The world is surely duller without the beauty of Sally’s brilliant smile and inspiring laugh. May it afford deep comfort to know that we carry the spark of Sally’s legacy in each of our hearts and that each time we earnestly listen to another, unhesitatingly welcome another, delight in the symphony, or share the magic of the Great Lakes, we celebrate the gifts of Sally’s beautiful life. In so doing, we keep Sally’s spirit alive and radiating out where no telling it will go.
Mrs. Sally Van Otteren, age 86, the daughter of Robert J. and Sarah (Thomas) Wood was born in Anniston, Alabama on July 29, 1931. Sally has three children, Bradford Lorimer, Skip (Kim) Lorimer and Lee (Keith) Vandenbussche from her first marriage to Bill Lorimer. Having married Gerard VanOtteren in 1978, Sally moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan and gained three stepchildren: Eric (Debbie) VanOtteren, Ed (Laura) VanOtteren and Ellen Harpole. She leaves 14 grandchildren. Special thanks to Vista Springs Northview Memory Care Unit aide for their attention and care of Sally for the many months she resided at Northview, and also to the personnel of Hospice of Michigan. A brief service for family and friends to remember Sally will be held at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW, Grand Rapids at 1:00 PM Saturday, September 30, 2017. Friends may visit with the family from 12-1 PM.To share a favorite memory of Sally and to sign her online guestbook, please visit www.lifestorynet.com.