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Life Story / Obituary
Witty, generous, and kind, Kenneth Paul Buining lived his life centered in love and an inspiring sense of play. Kenneth centered his life around his family, and his smile and naughty sense of humor were gifts to all who knew him. A naturally adventurous soul, Kenneth welcomed each day’s joys and challenges equally. A loving husband, devoted father, and proud grandfather, Kenneth embraced his roles with honor and enthusiasm leading his family by example and celebrating each day as a gift. Cherished by many, Kenneth will long be remembered by many.
Despite the obvious gloom of the growing conflict in Europe, 1939 held much to celebrate, including the end of the Great Depression, the premieres of the classic film Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, regular television begin to broadcast nationwide, and The World’s Fair in New York. As the US actively armed up for war, families continued to center their lives in love and hope for a brighter future. Nowhere was that hope more evident than in Grand Rapids, MI where Frank and Dien Bruining welcomed their son Kenneth into their hearts and home on March 12th.
The youngest of the Buining children, Ken began his life in the good company of his sister Angie and brother Jim in their home on Hogan St. SW. While their father provided for the family with his work at Kelvinator, their mother cared for the children and home. From the start, Ken had an undeniable sense of adventure that often resulted in his running away from home. He biked away so often that his parents had to actually tie him to a tree to ride his bike. Not one to be thwarted in his efforts to explore and need to roam, Ken took dutch coins from his mother’s purse and rode the bus downtown. The police even became involved, picking him up and keeping him until his dad came to pick him up.
The family moved several times during Ken’s youth. First, they moved to a home on Mount Vernon St. NW. They lived next door to St. John’s Home and served as the caretakers for the church. Ken began his schooling at Lexington Elementary. Once the family moved to the Richmond Park area, he attended Harrison Park Elementary and later Union High School where he graduated in 1957.
Ken spent a lot of time at the beach, enjoyed a good game of cards, and loved to race go-carts.
A natural people person, Ken’s first job as a soda jerk was a natural. Later he worked a car lot, then moved onto Keeler Brass and Kelvinator. At the age of 21, Ken secured employment with GM.
Ken loved cars and especially relished in owning his 1956 Chevy Belair Hardtop. Though he eventually traded it in for a Corvette, the memories of the Belair always resulted in a quick smile of pride and delight.
Ken’s love of cars may have been the reason he met and fell for his wife, Pam Swantek. While hanging out at Holland State Park in 1960, Ken eyed Pam and her spiffy car searching in vain for a parking space. Ken offered to drive the car and find a space for her. Pam agreed on the condition that Ken give her the keys to his car. Later, Ken’s mother found Pam standing next to his car and inquired as to why she was there. Pam explained that it was time for her to go home but Ken had her car. Pam added that if he didn’t show up soon, she’d have no choice but to drive his car home. Ken’s mom found him right away, and soon the two were dating.
Despite the fact that Pam decided to bring her little sister and niece along on their first date, Ken knew he’d met his match. After dating for a time, the two married on Feb 10, 1961, at St. John’s Church and soon began their family. Ken continued to work for GM and Pam worked at Michigan Bell. The two delighted in welcoming their three sons, Steve, Rick, and Joe into their lives and the joy that came with centering their lives around their boys.
The family enjoyed lots of camping, especially at Hoffmaster State Park, and making the trip to St. Ignace to participate in the Bridge Walk each year. Because he was often laid off during the summers, Ken was able to spend a lot of time with his boys. The boys have a wonderful treasure of favorite memories with their dad. Joe remembers fearing for his and his brothers' lives as they rode in the camper topper of their dad’s 72 Chevy pickup under the low overpass on Bristol Ave. that they were certain would sheer them to pieces. Rick remembers his dad helping with his paper route on Sunday mornings, and the insanity of trying to maneuver the manual Chevy Chevette through a blizzard. Joe has fond memories of riding along in the Shaffer Bread Company truck with his dad during weekend deliveries, and all the boys fondly retell the stories of how their dad's initiatives resulted in their first jobs.
An extrovert through and through, Ken enjoyed talking with people. Despite being extremely hard of hearing, whether telling one of his stories or setting up a joke, Ken was happiest in the good company of others. Ken freely offered his ideas, thoughts, and opinions to others even when he wasn’t asked for them. He was also quite the practical joker! Once when he went out west with friends on a hunting trip, even though he didn’t hunt, his pals couldn’t guarantee he’d be invited to join them again in the future as he’d allegedly talked non-stop during the entire trip.
Ken thoroughly enjoyed the best of the simple things in life. He was a meat and potatoes guy who loved car shows, spending time on a pontoon boat crooning to his favorite 50’s and 60’s tunes with friends, traveling by motor home, and going out to dinner. With Ken in the mix, there was sure to be lots of laughter.
Ken and Pam enjoyed spending lots of time traveling all over the country in their motorhome. They were especially grateful to be able to visit Rick who was in the Navy, and Steve who was working in Washington DC. Traveling to Woodbridge, VA, Pam and Ken were honored to prepare Thanksgiving suppers for the boys, for all of Steve’s friends.
Without a doubt, Ken’s heart’s delight was his family. Ken recognized his good fortune in the gift of being married to Pam, he was proud of his boys, and he relished in being a grandfather to Breanna and Brody. For Ken, the perfect day was any day spent with family. Regardless of all the joking around he did, Ken's loyalty was unquestionable. He unhesitatingly supported others in all their endeavors and would do anything for those he loved.
Eventually, Ken and Pam sold the motorhome and purchased a condo in Traverse City. At that time Ken decided he would do all the cooking, announcing that Pam had the previous 35 plus years and now it was his turn. He loved all that went into making a meal: planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking.
After 16 years in Traverse City, Ken’s health challenges, including Dementia and kidney problems, required they return to Grand Rapids. It was here that Ken could receive the medical care he needed and more importantly, he and Pam could enjoy the comforts of being near family and friends. The last three years were filled with much discomfort and a lot of physical pain for Ken. With unwavering dedication, Pam lovingly cared for Ken, allowing him to be able to die in the comforts of home on July 17, 2017.
Surely the world is duller without Ken’s bright smile and sense of humor. May it afford deep comfort to know that with each adventure taken, moment shared with loved ones, and practical joke told we are living Ken’s inspiring legacy.
BRUINING – Mr. Kenneth P. Bruining aged 78, of Grand Rapids, passed away on July 17, 2017. He was preceded in death by his parents, Frank and Dien Bruining; and siblings, Angie Blanksma and Jim Bruining. Ken is survived by his wife of 56 years, Pam; sons, Steve (Suzanne Strohl) Bruining, Rick (Diane) Bruining and Joe (Cheryl) Bruining; grandchildren, Breanna and Brody Petrucciani; brother-in-law, Hank Blanksma; and his nieces and nephews. A special thank you to all the staff, especially Kathy Froman, at Lemmen Holton Cancer Center and to the staff at Faith Hospice, especially his aide, Brenda. The Memorial Service will be held at 11 AM on Monday, July 24, 2017, at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Friends are invited to visit with his family for one hour prior to the service. Contributions in his memory may be made to Faith Hospice. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to read his lifestory, archive a memory or photo or to sign the guestbook.