Joyce Vander Zouwen

February 21, 1939 - September 1, 2017
Grand Rapids, MI



Monday, September 4, 2017
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM EDT
Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes
Alt & Shawmut Chapel
2120 Lake Michigan Dr., N.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
(616) 453-8263
Driving Directions


Tuesday, September 5, 2017
1:30 PM to 3:00 PM EDT
First Evangelical Covenant Church
1933 Tremont Blvd NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504


Tuesday, September 5, 2017
3:00 PM EDT
First Evangelical Covenant Church
1933 Tremont Blvd NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
(616) 453-6346


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

First Evangelical Covenant Church (Music Ministry)
1933 Tremont Blvd NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Music was a large part of Joyce's life. Donations to the church will be specified to their music ministry.

NINDS c/o Heritage Life Story Funeral Home
2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Researches Neurological Disorders including Stiff Person Syndrome. Checks should be made payable to NINDS and mailed to the funeral home. All contributions will be mailed together as required by NINDS

Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


With her notable small frame and incredibly large amount of spunk, Joyce Elaine Vander Zouwen was never shy to start up a friendly conversation. She was determined to keep moving even when she faced difficulties with her age and health. Her desire for independence and constant positivity was admirable. A true inspiration to everyone who knew her, she leaves behind quite a legacy. Joyce was a caring wife, a loving mother, a cherished grandmother and friend to so many. Her place in our hearts will never be forgotten.

When Joyce began her life, the world was bracing itself as WWII began, and the nation felt the responsibility to roll up their sleeves and help the war efforts. It was also a time in which amazing advancements were introduced: the first transatlantic passenger service - flying from New York to England. People found hope and distraction with the release of the film, "Gone With the Wind."

All the while, Jacob and Jeanette (Sweers) DeWitt were also looking for hope and joy which was found when they welcomed their beautiful daughter, Joyce Elaine, to the world. She was born in her family home on Crosby NW on February 21, 1939, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Joyce was the baby of the family, and she was welcomed by three siblings: Mina, Ted, and John. Amongst the four children, there was a 14-year span. Joyce's childhood was a good one, for everyone doted on her being the youngest - especially her father. At the early age of 7, Joyce began taking piano lessons which would influence her passion in music for the rest of her life. The Dewitt Family attended the 7th Reformed Church where they built a strong and faithful religious foundation as a family. It happened to be that the regular organist was sick one Sunday morning providing Joyce the chance to play for the congregation. The invitation was memorably a tap on Joyce's 14-year-old shoulder asking if she could do it, from that moment on, Joyce was hooked and began playing the church organ for years. Aside from their church, the Dewitt's kept quite busy as a family planning many road trips which were shared with Joyce's aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Academically, Joyce did well in school and definitely enjoyed the social aspects the most. She made many friends throughout her years in school and kept many of those relationships into her adulthood. She attended Harrison Park Elementary where she volunteered to be a safety crossing guard. She eventually graduated from Union High School. Joyce had big dreams of traveling to New York to attend music school, but her parents thought her aspirations were a bit lofty and unnecessary.

Joyce was fortunate, for she fell in love before she earned her high school diploma. One day she was walking home from Catechism class with a friend when a car pulled up alongside them. Her friend's boyfriend was in the car and offered the girls a ride home. The driver of the car, Bernie Vander Zouwen, was quick to formulate a plan. He dropped off every passenger in the car leaving just Joyce which provided the perfect opportunity to ask her out on a date for the following Saturday's Youth for Christ event. She happily accepted his invitation. Getting her parents' permission to go was a bit more difficult because she was not able to produce many details about this boy - including the mystery of his last name. In time, however, she learned his last name, and the two quickly became high school sweethearts. Upon graduation, a wedding was planned. On June 27, 1957, at 7th Reformed Church, the young and happy couple became husband and wife.

The newlyweds enjoyed a honeymoon traveling to the Smokey Mountains. When they returned, they settled into an apartment located on Courtney Street NW. Joyce went to work as a secretary in an insurance office followed by a job at Kirby Vacuum where she helped the salesmen by answering the customer phone calls. Before long, she and Bernie discovered they were going to be parents for the first time. In the span of about 5 years, their family grew to five, as they welcomed 3 children into their lives: Bryan, Joni, and Dan. Knowing the family would be expanding, a new and larger home was a necessity. They built a home on Webster which would be where Joyce called home for the rest of her life. To focus on her family, Joyce quit her job and stayed home until her kids started school. When she was able to go back to work, she found a secretarial position in the Grand Rapids Public Schools at several elementary buildings. As fate would have it, several years later, the seasoned parents found that they were going to have one more baby. Their youngest daughter, Amy, joined the family, and Joyce stayed home again for a couple of years.

In time, Joyce returned to the schools to find employment. Her new position took her to the Kent County Jail as a liaison between the school and the jail where she handled much of the administrative work. She dedicated 18 years of her life working here before retiring.

