Friday, August 8, 2014

Grandpa Vander Kooi

On Wednesday morning I got the phone call I had been expecting for months.  My beloved Grandpa Vander Kooi had passed away in the night.  He was almost 94 years old and had been in a nursing home for almost five years.  Although he never complained, his health had been in a steady decline for the last year.  I had said my goodbyes several times since Thanksgiving, so I was completely at peace.  My Facebook post was the following:  
Quietly praising God today that my beloved Grandpa Vander Kooi has finally heard those blessed words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." As I cherish the memories I will always stand in awe and gratitude at the amazing example he was of a life well lived. I hope he's playing golf with God today!

The visitation was Thursday night.  There was a family prayer service and interment Friday afternoon with a memorial service at night.  It was a bit of a whirlwind, but such a beautiful reminder of the amazing, humble, faithful, loyal, kind, selfless, giving servant my grandpa was.

The display honoring his life told the story of a young athlete, a patriotic WWII POW, a faithful husband, an honest business owner and a fun-filled grandpa.  For a more detailed look at some of the table items, including a summary of his POW experience, please see my sister's blog post here.  

These hands hold so many beautiful memories.  Four years ago, my sister did another blog post as a tribute to my grandpa on his 90th birthday.  It included so many of the memories I have.  Here is an excerpt:

Here are some of my favorite memories of Grandpa Jim:

  • Playing cards at the kitchen table on Sunday afternoons. We played "King's Corner" and "Golf" but I hated the game "Hearts", so I'd go to the back bedroom to watch Nickelodeon (or Wings on USA) whenever they played that game. 
  • On the drive home, sometimes he'd let us "drive". He'd do the gas and we'd steer the wheel. If we took the blue and white pickup home, we'd sit in the back on the wheel wells and used brooms to sweep the streets as we drove the few blocks home. Obviously this was before people got uptight about child restraint.
  • When Grandpa came to mow at our house on Saturday or in the summer, he'd ask us if we wanted to go out for "coffee" after he was done. He'd take us to the bowling alley where we would get to pick out 2 Little Debbie packages from under a special glass dome on the counter.  One of us would share a package with Grandpa and the other 2 sisters would share the other package. My favorite was the Chocolate Chip Cakes but I have many memories of Swiss Cake Rolls too! Such a simple act that meant so much to us!
  • Grandpa has thick white hair that is actually quite long if you comb it straight up! Which we did, using rubber bands to put it in all kinds of ponytails while he [pretended] to sleep in the chair.
  • He would sing a little tune called "Never on a Sunday, Sunday, Sunday, always on a Monday, Monday, Monday. Never on a Monday, Monday, Monday, Always on a Tuesday..." and would often fill a silence with a cheerful "doo-pee-doo".
  • In high school, I got to introduce him as the speaker at a Veteran's Day assembly at our school. Grandpa was a tail gunner in the Air Force during WWII and after his plane was shot down, he parachuted into enemy territory, was captured, and spent 1 year and 1 day as a Prisoner of War. He occasionally will give a talk about his experience and what it means to have freedom--not only in our country, but freedom in Christ. I sincerely appreciate the sacrifices he made and am proud of his service.
  • He owned a trucking business but sold it right after I was born to the parents of one of my classmates. I sincerely appreciate the fact that the company still bears my grandpa's name and I think it still gives him pride to see those trucks and that name.
  • He has lived a life of service to others that is worth following. In addition to mowing lawns, I know he did many things for widows in town, delivered bulletins to shut-ins, picked ladies up for church, played bingo at the nursing home, and brought people out for coffee who didn't have many friends. I'll never know all the things he did for people, but the ones I do know of made an impression on me of how going out of your way just a little can mean a lot for other people.
  • He likes watching sports--golf on TV and basketball in person. My grandma and him used to go to the High School Boys State Tournament every year and watched the games all week. They'd line up way early to get their special seats--half court line, in the balcony, just to the left of the door, about 2 rows up in the old Vets Auditorium.  He's also been a big follower of the Iowa Hawkeyes.
  • In his younger days, he played on the Hometown softball team called the "Orphans". They were called the Orphans because they didn't have a home field.  He enjoyed watching baseball and softball in later years and I enjoyed listening to his "field chatter" such as "Just a little bingo, that's all we need, just a little bingo."
  • He went to Northwestern College in Orange City back when it was a Junior College. He said he took a bus and paid $110 tuition, which he paid for by sweeping Zwemer Hall!  He played on the basketball team and the football team, although he said his year of college was the first time he'd ever played football.
  • During the Orange City Tulip Festival, they used to choose some young men to carry the queen. I think he said they literally carried her on some sort of contraption. Anyway, he was a member of the "court" that carried the queen.
  • Grandpa went to the public high school (the same one Adam and I graduated from, the one my grandma went to, as well as both my parents---can you tell why it's hard for me to let go of my alma mater pride?). His oldest brother went to the Christian High School, but he said once there got to be too many kids, they couldn't afford it, so the middle kids had to go to the free public school. Then, when they were out of the house and there was only one daughter left, she got to go to the Christian School. I personally think the middle kids got the best deal! :)
  • He used to tell the story that when my grandma was in commercial college in Mankato, he'd go up to visit her and there was a 5 cent movie theater and a 10 cent movie theater in town. He never saw the inside of the 10 cent theater. (Can you also tell where I get my frugal genes from?)
  • Grandpa had a huge garden in the backyard where I'm sure he grew all kinds of things, but the only ones I distinctly remember are the red potatoes and the raspberry bushes. Yum!  My BIL (who now lives in Grandpa's old house with my sister) is trying to get the garden going again. I hope we can find a way to get rid of those rabbits!
  • I distinctly remember watching my grandpa water ski behind my Uncle's boat on Storm Lake. Since he is 90 and I am 28, this means he had to have been around 70 when I witnessed this?!
  • Watching the love and care my grandpa showed my grandma in her last few years is something that has been a great witness to me. My grandparents started dating in high school and were married for almost 66 years before my grandma passed last September. His love for her was and is so evident to all of us.
 The full post can be found here.

I was glad I decided at the last minute to say a word about him at the memorial service.  Here is the approximate text:
The last couple days have brought so many beautiful reminders of the type of person my grandpa was.  The word that has been with me is "legacy."  So many people these days are only concerned with their own comfort in the here and now and rarely stop to think about how their actions will impact others or the future.  My grandpa was not one of those people.  Through his constant and consistent positive attitude, humility, kindness, and wit, he made a difference in the life of everyone he came into contact with. 
He was a picture of faithfulness to God, to his country and to his family.  The most impacting of these to me was his tireless, unfailing devotion to my grandma--especially during her final years at Pleasant Acres Nursing Home.  This was again exemplified by my mom as she faithfully cared for my grandpa--especially since my grandma passed away five years ago.  It is something my kids have observed and noted.  That is the true definition of legacy.  I pray that I can honor both God and my grandpa by continuing his legacy.
I will always be grateful for the time I had with my grandpa.  As I told him one of the last times I saw him, "I can't wait to hang out with you in heaven!"

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