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Life Story / Obituary
When reflecting on the life of Selma Wagner, it is easy to see that she was compassionate and selfless, giving of her time and talents to those in need. She lived life to the fullest and completely immersed herself into everything she did. Selma was deeply devoted to her family, and she was filled with much joy as she witnessed her family tree grow to include the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Accompanied by an unwavering faith, she exemplified what it means to be the hands and feet of the Lord she loved. Deeply loved, Selma will never be forgotten.
It was great to be an American during the vibrant decade of the Roaring Twenties when new innovation brought us refrigerators, washing machines, and motion pictures. Amidst this exciting time was a time of great celebration in the lives of Allen E. and Gertrude (Steensma) Derstein as they were blessed with the birth of the baby girl they named Selma Jean on September 1, 1925. Her father was a machinist while her mother was a homemaker. Growing up in the family home on Garfield NW, Selma was the third of four children as she was raised alongside her older siblings, Louise and Allen, and her younger sister, Patricia. Their family eventually moved to Berlin, Michigan which was later named Marne where they had 10 acres and grew strawberries, tomatoes, and pickles. Selma was very close to her siblings, and they frequently got together even as adults.
In many ways, Selma was a young girl of her time. She attended West Leonard Elementary School, Harrison Park Jr. High, and then graduated from Berlin High School when she was just 16. Selma enjoyed playing “Flinch,” a card game they made from cereal boxes as times were hard during the Great Depression. She also played many games in the house during the winter. They made paper dolls from figures cut from the Sears Catalog. After high school, Selma took business classes and secretarial courses, as she attended night school. Eventually, she did accounting at various local offices as a “Kelly Girl” including Muskegon Sealed Power Co., Hayes Manufacturing, and the Kent County Road Commission.
Life was forever changed for Selma when she met the young man of her dreams while roller skating. His name was Andrew Wagner. It wasn't long after they began dating that they found themselves in love. On May 21, 1948, the sweethearts were married at The Country House. The newlyweds honeymooned at Niagara Falls in New York and then returned home to Grand Rapids. They built a home on five acres at Waldorf and Bristol, and there they welcomed four children, Ruth, Kathleen, Richard, and David into their hearts and home. Selma fully devoted herself to tending to her home and family. She loved baking cookies, cakes, bars, and pies of many kinds. Selma canned and froze fruits and vegetables every year, and she grew tomatoes, raspberries, and squash in her garden. Selma also made delicious meals for her family including goulash, meatballs, and company chicken. She would prepare some of Sunday dinner on Saturday so as the family could eat soon after arriving home from church Sunday morning.
Selma was organized, efficient, and self-disciplined. She performed certain specific tasks on each day of the week, and she also managed the household finances. As a result of her thriftiness, the family enjoyed vacations in the summer, going to places like California, Wisconsin Dells, Arizona, and parts of the UP. Eventually, she and Andrew were able to afford to build their cottage on Emerald Lake in Newaygo. Of Selma we say that she practiced what Dave Ramsey taught before he was even born which is, “don’t buy anything unless you can pay cash for it.”
In addition to caring for her family, Selma busied herself with other things she enjoyed. She was a leader of Horizon Girls, teaching and grooming girls to be “candy stripers” at hospitals and nursing homes. Selma loved doing both crossword and jigsaw puzzles as well as knitting afghans, caps, mittens, and scarves for family and for preschoolers. She sewed outfits for her girls and took care of the mending and repairs for the boys while they were young. Selma antiqued her furniture to give it a new look, and she also painted a car and most of the rooms in the house.
When she was around 60 years of age she took a clerical position where she did accounting at Keebler Cookie Co. She continued working there until retiring when she was 65. Selma treasured every moment she spent with her grandchildren as she attended school events, birthday parties, and sporting events. During their retirement years she and Andy traveled, and they enjoyed watching Lawrence Welk, the Honeymooners, Mitch Miller, and the Bob Hope show. They also enjoyed walking at Woodland Mall for as long as their health allowed.
Andy and Selma were faithful members of Fairview Reformed Church, which merged with Bethany Reformed Church and became Orchard Hill Reformed Church. This was Selma’s church home for her entire married life. She gave of her time there as she taught Sunday School classes and Vacation Bible School. Selma loved singing hymns, and she was a faithful Christian woman and prayer warrior who frequently prayed for her family and others, too.
As they aged, Selma and Andy moved to Edison Assisted Living and later to Covenant Village of the Great Lakes. On March 2 this year, Selma was deeply saddened with the death of her husband. Although it was difficult without him, Selma’s faith and the love of her family sustained her during the days, weeks, and months that followed.
Loving, giving, and faith-filled, Selma Wagner was an inspiration to all who knew her. She was an amazing wife, mother, grandmother, and homemaker who counted everything as joy. Selma will be forever missed.
Selma Jean Wagner (Derstein), aged 92 of Grand Rapids, went to be with her Lord and Savior on Thursday, June 7, 2018, with her family at her side. She was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Andrew Wagner, two sisters, one brother and their spouses, and her parents, Allen and Gertrude Derstein. She is survived by her children, Ruth (Dennis) Stilley, Kathy (Gary) VanderWeide, Rick Wagner, Dave (Karen) Wagner; her grandchildren, Duane (Michelle) Volkers, Rhonda (John) DeYoung, Renee (Ben) Scholten, Brandon (Tifanie) VanderWeide, Darrin (Hollie) VanderWeide, Janelle (Josh) Ponder, Ashley (Kevin) Bush, Alyssa Wagner, Matthew Wagner; 10 great grandchildren; sister-in-law, Nancy Haga; Cathy Tjeerdsma family; many nieces, nephews and friends. Selma was a loving and dedicated wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and a friend to all who knew her. She will be deeply missed and lovingly remembered. She was a member of Orchard Hill Reformed Church. A service to celebrate Selma’s life will be held on Monday, June 11, at 11:00 AM at Heritage Lifestory Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW with Rev. Kathy Bartels officiating. Burial will be in Washington Park Cemetery. Relatives and friends may meet her family at the funeral home on Sunday from 2:00 – 4:00 and 6:00 – 8:00 pm and again on Monday from 10:00 am until the service begins at 11:00 am. Contributions in her memory may be made to Faith Hospice or Orchard Hill Reformed Church. To read more about Selma’s life, to leave your own memory of her and to sign her guest book, visit her web page at www.lifestorynet.com