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.
Friends of Michigan Veterans Homes
PO Box 805
Grandville, MI 49468
Life Story / Obituary
There was no place Robert VanderKolk enjoyed more than sharing the company of those he loved. In the hearts of those who knew him best, Robert was free-spirited in nature and loved bringing laughter to the days of others. He lived to a beat all his own, and the way in which he lovingly shared his life with those around him will never be forgotten.
The decade of the 1950s sculpted the culture of America. Everything from music to movies, art and media, to beloved comic strips and cartoons introduced households to a whole new way of life. The introduction of the color television and the beginning of the interstate highway system in 1951 was cause for excitement at a time when the Korean War raged overseas. And with manufacturing and home construction on the rise, the economy boomed as the suburban dream was being realized. It was indeed a time of change, especially in the lives of Gilbert and Evelyn (Jansma) VanderKolk. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, they welcomed the birth of their youngest son, Robert Nick VanderKolk on January 18, 1951.
The youngest of four boys, Robert was ten years younger than his oldest brother, and he remained close to Charles and Terry, yet from a young age, he formed a particularly close bond with his next older brother, Chris.
When Robert had a goal in mind, there was no convincing him otherwise. This was especially true in his toddler years when at the age of three, Robert experienced quite the adventure. When his mother put him down for a nap, young Robert crawled out of his crib with a destination in mind. Out he went, heading to where his father worked. When his mom realized he was gone and reported him missing, the police soon located him and brought him home. Still dismayed and crying in their driveway, Robert’s mother said he was a sight for sore eyes when the squad car pulled up with him waving and saying, “Hi mom!”
Robert attended the local elementary schools. A friend of many, everyone liked his fun-loving demeanor and free-spirited ways. Life was certainly an adventure with four rambunctious boys. Outnumbered five to one, Robert’s mother most often took their antics in stride. Yet one time while in high school, the trust Robert’s parents placed in them didn’t fare too well. While his parents were away, Robert and his brothers decided to have a party. Needless to say, their parents returned home earlier than expected, and it was quite evident by all of the empty cans in the closet that they had messed up. Robert was a little mischievous during his youth, and whether it was the party incident or not, for a year he even attended a military school.
Having graduated from East Kentwood High School with the Class of 1969, Robert went on to further his education. After a semester at college, he joined the U.S Navy where he trained and worked as an EMT during the Vietnam War. As a result of his horrific experiences in this position, Robert soon began exhibiting signs of PTSD. Suffering from this debilitating disease, he was honorably discharged from the service. After returning home to Michigan, Robert met a young woman named Vanessa whom he married, although after three years their union resulted in divorce.
Love was not lost for Robert. Some time later, he met the woman he would share the rest of his days with, Mary Schultz. They were both out one night, and after meeting an attraction was formed as they filled the evening with conversation and dancing. Robert and Mary saw each other regularly and were happily married eight months later at the courthouse on September 15, 1982.
Making their new home together in nearby Allendale, their daughter, Crystal soon arrived followed by their second daughter, Maria, two and a half years later. A wonderful and loving father, Robert was the delight of his daughter’s lives, and the feeling was mutual. His world was made complete by them as he was not afraid to act silly, and often sang the Fat Albert or Cowardly Lion songs to them. At bedtime, Robert would fling the girls over his shoulder like a “sack of potatoes” and the girls would squeal with laughter as he gave them a little swat on their rears. Mary worked outside the home, and as a result of his disability, Robert was “Mr. Mom” which afforded him the opportunity to be with his girls more often than not. He taught them to play basketball, swim, and ride bicycles which made the best of memories.
Robert and his family lived modestly in a mobile home in Belmont. By doing so, it allowed them to travel regularly. One year they spent Christmas in Florida, and another time, they took in the wonder of Disney World. They also enjoyed other destinations such as Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, and Niagara Falls. Robert especially liked taking color tours with his family until they got a new van. Equipped with a TV, the girls then were only interested in what movies they could watch.
In time, Robert and Mary moved north to the Belmont area. An avid sports fan, he loved watching professional sports along with Michigan teams, especially UofM and MSU games. Although he never had a sweet tooth, Robert counted a good, juicy steak and a baked potato with salsa as his all-time favorite meal. He liked watching the Rachel Ray cooking show and often made a good attempt at the meals from her show. When it came to music, the sounds of Celine Dion and a little gospel music now and then were among his favorites.
In 2012, while Robert and Mary were wintering in Ruskin, Florida, Robert’s walk seemed off. Eventually hospitalized, he was diagnosed with Neuro Mylatic Optica, a disease similar to MS, yet considered rare. He required and underwent rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed, but returned home needing the use of a wheelchair. Over the last several years, Robert spent time in and out of the hospital. Most recently, for pneumonia and difficulty breathing, and nothing more could be done for Robert when thereafter he suffered a stroke.
Described as a wonderful father who provided his family with unconditional love, Robert was, in the eyes of his daughters, their true hero. Robert loved nothing more than making others laugh. He was a kind, helpful man, and his outgoing nature and fun-loving, free spirit were a testament to the ways he combated adversity in his life. For those who knew and loved Robert, he will be dearly missed and fondly remembered.
Mr. Robert N. VanderKolk, aged 65, of Belmont, passed away on June 16, 2016. He was preceded in death by his father, Gilbert and by his brother, Chris VanderKolk. Robert is survived by his wife of 34 years, Mary; daughters, Crystal and Maria VanderKolk; his mother, Evelyn VanderKolk; brothers, Charles (JoAnna) VanderKolk and Terry (Nancy) VanderKolk; brothers-in-law, Art (Dee) Schultz and Dick (Sharon) Schultz; many nieces and nephews. The Funeral Service for Robert will be held at 2:00 PM on Saturday, June 18, 2016, at Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes, 851 Leonard St. NW. Friends are invited to visit with his family from 6-8 PM on Friday at the funeral home. Contributions in his memory may be made to Friends of Michigan Veterans Homes. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to share a favorite memory or photo of Robert and to sign his guestbook online.