Life Story Funeral Homes®
The exclusive providers of the Life Story Experience


Life Story Funeral Homes®
The exclusive providers of the Life Story Experience

Jane Zwiers

July 28, 2023
Kalamazoo, MI




Mom was a force of nature. A presence. The whole room tipped toward her when she walked in. She would shoot the sh*t with anyone: family, friends, strangers, neighbors, fancy people, not fancy people. You didn't forget having met her whether it was the content of the conversation or the volume of her voice. Conversations with Mom were intense, she didn't do small talk, every conversation solved a global crisis. She was eternally interesting and interested.

Mom was larger than life: gregarious, passionate, street smart, loud, intense, driven, a great storyteller - often laughing until she cried, a pain in the ass - and unapologetically so. She had a strong BS meter and you knew who her favorite people were when she called them "salt-of-the-earth". Mom was unresolved about never earning her college degree, but we all knew she was incredibly intelligent and was the best nurse with the perfect mix of grounded practical sensibilities, humor and warmth. Everything Mom did was full-on. She was The Full Package. She was A Boss, a BTO (Big Time Operator), but one with a huge heart and contagious laugh. And she loved her family fiercely.

Mom grew up in South Holland, Illinois with her parents Talena and Willard, and her siblings Jim, Barb and Beth. Talena passed on many traits to Mom, some of the strongest being tenacity, loyalty and grit. Willard passed on humor, hard work, and creativity. Together, they gave Mom their love of exploring other places and meeting new people. Mom's friendships with her siblings have been strong and connected over years and miles and full of many stories. Mom remembered good times and learned long-lasting lessons from her paternal grandmother, Minnie Van Drunen, a force of nature in her own right. She owes much of her creativity and independent thought to Minnie. And from her maternal grandparents Mary and William Bulthuis, she was forever grateful for her love of the big city and their constant affection and kindness.

Mom was a different kind of girl in the 1950's growing up in a small Dutch Christian Reformed town. She proudly told many stories of getting into trouble, free-ranging all over town with her best friend Judy Gibson. They never wanted to come home to use the bathroom, so they instead used the railroad tracks or an empty paint can. Mom, without even realizing it, broke glass ceilings in Women's athletics by playing baseball on the boys' team – proud to finally have a uniform to wear. And she always laughed that she was only allowed to play half-court basketball because adults at the time thought girls shouldn't run too much or their "reproductive parts" would fall out. She thought this was particularly hilarious through her nurse's eyes.

Mom was the kid who spent a lot of time in the corner or in the principal's office at school because the school didn't know what to do with a girl with that much energy, passion and curiosity. Thankfully, Mom found plenty to do with that energy and creativity, as a parent, in her career, and throughout all her adventures.

At age 18 she went to Rush St. Luke's Presbyterian Hospital for nurses' training and became a cardiac ICU RN, working in downtown Chicago during the electrifying late 60's. She then attended Calvin College for two years from 1968-1970 where she eyeballed a tall, dark and handsome man who she figured must have been Canadian because he wore socks with his sandals. She convinced him to leave behind his bachelor mindset and date her. They fell in love and became engaged at Chicago's Diversey Harbor at midnight between their two birthdays. Four months later they married at the First Reformed Church in South Holland, Illinois. They honeymooned in Williamsburg, Virginia where Mom's personal design style was solidified.

Mom and Dad moved to Hinsdale, Illinois and fixed up an old house where they lived for 7 years. During this time, Mom worked at the Hinsdale Sanitorium Hospital as a cardiac surgery recovery nurse. Mom became pregnant, carried the pregnancy full-term and gave birth to Eric who was stillborn. Mom carried the pain and tenderness of that loss for the rest of her life. Her Grandma Minnie and dear nursing school friend Cecilia Bergamo were particularly understanding and loving during this time of grief. A couple years later, Jill was born, then Paul and then Mary – to a lot of love. They were very wanted children.