Throughout all the years, the raising a young family, and a few jobs, Joyce never let her passion for music waiver. She continued to play in church services but expanded to playing in funerals and weddings as well. Luckily, her other responsibilities allowed her the flexibility to pursue her love for music. Fortunately for her children, Joyce introduced the joy of music to all of them. Her love and passion easily influenced their musical abilities and the silent expectation that they somehow include music in their own young lives. Joyce gave piano lessons to other children in their home as well, so all of her children were exposed to the sounds of music regularly.

Aside from the beautiful sounds of music in the home, Joyce helped provide a memorable childhood for all of her children. She was not a strict disciplinarian, but rather her kids knew she had high expectations and disappointing her was punishment enough. They planned many great summer vacations which included renting a cottage or going on a road trip. As the children matured, their summer vacations gave way to Spring Break trips to Florida instead - providing a much-needed break from work and school. It was not unusual to find the children in the kitchen helping to make dinner or bake a treat, as she loved cooking with them. Her pies were wonderful, and all of her children (and grandchildren) learned her culinary secrets while they helped read the recipe cards. Bernie had the luxury of coming home from work every evening to find dinner was ready at the table while simultaneously greeted with a loving kiss. She and Bernie shared a great love, and they always tried to make time for Saturday night dates when the family was young. Their home was also a warm place where many of their kid's friends would enjoy visiting.

Many of her daughter's clothes were homemade, for Joyce learned to sew. She perfected this craft, and by the time Amy was in high school, she proudly wore prom dresses her mother sewed just for her. Joyce had a knack for seeing a dress in the store only to inspire her to recreate the idea with her own fabric choice. Her finished project always ended up better than what was in the store.

As Joyce and Bernie watched their children mature, they were able to spend time together in other ways. Joyce loved socializing and entertaining. She would often invite friends over for dinner or head out to their homes to visit. Many of their vacations were planned to see the kids in their new lives and homes. One particularly notable trip on Route 66 was shared by just the two of them. Their love for family, however, prompted a treat to Disney World for everyone which provided so many gifts in fond memory. Closer to home, they traveled in the summertime as a couple to Mackinac Island and Traverse City among many other beautiful up north destinations.

Soon, they were given the gift of grandchildren. Joyce enjoyed the blessing of each grandchild and regularly participated in their lives. She would often invite them over to spend the night or plan other fun activities like baking, trips to the zoo or the museum, or simple trips to the store. As the grandchildren became involved with other activities, their grandmother was always supportive and not shy to boast about their many accomplishments.

When Joyce found a bit of time for herself, it isn't surprising that she found various social activities to keep her busy. Always heavily involved with the church she continued to serve the community with her faith and musical talents. She spent time sharing her musical talent with Alzheimer's patients, and at the Christian Rest Home, Fulton Manor, and Lacks Cancer. Joyce was a member of Remembrance Reformed Church for about 30 years and more recently First Evangelical Covenant Church. As a loyal fan, the Detroit Tigers could always count on Joyce's cheers of support. She looked forward to sharing her love for the game with just about anyone, but especially her grandchildren.

Despite her continuous desire for vitality in life, her health created challenges. Two years ago, Joyce was diagnosed with cancer followed by another diagnosis of a rare condition called Stiff Person Syndrome which complicated the ability to treat her cancer. Joyce continued, with amazing determination, to stay positive and dedicated to maintaining the best quality of life possible. She vigorously did her exercises and persevered no matter the setbacks she began to endure. Approximately a month ago, Joyce elected for surgery and had trouble making a recovery. Sadly, she passed away on September 1, 2017. At the age of 78, Joyce Vander Zouwen went home to be with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. She leaves behind her husband of 60 years and a lifetime of cherished memories together. Her genuine love for just about everyone she met and her remarkable loyalty to everything she loved will be dearly missed. To find comfort in our sadness, we will hold the memory of Joyce's spirit close to our hearts.

Joyce Vander Zouwen, age 78 of Grand Rapids, went home to be with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on September 1, 2017. She was preceded in death by her parents Jacob & Jeanette DeWitt, brothers Ted & John DeWitt and sister Mina Wilcox. Joyce is survived by her husband of 60 years Bryan (Bernie); children Bryan & Merrilee Vander Zouwen , Joni & John DeNeef, Dan Vander Zouwen, Amy & Roland Hart; grandchildren Heidi Vander Zouwen, Captain Melodie (Captain Daniel) Anderson, Stephanie, Bryan John III and Evianna Vander Zouwen, Becky (CJ) Murphy, Kelly (Jake Naessens) DeNeef, Niki and Kyle DeNeef, Josh, Drew and Eliana Hart; great granddaughter Nora Lynn Murphy.

The service to remember and celebrate Joyce's life will be held on Tuesday, September 5 at 3 PM at First Evangelical Covenant Church, 1933 Tremont Blvd NW. Friends are invited to visit with her family on Monday evening from 6-8 PM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home - Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW and on Tuesday at the church from 1:30 PM until 2:45 PM. For those who wish, memorial contributions are suggested to either the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (for research of Stiff Person Syndrome), or in honor of her love of music, a donation to First Evangelical Covenant Church for use in their music program. To read more about Joyce's life, to share a memory or photo, or to sign her guestbook, visit www.lifestorynet.com.