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Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Marlene A. Stephens would agree that she was truly beautiful on the inside and out. She was gracious, kind, and compassionate with a selfless spirit toward all who were in her path. Marlene was an amazing wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother whose family was her greatest treasure. Accompanied by her unwavering faith, she exemplified what it means to be a woman after God’s own heart. Life will never be the same without Marlene here, but she leaves behind a timeless legacy that her loved ones will proudly carry on in her footsteps.
The 1930s were a time unlike any other in our nation as the entire decade was cloaked in the hardship of the Great Depression. A soaring unemployment rate left countless American families struggling to make ends meet. Despite the trials that surrounded them, Marlene Alice was welcomed into the world by her parents, Karl and Viola (Martindale) Zeitter, on September 19, 1933, after a very long and difficult pregnancy. Marlene faced some struggles as well as she suffered with whooping cough and also had to have restraints on her arms so she would not scratch her eczema and make it worse.
In many ways Marlene was a typical young girl of her generation. She spent her entire life living on the Westside of Grand Rapids. As a student Marlene attended Harrison Grade School, and Richmond Park was her favorite place to play. She then went on to Union High School where she worked on the school newspaper, worked on the yearbook, sang in the choir, and was very popular among her peers.
After high school Marlene went on to Western College in Kalamazoo with dreams of becoming a teacher. Since times were tough, she worked to help put herself through school. Marlene started out working at Crab Florists one summer and then worked on an assembly line at a local bakery. At school she also sang in the choir and was a member of the Alpha Omicron Pi Fraternity.
Although she had many boyfriends in high school and college, Marlene hadn’t yet found the right one. It was while sending out Christmas cards that her roommate suggested she send out one of the extras to a classmate from high school who was serving in Biloxi, Mississippi, during WWII. Marlene did, and when the young serviceman, Jim Stephens, received it he wrote back to thank her. They began corresponding, and when home on leave he took her out on a date when she came home from college on the weekend. Sparks flew, and by the time his leave was up they were engaged. One year later, Marlene and Jim were married on November 5, 1955, at Park Congregational Church.
After a short honeymoon, the couple made their home in Everett, Washington, where Jim was stationed. Marlene stared to do a little substitute teaching, but she soon became pregnant and was no longer able to work. On November 5, 1956, they welcomed their daughter, Kathleen Elizabeth, into their hearts and home. Sadly, a breast infection kept her unable to care for Kathy for several weeks. With help from women in the church as well as Marlene’s mother, Jim learned to care for Kathy until Marlene was able to take over. When Jim was discharged in 1957, their family returned to Michigan. There, their family grew to include their son, Karl Robert in 1960, and then Mark Richard in 1961. In 1960 their family moved from a rental house to a home they had built. This was the place Marlene and her husband called home until 2007.
Throughout her life Marlene was a bustle of activity. She was actively involved in her church as she sang in the choir and also worked with some of the women’s groups. Marlene later volunteered with the PTA, even serving as president for one year. Shortly after Jim started doing wedding photography, Marlene discovered that she loved weddings so they started their own wedding photography business. She did just about everything except actually taking the photos as she took care of the books, helped potential customers, and also helped couples with their photos once they came in. Their business thrived largely because of Marlene’s hand in the business. Both of their sons developed a love for photography and did many weddings of their own.
Eager to leave winter behind, in the early nineties Marlene and Jim bought a place in Lakeland, Florida. They started spending six months a year there, and she discovered that she actually enjoyed making crafts there every week. Sadly, in 2000 Marlene developed more health problems that left her unable to travel to Florida any longer. This brought them back to Grand Rapids, although they were able to rent back in Florida for three months over the following three years. After Jim suffered a heart attack in 2004, they began looking for a new place, eventually setting in the independent living at Covenant Lakes. At first Marlene was active there, but in time she wasn’t able to do as much. They eventually moved to nursing. She continued to delight in her family during her sunset years.
With a life that spanned times of war and times of peace, times of plenty and times of want, Marlene Stephens was an extraordinary woman to know and love. She lived a life of faith and served those around in her ways both great and small. Marlene was blessed to share the majority of her life with her true love, and together they welcomed several branches of loved ones who brought them great joy. Although she will be dearly missed, Marlene will never be forgotten.
STEPHENS – Marlene A. Stephens age 85, of Grand Rapids, went to be with her Lord on November 18, 2018. She was preceded in death by her daughter, Kathleen Wiekierak. Marlene is survived by her husband of 63 years, Jim; children, Karl Stephens and Mark Stephens; 10 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; sister-in-law, Sally (Vern) Sall; nieces and a nephew. The Funeral Service will be held at 11 AM on Friday, November 23, 2018 at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Friends and family will gather to share memories from 6-8 PM on Wednesday, November 21, 2018 and for one hour prior to the service at the funeral home. Interment in Rosedale Memorial Park. Contributions in her memory may be made to Alzheimer’s’ Association. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to read Marlene’s lifestory, submit a picture, memory or to sign the guestbook.