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Life Story / Obituary
A hardworking and honest person who used his unwavering moral compass to guide his steps every day, Dr. Henry Dale Alkema was a father, grandfather, physician and musician who had many life accomplishments. Throughout his life journey, starting in Grandville and going through Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and even Greenland, Dale was a man of integrity who felt a strong sense of responsibility to the family he treasured and the patients he served.
Dale was born on December 19th, 1933, in Grandville, MI, the second child of Henry and Lena (Land) Alkema. Although named after his father, he was always called Dale, which was his middle name. He was raised in the family home in Grandville, alongside his older brother, Eugene, and his younger sisters, Ruth and Delores.
Dale’s father owned a local shoe store, which laid an important foundation in Dale’s life, as he spent time working there while growing up. At the store he learned the value of hard work and honesty, qualities he saw demonstrated in how his father conducted business and treated customers. For the rest of his life, Dale showed those same two qualities in everything he did. The shoe store was located across the street from a local restaurant called the Rainbow Grill, where Dale and other staff from the shoe store took their breaks. That’s where Dale learned to drink coffee and from then on, enjoyed starting his day with a cup or two.
For many years, Dale was a passionate violin player. He started playing when he was seven, traveling to Grand Rapids for weekly lessons. He was a naturally gifted musician, with perfect pitch and a deep emotional connection to the music he played. At one time Dale even considered becoming a professional violinist and in the 1970s he played in the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. He gave numerous recitals at well, including at Kalamazoo College’s Stetson Chapel and First United Methodist Church, both as a soloist and with other local musicians as part of a trio.
Dale always valued education. While growing up he attended local schools including Grandville High School, where he played tennis, as he was too small to play football as he had hoped. Dale was president of his senior class and had fond memories of his time in high school. He graduated in 1951, receiving his diploma from his father, who was also the Superintendent of Schools in Grandville. He went on to Grand Rapids Junior College, then transferred to University of Michigan, where he also attended medical school and was the Treasurer of his graduating class. Dale was extremely bright, and during his time at U of M he was recognized for his academic achievements.
Also as a young man, Dale spent two years serving as a Captain in the United States Army. During that time, he spent two six month tours at a base in Greenland that was actually located under the ice cap. His work as the camp doctor left him with free time, which he used to play his violin and read urological textbooks, which helped solidify his decision to become a urologist.
After being honorably discharged from the Army, Dale completed his urology residency at U of M Hospital. While there, he met Bonnie Mohler, who was an intern in the Dietetics department. Dale was forever grateful for the children they shared, including Cindy, who was born in 1964, Sue in 1966, Steve in 1970, and Jenny in 1973. Dale worked hard and long hours at Borgess Hospital and at his practice, Community Urology. He also worked at several hospitals in outlying communities. He was compassionate with his patients and well-respected among his peers. Dale was even on the team that performed the first kidney transplant in Kalamazoo. In total, he practiced urology for almost 40 years before retiring in 2005.
While quite dedicated to his work, Dale made it a priority to be home with the family for the evening meal, which was promptly at six every night, as had been the custom in his own family while growing up. Other traditions included Dale taking the kids trick or treating on Halloween and the whole family going to a Christmas tree farm in December to find the perfect tree every year. Dale and the family also treasured summers spent at their cottage on Pretty Lake in Mattawan, where Dale enjoyed fishing and sailing in his boat “Extra Kick.”
Over the years Dale made several trips to remote areas of Canada, where he was able to fish and unwind from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Dale was also a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz and it was quite the event for the family on the rare occasions it was broadcast on TV. This was in the days before VCRs, DVRs and Netflix, so the whole family looked forward to being able to gather together on the couch to enjoy one of Dale’s favorite movies with him. Dale also had a collection of the Oz series of books, most handed down from his family, which he enjoyed reading to his children. Dale was an avid non-fiction reader and history buff who had a large collection of books and knowledge about various subjects including the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Winston Churchill and Sam Walton. Additionally, Dale was a dedicated reader of the daily newspaper and could often be found in the evenings or Sunday morning reading up on the latest news. Dale was also known for his kind heart toward animals, including Buttons, the miniature poodle the family had while the kids were growing up. Dale provided loving care for his good buddy Buttons and enjoyed taking her for long walks. In later years, Dale also had several cats to keep him company.
One of the highlights of Dale’s life was becoming a grandfather. He was thrilled to be in that role, and relished spending time with his grandchildren whenever he could. The grandchildren delighted in their visits with Papa, including going on outings, reading stories and just spending time together.
In addition to valuing education in his own life, Dale instilled this value in his children as well, supporting them in all of their educational endeavors. He took pride in their accomplishments, in education as well as their working and family lives.
Dale eventually became a resident at Heritage Community in Kalamazoo, where he spent the last several years of his life. He enjoyed his time there, socializing with other residents and staff and participating in community activities.
With a life that spanned times of great change in the world around him, Dr. H. Dale Alkema made a significant impact in the lives of many. He was highly intelligent and known for his honesty and strong work ethic. Dale cared deeply about his patients and provided them excellent care, which made him well-loved and respected in his field. He was dedicated to his family and worked hard to provide for them.
Dr. H. Dale Alkema, of Kalamazoo, died on Sunday, March 18, 2018. Dale’s family includes his four children: Cindy (Dr. Steve) Sanford, Sue (John) Nishi, Steve (Katie) Alkema, Jenny Alkema (William Cederquist), and their mother Bonnie Alkema; eight grandchildren: Chris, Ryan, Forrest, Allie, Maya, Lauren, Annie and Nick. Dale was preceded in death by his brother, Eugene and two sisters, Ruth Reister and Delores Bosker. Funeral service will be held at 4 p.m. on Thursday at the Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive; Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900. A reception will immediately follow in the Life Story Center. Dale will be buried in the Grandville Cemetery alongside his parents. Please visit Dale’s personal web page at www.BetzlerFuneralHome.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his online guestbook before coming to the funeral home. Memorial donations may be made to Pretty Lake Camp or Kalamazoo Humane Society.