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Life Story / Obituary
Every life is significant, and we each have the challenge to make a difference in this world and be a world changer for good. For 97 years, Douglas Edwin Vander Kamp was that man. As a boy and young man he faithfully helped his family, and as a husband and father, he was faithful during the hard and the good times. He was committed to his values and didn’t compromise as the world changed and turned around him. Doug counted his family as his greatest joy , and with quiet faith, he was ever dedicated to His Lord and those entrusted to his care. He loved adventure and new ideas and challenges and wasn’t afraid to try out new things. He was a positive influence in the lives of those he touched and leaves much to be remembered by lessons taught, love given, and a legacy that continues on in the lives of his family as well as those he touched through the years.
He was born to Edward and Rena (Franken) Vander Kamp in Holland, Michigan a small prominently Dutch community, on February 13, 1920 in an apartment above Model Drugstore on the corner of 8th and River Avenues. He was the oldest of eventually three brothers, Doug, Edward (Eddie), and Melvin (Mel).
Doug’s family later moved to the riverfront city of Grand Rapids where his father worked at the Grand Rapids Post office. His mother had her hands full with three strapping young boys all while working as a licensed beautician with a shop in the family home located on Philadelphia Street. He and his brothers loved fishing which continued to be a life long enjoyment for him. As a youth, during summers he worked on the uncle’s farm near Overisel in Allegan County. In the midst of the Great Depression, one summer Doug hitchhiked to Wisconsin to work on another uncle’s farm just to help out that family. They were so poor that when the summer ended they couldn’t pay Doug and sent him on his way to hitchhike home with a thank you.
At home, Reed’s Lake in East Grand Rapids also provided he and his brothers fishing opportunities along with ice skating and hockey. They were even known to have experimented with “scuba diving” there on their own accord! Money was scarce and times were difficult during the Great Depression, yet the Lord took care of his family, and they even managed a memorable trip to the Word’s Fair in Chicago.
After graduating from Christian High School where Doug was a member of the chess club, he went on to attend Calvin College in Grand Rapids. While at Calvin he also took a job with General Motors. World War II had begun, and true to his beliefs, Doug felt he should do his part to help his beloved country, so he signed up with the Army. After joining, he was tested for abilities, and tested so high that the Army decided to send him to Texas Tech for a crash course in engineering. As some may recall, the Germans were blowing up bridges so fast that the Army urgently needed engineers to rebuild them. After only nine months he was called back into active service and sent to Burma to help build the Burma road. War is fluid, and when Doug arrived there he instead was sent into battle where he was involved in some historic battles and later wounded. For his valiant service of duty, he received the Purple Heart medal and his honorable discharge. Not unlike many who were embattled in war, Doug was forever altered by these experiences and it changed his perspective on many things throughout the rest of his life. He shied away from ever wanting to talk about his experiences during his war years.
One very bright spot during that time was a blind, double date he went on during one of his leaves. His brother’s girlfriend set up a blind date with a friend of hers. They enjoyed miniature golfing and later went swimming at the beach in Grand Haven on their first date. Martha Dooge stole his heart and although he had to return to war, her letters of encouragement kept him going. Martha worked at the telephone company in Grand Rapids until his return home. They courted for eight months and were married on June 18, 1946, in the newly built chapel at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church. The newlyweds honeymooned in Traverse City for several days and then made their way along the Lake Michigan coast to Wisconsin where they stopped to visit Doug’s uncle.
Doug had a keen sense for numbers and financial things and with his fathers insistence, purchased three lots on Philadelphia Street in Grand Rapids where he built a house on the first one. While living there, he began building the second house. Upon its’ completion, they moved into it and sold the first home. They did this with all three of the lots which proved to be profitable real estate transactions. During this time, Doug and Martha were blessed with the births of their two children, Steven and Jane.
Later they moved moved to Underwood Street where they raised their family for the next 20 years. It was a lovely neighborhood nestled amongst large oak trees where all the kids played together in the evenings and families were neighborly. As a family they attended Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church. After the family was grown and Doug retired, he drew up plans for a retirement home for him and Martha. That was their last home and was situated in a lovely country setting just south of Rockford.
When Doug returned from the war, General Motors offered him his old job back where he worked as a tool and die maker until his retirement in 1975. While working there, Doug was given a vacation in the summer which the family used to make many memorable trips around the US. They purchased a small, 17 foot travel trailer and would load it up, and after school was out they traveled to many parks and other fabulous places around the U.S., and later, Canada. Doug also enjoyed the Upper Peninsula where he and Martha loved to fish at Lake Michigamme for walleye. They were delicious.
As a father, Doug was attentive and a very intentional, life teacher. Whether it be his children or grandchildren, Doug always used life moments and experiences to teach. Doug was a lifelong learner himself. He loved and had a passion for reading, especially biographies, and anything of science and theology. When it came to fiction he liked mysteries and novels, and his favorite author was A.W. Tozer. He and Martha were pioneers in organic gardening. In their country home each summer they'd plant a vegetable garden and were so successful they had more than enough food to share. Some of his other interests also included financial investments and learning financial insights, charting, and teaching wealth management to his grandchildren.
Doug and Martha were active members of Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church where they served in ministry. Doug was a deacon, served as an elder, and upon retiring, they together served CRWRC Disaster Response in many national efforts including Kentucky, Ohio, and Oklahoma. He and Martha so enjoyed having their grandchildren spend a week with them every summer. They always planned these days out enjoying day trips, euchre tournaments, moped rides, and other activities. As loving and involved grandparents, Doug and Martha were very influential in the lives of their grandchildren.
Through the years fond memories were made and enjoyed during the holidays and other occasions. Doug loved Martha's cooking and his infamous line when he’d say, “Mart, you've out-done yourself.” Doug enjoyed grilling chicken and steaks, but usually left the cooking to Martha. In retirement, he and Martha met many good friends and shared wonderful times traveling with Elderhostel travel groups to destinations such as Europe, Eastern Europe, Costa Rica and Mexico where their daughter Jane lived and worked on the mission field.
Well loved and admired, Doug Vander Kamp is best described as a teacher and a man committed to his love for the Lord. He loved the best of times with his family who were always close by, and he never ceased in encouraging those he loved to be certain they were making the right decisions. Gone yet never to be forgotten, the legacy and love Doug leaves behind forever remains.
Douglas E. Vander Kamp, age 97, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, passed away with his family by his side Wednesday, May 3, 2017. His wife, Martha of 72 years survives, as do his children, Steven and wife Joyce Vander Kamp of Rockford and Jane and her husband Alberto Escalante now living in Texas; ten grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren; his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, John and Marilyn Dooge of Grand Rapids; several nieces and nephews. Douglas was preceded in death by his brothers, Edward Vander Kamp Jr. and Melvin Vander Kamp. A memorial service will be held Saturday, May 6, 2017, 2:00 PM at Boulder Creek Assisted Living, 6070 Northland Drive NE. Friends may visit with Doug’s family beginning at 1:00 PM. Interment in Overisel Cemetery. Memorials may be made to Remember Niger Coalition. Please visit Douglas' personal web page to learn more of his life story, to leave a favorite memory, condolence or to sign his online guest book at www.lifestorynet.com.