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Life Story / Obituary
Thomas Alkema was a loving husband, a caring father, and a trusted friend. He was always willing to help if a need arose and might even do so with a few endearing teases to lighten the mood. Tom spent many hours in nature, a place in which he found great joy while hunting, fishing, golfing and enjoying the swimming pool. Tom enjoyed many sunrises on rivers and lakes hunting and fishing. His life in this world will truly be missed, but he now rests in peace after an 11 month battle with lung cancer.
Tom was born two days after Thanksgiving in 1945 to Rudolph “Rudy” and Margaret (Gravelyn) Alkema. He joined his older siblings: Norma, Robert “Bob” and Marv. His parents instilled a strong foundation for the family and attended Trinity Reformed Church of Grand Rapids. Sadly, his dad passed unexpectedly when Tom was only 8 years old.
The Alkema family lived on Crosby Street NW in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As a boy, he always looked forward to summer vacation when the family would camp at Silver Lake. Unfortunately, Tom was accident prone. One summer, Tom eagerly waited for the day they would pack up and finally head out to begin their camping adventures - only to be utterly disappointed after he broke his arm. This incident was caused by a harmless roller skating experiment during which he was pulled around the neighborhood with another boy’s bicycle. The next summer was also a sad disappointment, as Tom accidentally cut his thumb with his brother’s just sharpened pocket knife. Impossibly, he faced a third summer in a row without the childhood joy of swimming because while he enjoyed a thrilling game of flash light tag at his cousin’s house, he ran smack into a metal gate causing a gaping wound on his eyebrow. Luckily for Tom and his family, many wonderful memories were created when Tom was less accident prone! He continued the family tradition of getting together hosting the Alkema Pool Party. His spent almost 30 summers maintaining the pool like new so family and friends could enjoy swimming. Last summer Ken's youngest son also learned to swim to Grandpa's applause.
Tom was an amazing friend to many people, some of which he kept in contact with from his Harrison Park Elementary days to those days spent at Union High School. He was very playful and liked to lovingly tease. After graduating from high school, Tom took classes at Grand Rapids Junior College before he joined the Army. He served his country as a radio operator during the Vietnam War.
Eventually Tom met Ellen Jean Palmer, and they married on April 15, 1972, at Rockford Methodist Church in Rockford, Michigan. In 1974, Tom and Ellen celebrated growing the family with the birth of their son, Ken. A few years later, the Alkema’s welcomed their daughter, Karen. As a father, Thomas was stern but very loving and involved. Together, they created amazing memories traveling to Disney, the cruise, amusement parks, and the Bahamas. Thomas also enjoyed duck hunting trips and fishing trips, throughout the US, with his son and loyal hunting buddies. Tom took many trips to Canada with his son, brothers, brother-in-law and all the nephews. He usually brought back duty-free chocolates and perfume for wife and daughter!
Tom supported his family by working at Lear Siegler, which became Smith Industries, as a supervisor. Sometime later, Tom retired from Steelcase in January 2001. In later years, Tom and Ellen traveled from Michigan to soak up the warmth of Florida and Arizona and enjoyed fun times with the Florida friends.
Always wanting to lend a helping hand, Tom volunteered at the Northwest Food Pantry using his truck to pick up and deliver food and commodities He began driving as a favor and stayed many years. With his determination, nothing would stand in the way of him seeing to it that every delivery was made. Often when he would pick up bread he put a few loaves in the truck to pass out to the homeless on street corners on his way back to the pantry. This was a ministry for him and he enjoyed serving the church of his childhood.
He and Ellen were also given the gift of an amazing daughter-in-law: Olivia, and gift of 3 grandsons: Matt, Luke and Ben. He also lovingly welcomed Karen's foster baby, Danny. Tom loved sharing his passion for fishing with his grandsons. Many years were lived fully, but the best of them were the 45 in marriage to Ellen.
A true, kind and gentle friend was always found in Tom. He was an avid outdoorsman who welcomed the company of others. Many moments spent with his family and friends in the simplicity of nature while duck or goose hunting will remain fond in our memories. His value of friendship and his compassion for others are traits he leaves behind for his loved ones to carry on in his absence, for he made the importance of these qualities shine throughout his entire life. The memories we have of Tom will forever remain close to our hearts, and he will be greatly missed.
ALKEMA, Thomas B.
Grand Rapids, MI
Age 71, after an 11 month battle with cancer, passed away March 11, 2017 at Trillium Woods with his loving family at his side. Tom was born in Grand Rapids, the son of the late Rudolf and Margaret (Gravelyn) Alkema. He was a veteran of the US Army and served during the Vietnam War. On April 15, 1972, Tom married the former Ellen Jean Palmer. Tom was an outdoors-man who loved duck hunting and fishing, especially with his grandsons. He will be missed by his wife of 45 years, Ellen; his children, Ken (Olivia) Alkema of Marne, and Karen Alkema of Goshen, IN; and grandsons, Matthew, Luke, and Ben; and foster grandson, Danny. Also surviving are his sister, Norma (William) Stapley; brother, Marvin (Norma) Alkema; sister-in-law, Sharon Alkema; mother-in-law, Eleanor Palmer; and several cousins, nieces, and nephews. Tom was preceded in death by his brother, Robert Alkema and father-in-law, Kenneth Palmer. A funeral is planned for Thursday, March 16th at 11 AM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW. Friends may visit with his family from 2-4 and 6-8 PM on Wednesday at the funeral home. Memorials may be made to Faith Hospice or Northwest Food Pantry. Please visit Tom's personal web page to learn more of his life story, leave a memory or condolence at www.lifestorynet.com.