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Life Story / Obituary
Described as gentle, generous, and outgoing, Henry Tjoelker made a significant impact in the lives of those around him. He could be opinionated and didn’t shy away from speaking his mind with an unwavering set of convictions that guided the steps he took. Henry was deeply devoted to his family, and he was the sort of person who would do what he could for others. Accompanied by an unwavering faith, his life exemplified what it means to be the hands and feet of the Lord he loved. Life will never be the same without Henry here, but he leaves behind a priceless collection of memories that his loved ones will forever hold near and dear to their hearts.
The struggles of WWII were felt worldwide, and the Netherlands was no exception. Although they had claimed neutrality, Hitler invaded them in 1940. Following their defeat, Germany moved in and occupied the country, and life was anything but easy. Despite the extreme trials around them, William and Agnes (Vander Veen) Tjoelker were able to shift their focus to a time of great joy as they welcomed the birth of their new baby boy on March 9, 1941, in Groningen, Netherlands. The oldest of three, he was joined in his family by his three sisters, Sonia, Margie, and Janet.
In 1953, Henry and his family immigrated to the United States, and life was forever changed. They moved to Washington so his father could find work as a carpenter, eventually settling in Lynden. Henry knew only three English words at the time, “yes, no, and cowboy.” The first American meal he ate was a hot dog, and although the family thought it was disgusting they ate it out of respect for the person who bought it for them. Henry’s family lived on a farm where they raised animals. He enjoyed spending as much time outdoors as he could, and one of his favorite things to do was to catch eels in the canal by their home. Henry was disappointed that he could play tag on the mountains of Washington. After three years in Linden, the family moved to Grand Rapids in pursuit of new work opportunities. Although Henry missed Washington, he adjusted to his new surroundings. He attended West Side Christian School and graduated from Grand Rapids Christian High in 1958.
New and exciting changes were in store for Henry when he met the young woman of his dreams. Her name was Marjean Sterk, and they met in 1962. Henry asked her to go to church with him one evening. He had introduced himself at Sonia’s brother, so it wasn’t until the end of the night when another boy who they were double dating with, said, “OK Henry, lets get the girls coats,” that Marjean knew his name. It wasn't long before the couple found themselves deeply in love. With a desire to spend the rest of their lives together Henry and Marjean were married on June 5, 1964, at LaGrave Ave CRC. The newlyweds then enjoyed a honeymoon at Niagara Falls and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. There, Henry worked in sales for Scotts Fertilizer. Henry and his wife later moved to Buffalo, New York, but they returned to Grand Rapids. In 1971, Henry took over his father-in-law’s business, William Sterk Painting and Decorating. He liked the challenge of the bids, running a business, and math. Henry always had his hand in some type of business including rental properties and apartments, and he also liked investing and playing the market. Together Henry and his wife were blessed with the arrival of four children, Debbie, Lisa, Valerie, and Todd. Family vacations were very important. Among their travels were memorable trips out West, camping, and spending time at Hoffmaster. In addition, Henry and his family celebrated Sinter Claus every year.
Throughout his life Henry was a man of many interests. He was a lifetime member of the National Audubon Society, and he loved to go birding. Henry even traveled across the country to see birds. He loved playing pool and bowling, and for years he was on several different leagues for each. Henry was known for his sweet tooth for things like donuts, homemade cheesecake, dark chocolate, and Dutch licorice. Henry also enjoyed herring or steak done medium rare. Every day at 4 p.m. Henry could be found playing cards and having cocktails. In addition, church was a large part of his life.
When he was 55, Henry retired. That same year he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Although this was initially difficult and changed him to some degree, he did learn to live life just one day at a time. Henry became more aware that each day is a gift and to use each moment wisely. He spent winters in Sarasota for as long as he was able. Henry found great joy in being with his family and friends, and he loved having a great conversation that went deep into whatever they were talking about. In fact, Henry was even willing to take a different side of the conversation to keep it going. Politics and religion were among his favorite topics. The past six months were increasingly more difficult as Parkinson’s slowly took more things away from him.
All who knew Henry Tjoelker would agree that he was such a special person. Described as a gentle giant he mastered the art of focusing on what matters in life - faith, family, friends, and finances. Henry face challenges, but his strength, courage, and resilience were such an inspiration. Deeply loved, he will be forever missed.
TJOELKER – Henry Tjoelker age 77, of Grand Rapids, went to be with his Lord and Savior on May 4, 2018. Henry is survived by Marjean (Sterk), his wife of 54 years; children, Debbie (Larry) Quakkelaar, Lisa (Scott) Carlstrom, Valerie (Alan) Beatty, and Todd (Mary) Tjoelker; grandchildren, Kristin (Charlie) Balfoort, Justin (Roseli) Quakkelaar, Ethan Glatz, Natalie Glatz, Kristin (Jacob) Rettig, Tiffany (Chad) Van Dam, Tyler Beatty, and Alex, Nick, and Mimi Tjoelker; and great-grandchildren, Ford, Henry, Jackson, Everett, Keagan, Juliana, Kendall, Trenton, and Brooks. Also surviving are his sisters, Sonia (Dan) Achtyes, Margie Reed and Janet (Anthony) VanBerkum; sister-in-law, Elma (dec’d: Keith) Sterk; and many nieces, nephews, and cousins. The Funeral Service will be held at 11 AM on Monday, May 7, 2018 at Third Reformed Church, 2060 Michigan St. NE. Friends and family will gather from 1-4 PM on Sunday, May 6, 2018 at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW and on Monday at the church from 9:30-10:30 AM. Interment in Fairplains Cemetery. Contributions in his memory may be made to Parkinson’s Foundation or Third Reformed Church. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to leave a memory, photo or to sign the guestbook.