After a few job changes and moves to Detroit and then Portage, the family landed in Kalamazoo. Using memories from their time in Williamsburg, Mom and Dad designed a beautiful home proudly using lumber from her family's South Holland lumberyard.

Mom's years were full of many experiences over the next decade: volunteering with Aunt Jo Gritter sorting clothes at the Deacon's Conference; dragging us all to "kingdom come" (her phrase for far-flung places) to camp and see the Great Lakes, many State and National Parks, mountains, deserts, and oceans; working at "The House of Beauty' – Kalamazoo Reconstructive Surgery Center where she showed great compassion for recovering burn and trauma patients, and laughed heartily with patients as they chose their boob sizes. While she wasn't a boastful person, we know her 17 years directing the Free Clinic of Kalamazoo was one of her proudest accomplishments. She wrangled together hundreds of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and volunteers and hundreds of thousands of dollars of free medicines and test strips. She pulled a community together to literally save lives. She also expanded that model with brilliant leadership to many other new clinics in the Great Lakes region. All this work earned her the 1999 Distinguished Alumni award from Rush St. Luke's Presbyterian Hospital. She did Real Good.

After retirement, Mom and Dad spent most of their time in Kalamazoo gardening and remodeling at their home - always busy with a project. They also loved spending their time traveling and visiting their kids on both coasts. They drove to the four corners of this country. In 2018 the entire family enjoyed a heritage trip to The Netherlands. It was her greatest joy during these years to welcome their five grandkids into the world and to watch them become their own fantastic humans. The family reconnected at our house in Kalamazoo for a few weeks in the summers for some good times together.

Mom and Dad spent their winters in San Diego with Jill, Mary and their families. We all had wonderful - and sometimes crazy - times together in San Diego. They helped with their grandkids and loved going to many of their activities. They helped Jill on her project houses and with work in Tijuana, and they enjoyed many of son-in-law John's choral concerts. They found all the good foods, and boogie boarded and beached as often as possible. Those were some grand golden years full of joy and love.

For the last four years of Mom's life, Mom and Dad lived full-time in San Diego with Jill, John and grandson Parker. Together they built a cottage for Mom and Dad to live in – a creative project Mom loved being a part of. It was particularly special for Mom in her hard final years to live with Parker's sunshine and spice for life.

It was incredibly painful watching a woman of such personality, power and passion disappear over the last years of her life. It has been a deep, long grief for our whole family to watch our Jane suffer through the fear and anger of Alzheimers. But it was the greatest honor to care for her and see her to the end of her life. Mom taught us so much in living, and also in dying. We miss her terribly. We will carry her stories and passion with us.

A Celebration of Life service for Jane is scheduled on Saturday June 29, 2024 at 1:00pm in our family's backyard garden in Kalamazoo. Please dress comfortably. During the service there will be a time for sharing short stories of your memories of Jane. Please feel welcome to share. We hope to see you there as we know everyone Mom met became a friend.

In the busyness of Mom's mind, the place she found peace was at the ocean. Slowing down to watch the waves, listen to the loud and the quiet, and see the changing colors in the brightness of the sun. In memory of these peaceful times watching the sunrise and sunset together, we will dedicate benches in these places to her honor in the hope that others can find peace there as she did.

Jane is survived by her husband Albertus "Bert" of 52 years. She is also survived by her daughter, Jill and her husband, John Russell along with their son Parker; son Paul, and his wife Susan, along with their daughters Sydney and Lane; and daughter, Mary Taylor and husband Ben along with their sons William and Cole.

And by her siblings James Van Drunen (Patricia); Barbra Ely (Robert); and Beth Steenwyk (Jacqueline Thompson).

If you care to make a donation in Jane's name, please do so to any of the following organizations:

Hunting Island State Park, Beaufort, South Carolina

Rush University Medical Center Nursing School, Chicago, Illinois

Kalamazoo Family Health Center, Kalamazoo, Michigan

Balboa Park Rose Garden, San Diego, California