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.
Clarence Ekema Scholarship at Wyoming Public Schools
12723 N. Bellwood, Suite 20
Holland, MI 49424
Life Story / Obituary
Clarence Ekema, age 84, died on June 28, 2011, in Holland, Michigan.
He loved jokes and gardening and dogs and building things and his “boys” in the vocational homebuilding program he taught for nearly 20 years. But most of all, Clare loved Luanna.
He met her when she was 12 years old and sat in the desk next to his at Harrison Park Junior High. Unconfirmed stories (told by Uncle Clare to gullible nieces) have him dipping her pigtails in the proverbial ink well, and there was definitely an incident involving the coat closet. Lu clearly remembers him stuffing her desk with wadded up papers so she would have to make the long walk to the front of the room to throw them away -- and he could try to catch her eye as she returned to her seat.
He got her attention and held it for the next 71 years.
Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on October 30, 1926, Clarence was the oldest child of Tony and Jeanette (Van Oeveren) Ekema. By the time his beloved little sister, Carrole, was born, Clare was already dating Luanna Raper and giving her little sisters quarters for ice cream cones and a few minutes of privacy. When all else failed, he would simply hold an open newspaper in front of them so he could sneak a kiss.
Lu was just 17 when she and her mother took the bus from Grand Rapids to the Army base in Alabama where Clare was stationed in 1945. The couple married on September 19, three days before he shipped to Japan. Numerous love letters were exchanged over the next 18 months while Clare served as a staff sargent. Although he trained as a paratrooper, Clare was assigned the role of “cook” after injuring his leg, a post he relinquished forever and with great relish when he returned to his wife’s legendary home cooking.
Back in Grand Rapids, Clare entered the carpentry trade, working for his father and acquiring building skills that served him and many grateful homeowners well in the decades that followed. At the age of 42, he enrolled in Western Michigan University, graduating in 1968 to develop and provide instruction in an innovative program in vocational homebuilding for Wyoming Public Schools.
An inspired and inspiring teacher, Clare had what one of his students calls “a special ability to get young men to focus and work hard. He always expected our best and let us know if what we did was unacceptable.” He also “made building fun,” according to another of his “boys” (“I’ve got some real good boys this year,” Clare would tell his family, every year), who remembers the way Mr. Ekema joked with them about his “big” wife and how surprised they were to meet the petite Mrs. Ekema at the year-end party at their teacher’s home: “A woman just as nice as Clarence. And beautiful.”
When they retired in 1985, Clare and Luanna established a scholarship that would enable promising young carpenters to acquire the “kind of quality tools” essential to practicing the trade. Many of Mr. Ekema’s students went on to become licensed carpenters and build houses of their own.
Over the course of their marriage, Clare built five beautiful homes in which he and Lu entertained their many friends and spoiled the nieces and nephews who came for overnight visits. Although -- or perhaps because -- he had no children of his own, Clare was an exceptionally fun and loving uncle, always laughing and joking and building everything from birdhouses to doll cribs with and for the children of his and Luanna’s sisters. A relentless and impish teaser all his life -- he called his wife “Handy Andy” when she fumbled with his tools, and warned his nieces to stay out of the tub after a meal of Aunt Lu’s delicious pancakes or “sinkers” -- his soft heart and caring nature shone through in his affectionate ways and careful listening. Every girl who spent any time with the couple hoped one day to be loved by a man the way Lu was loved by Clare.
From his teenage years working on the family farm, Clare took a passion for growing and tending fruit trees and vegetables of all kinds. With every new house, his garden expanded, and neighbors, family, and friends enjoyed bushels of produce in the summer. After retirement, he finally obtained the kind of acreage and extended growing season his farmer’s soul craved, in the flatlands of Weslaco, Texas. There he produced prodigious crops of vegetables for Lu to preserve and enough grapefruit to see Michigan family and friends through a long winter.
Lu and Clare lived in the beautiful home he built for them for 25 years, until his failing health forced him to very, very, very reluctantly return to Michigan in May of 2011. During their time in Weslaco, the couple developed a wide circle of friends and touched many lives with their kindness and generosity. Clare rescued many homeless dogs for Luanna to pamper, and, upon leaving his Texas property, gave all his farm equipment to the man who had helped him work the fields.
Clarence is survived by his loving wife, Luanna, as well as his sister Carrole Baker; sisters-in-law Norma Crosser, Virginia Wierenga, and Ellen Cramer; special friends Billy and Donna Cramer; and several nieces and nephews. They, his students, and all those who had the pleasure of spending time in Clare’s frank, warm, and generous presence will remember him with great fondness.
A memorial service will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 9, at Cascade Christian Church, 2829 Thorneapple River Drive, Grand Rapids, MI. Memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society.
Arrangements are by the Downtown Chapel of Dykstra Funeral Homes.
To share a memory or sign an online registry, please visit www.dykstrafuneralhome.com.