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Life Story / Obituary
Through his strong willed and independent nature, Steve Kowalski was no stranger to hard work. He provided well for those entrusted to his care, and having lived a full and long life, Steve witnessed many social and technological changes throughout his lifetime. Steve never required much and was just as content working on his hobbies, living side-by-side with his beloved wife. An avid storyteller, never to be forgotten and remembered fondly will be the many tales he shared of days gone by. For those who knew him best, he will be dearly missed.
The year 1916 was much different than the world we know today. People walked wherever they needed to go, and technology was meager. However, the invention of the light switch was a welcome convenience for city dwellers, yet most Americans lived in more rural areas. As many left school for work and the war, the U.S. was advancing as a world power while heavily engaged in World War I. Far removed from the battlefields of war, it was through these uncertain times in the Michigan community of Painesville when Adam and Frances (Lientarski) Kowalski celebrated the birth of their first child, Steve Anthony, born on June 12, 1916.
Having emigrated from Poland, Steve’s parents had bright hopes for the future, although with meager beginnings, life was hard for the young family. Born in the northernmost part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in an area of copper mining and at the age of 3 moved to Grand Rapids, Steve’s father was a hard working miner while his mother remained at home as a homemaker.
The oldest of eventually five children, Steve was later joined by his brother, Hank. Before long, his family moved to the riverfront city of Grand Rapids, Michigan where Steve welcomed the addition of another brother, Frank. As children, the brothers were close and enjoyed their share of adventures. Later, when his sisters, Ruthie and Martha came along, it was much like the beginning of an entirely new family as they were much younger. Growing up in their family home on First Street NW offered Steve much throughout his youth. He raised rabbits and pigeons, and living so close to John Ball Park provided hours of ice skating, hockey, and tobogganing down the long hills.
From a young age, Steve learned the value of hard work. He peddled newspapers in the northwest neighborhoods and when older he served as a caddy at the Cascade Country Club. When in season, he picked cherries, but for the most part, whenever he could make a few cents, he did so. Even though Steve left his schooling behind to seek work, he was an intelligent man. He was self taught in many regards, and if he lacked knowledge about something, he learned by way of reading.
The onset of the Great Depression brought financial and economic instability the world over. With jobs scarce, Steve began working in Strongs, Michigan at a CCC government induced forestry camp in 1935, serving as a camp cook. On the weekends he’d leave with his buddies looking for a little adventure, and one night while at a roller rink in nearby Escanaba, life as Steve knew it forever changed.
After setting his eyes on a beautiful, little brown eyed girl, Steve’s heart was never the same. Quite smitten, the feeling was mutual and although Arlene was just a young girl of 16 and still in school, Steve courted his sweetheart for the next year and a half. On Steve’s 21st birthday, June 12, 1937, the two were happily married at a Catholic church in Escanaba in a double ceremony shared with good friends, Wally and Lillian. Surely a day to remember, Steve treasured this special day in his life.
The newlyweds lived in Detroit for a time before moving north to Escanaba. Before long they welcomed the addition of children into their lives with the births of two sons. Lanny came along in January of 1939, and in February of 1940, Arlyn followed. To support his family, Steve worked in the tool room at the General Motors Equipment factory for most of his career after they settled in the Wyoming area of Grand Rapids. As a father, Steve was more strict and set the rules while Arlene was more loving as a gentle and nurturing mother. Steve worked long hours and did so at every opportunity to provide a good life for Arlene and the boys.
Through the years memorable times were shared as a family enjoying the holidays and other special occasions. They spent quality time at their place on Woodcock Lake and in Honor on the Platte River where Steve’s brothers, Hank and his wife, Marge and Frank had cottages on the river. Steve enjoyed hunting and fishing in his twenties, but in later years he came to like fishing more and time spent gardening. He loved growing tomatoes and dill, and to Steve, there was nothing quite like freshly sliced tomatoes on the dinner table. Going mushroom hunting with Arlene was a favorite pastime, and picking strawberries, too. Steve loved Arlene’s cooking, but when it came to potato pancakes and cabbage rolls, Steve’s were simply the best. He liked going to The American Bakery on Bridge Street to buy his rye bread, and 20th Century Meats, also on Bridge Street was his place to go for liver sausage. True to his Polish heritage, when it came to music, Steve loved Frankie Yankavich’s polkas. He did like his sports but especially enjoyed watching the Detroit Tigers play.
Steve was a gifted and talented craftsman. He loved building things, and if he didn’t know how to do something he set his mind to, he read about it and taught himself how. Over the years he made everything from furniture to wall hangings displayed in their home. For a man who didn’t possess a college education, Steve was quite smart. He was a thinker, and always used his head, hands and knowledge to get things done. Never one for YouTube tutorials, the computer, videos, or TV, Steve relied on the basics of lifelong experiences and pure determination to succeed.
A man of simple means, Steve was never one for worldly travels. When his beloved Arlene was diagnosed with cancer about the time he retired, the two began living at their cottage on Woodcock Lake. There they enjoyed and cherished the next year and a half they had together. It was always a happy place for them to be, and Steve considered his time there with Arlene as the most wonderful of his life.
Steve Kowalski will be remembered for his hard work ethic, determination and at times, strong will. He lived life the way he knew best in spite of the many changes in the world around him. A man dependent on no one but himself, he lived on his own terms, enjoying what he loved most. Family was his greatest joy, and seeing his grandchildren and great-grandchildren made him proud. He loved being a trickster, and he told his share of tales just to see who would believe him! Yet Steve’s legacy is found in the many stories he told.The stories of his long life were repeated time and time again, and ingrained into the very hearts of those he leaves behind. They will be recalled fondly each time they are retold, keeping the memory of Steve alive for generations to come.
Steve Anthony Kowalski, age 100, of Lake Ann, Michigan passed away on Sunday, July 17, 2016 at Railside Assisted Living Center in Byron Center under the care of Grace Hospice. He was preceded in death by his wife Arlene; son, Lanny; grandson, Kenneth; and daughter-in- law, Cherae. Steve is survived by his son, Arlyn Kowalski; grandchildren: Keith, Denise, Kandy, John, Kari, John, Cindy, Mark, Tami, Tom, Kristi, and Dennis; 16 great-grandchildren; daughter-in- law, Bertha Kowalski; nephew, Walt (Carol) Kowalski; and niece, Carole (Chuck Turner) Kowalski. Friends may visit with Steve’s family on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, Van't Hof Chapel, 851 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504 from 10:00 AM until the time of his service at 11:00 AM. Contributions in his memory to Grace Hospice are appreciated. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to share a favorite memory or photo of Steve and to sign his online guestbook.