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Life Story / Obituary
With a life that spanned times of war and times of peace, times of plenty and times of want, Ellyn M. Fennema was a blessing in the lives of all who felt her touch. She was witty and so silly at times as she loved making others laugh. A devoted mother if ever there was one, Ellyn was thrilled beyond measure to welcome children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren into her heart later in life. She was a kindhearted parent, and she had a way of making the ordinary extraordinary. Life will never be the same without Ellyn here, but she leaves behind a priceless collection of memories that her loved ones will forever cherish!
It was great to be an American during the decade that we commonly recall as the Roaring Twenties. Jazz music and ballroom dancing were all the rage, and motion pictures came to life with both color and sound for the very first time. Amidst this exciting time was the year 1921 when Harry and Inga (Ranberg) Jenrich were pleased to announce the birth of the baby girl they named Ellyn M. on August 12, 1921, in Chicago, Illinois. Her father worked for Brach’s candy company while her mother was a homemaker. The oldest of four children, Ellyn was raised in the family home in Chicago alongside her siblings, Harry Jr., Warren, and Kenneth. Because her mother wasn’t well, she helped take care of her younger brothers.
In many ways, Ellyn was a typical young girl of her generation. She looked forward to visiting her grandparents’ farm despite being butted by a cow and thrown through the air. Whenever she told the story, Ellyn always talked about how she survived the “Great Cow Tossing!” While growing up she established a friendship with Anna, who later became her maid of honor. Ellyn enjoyed playing tennis as a child and liked vacationing on the Lake Michigan shoreline with her family. She attended local schools and went on to graduate from Finger High School in 1939.
Not to be forgotten during this time was Ellyn’s introduction to the young man of her dreams. His name was Harold Fennema. They met while she was working at a mission, and Harold came on a mission trip to the very same place. They didn’t date long, and Ellyn always said that she loved him from the very first time they met. It was on June 6, 1941, that the sweethearts exchanged their vows at his pastor’s house in Chicago. While living there, Ellyn and Harold welcomed their first two children, Harold and Grace, into their hearts and home.
Although they had a young family, Harold was sent overseas while serving in the Army. Two years later he returned, and they moved to a home on Diamond Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There, Ellyn and her husband were blessed with two more children, Keith and Mary. Later on, their family of six moved to Wisconsin for one year as was necessary for Harold’s career as a teacher and principal. From there they moved to Iowa where five more children including Wayne, Bruce, Doris, Diane, and Debra were born. After moving to Moline, Michigan, their family was completed with the births of Russell and Timothy. Having lived all over the country, the ongoing joke was how that they lived in almost every state. Ellyn’s family loved her food, and among their favorite dishes were her spaghetti, also known as goulash. She was also an excellent baker. Once her kids were old enough, they were able to take part in one of their favorite family traditions - Coke and peanuts on Saturday. This was such a treat, and all of the Fennema children couldn’t wait until they were old enough as this was the only time they had pop. As the years went by, “Coke and peanuts” became one of their favorite family sayings. In fact, it often wasn’t referencing the actual treat at all as at times it got tacked on to phrases such as, “Goodnight, sleep tight, Coke and peanuts.” Some of their best family memories were made while around the kitchen table talking. It was not uncommon to have between eight and 10 people gathered around the table at once.
All who knew Ellyn would agree that she was truly one of a kind. She wasn’t really a fan of animals, and although the kids had them at times they didn’t usually last very long. Ellyn had an amazing sense of humor in a witty, playful, and clever sort of way. She has even been described as silly as she was still making faces even in the nursing home. Ellyn loved puzzles and games like Scrabble and Scattergories as well as reading poetry and novels. For years, it was fairly common for Harold to read to her while she cooked. Mary, Diane, and Grace all played the piano, and they often sang as a family while the girls played. Ellyn especially loved hymns and listening to religious choirs. Although she never drove a day in her life, she “helped” Harold drive when he developed night blindness. Ellyn enjoyed traveling, and they often went to visit their children who lived all over the country. They even went to Germany to visit their son, Tim. When their kids were younger they more often took day trips. After Harold’s death, she proclaimed that, “It was time for a woman president,” since Harold was always so conservative. Later in life, Ellyn was thrilled when grandchildren and great-grandchildren came along.
There was no one who met Ellyn Fennema and left unchanged. She was genuine and gracious with just the right amount of spunk mixed right in. Ellyn was the rock of her family who was always there for whatever anyone needed throughout her entire life. Never one to complain or let life get the best of her, she was always sharing a warm smile with those around her. Deeply loved, Ellyn will be forever missed.
Ellyn M. Fennema, of Plainwell, passed away on September 17, 2017. Ellyn’s family includes her children, Harold, Keith, Mary, Wayne, Bruce, Doris, Diane, Debra, and Timothy; 29 grandchildren; 49 great-grandchildren; brother Ken; as well as several nieces and nephews. Ellyn was preceded in death by her husband, Harold in 2004; children, Grace and Russell; and 2 brothers. Visit with her family and friends and view her life story film on Friday, September 22 from 10 - 11 a.m. at East Martin Christian Reformed Church. A funeral service will follow at 11a.m. at the same location. Please visit Ellyn’s memory page at www.lifestorynet.com where you can archive a memory or photo, and sign her memory book online. Memorial donations may be made to East Martin Christian School.