Life Story / Obituary
When reflecting on the life of George Heidema, it is easy to see that he exemplified what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Whether he was leading his family, working in his community, or serving in missions both at home and abroad, he was completely focused on others first and foremost. George was a devoted husband and father, but his greatest joy just might have been found in being a grandfather to six amazing grandchildren. He was determined and deeply devoted to every task at hand, and he was truly an inspiration to all who were near in everything he did. Deeply loved, George will never be forgotten.
The 1930s were some of the darkest days we have faced as a nation as the entire decade was cloaked in the hardship of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce, the unemployment rate soared, and there were few American families who didn’t feel the strain of the time. Despite the challenges around them, John and Jean Heidema were filled with great joy as they announced the birth of the baby boy they named George J. on April 13, 1938, in Holland, Michigan. He was the oldest of six Heidema children as he was joined in his family by his two brothers, Wes and John, and then his three sisters as well. George’s family was very close, and his father was a tremendous influence on George in many ways whether it was getting him started in his first business in raising and selling roosters or simply in the way George became the leader of his own family later in life. Summer nights were often spent as a family sitting on their screened front porch, often with the neighbor children as well.
In many ways George was a typical young boy of his generation. He and his brother, Wes, saved their money and bought two horses since they both greatly enjoyed horse riding. George enjoyed music, and due to the determination of his parents he became accomplished at playing the piano and pipe organ. When he was 13, George played the pipe organ at the church for their Wednesday night evening services. In the summer of 1955, he attended Interlochen Center For the Arts for an eight week long summer music program. George studied both organ playing and choir directing during his time there, and when he returned home he became the choir director for the Holland congregation, which was a position he filled for 14 years. As a student, George attended local schools and sang in the choir at Holland high School, graduating in 1956.
Not to be forgotten during his years in high school was George’s introduction to the woman with whom he would share the best years of his life. Her name was Shirley, and they met in May of 1956 while on a church youth trip to New York City. They were both very active in the youth group and greatly enjoyed being together. George and Shirley were true soulmates who were also one in spirit within their faith. By September of 1956 they were going steady, and they enjoyed going to Ottawa Beach and listening to their favorite music on the radio together. On June 21, 1957, George and Shirley became engaged, and on George’s 20th birthday, April 13, 1958, they were married at the New Apostolic Church in Holland by Bishop Carl Strang surrounded by over 300 guests and their beloved families. The newlyweds then set off for a week long honeymoon in Washington, D.C.
Aside from his faith, there was never anything that was of greater significance in George’s life than his family. Together he and Shirley were blessed with the births of their two precious children, John and Cindy. It was such a special moment for George and Shirley when they saw each of their children for the first time in the hospital, and their joy only increased when their family grew to include two additional children when John and Cindy married. Their blessings only increased when they were blessed with their grandchildren, Corinne, Kirk, Lauren, Kelsey, Trent, and David. Getting together as a family for holidays, birthdays, and other special events were always among the times that George and Shirley savored most. The Heidema home was always open to others as well. Shirley prepared many dinners at home and also served several Apostles, who came from both near and far. Shirley handled all of the cooking while George and their children were given the privilege of serving everyone for these occasions.
To support his family, George worked hard. At first he worked at Heidema Box and Lumber Company, but in the fall of 1956 he was transferred to the produce department of Heidema Brothers Inc. In 1969, George was transferred to the South Haven plant, until Heidema Brothers sold the plant in 1974. At that point he was transferred to the Holland plant as the manager, and four years later he was transferred to the office, eventually becoming president of Heidema Brothers Inc. Altogether George was employed with Heidema Brothers, Inc. for 44 years, retiring when he was 62 years old.
Together George and Shirley were members of the New Apostolic Church. Church was special to George, and he loved volunteering there. Since he enjoyed music, he volunteered by playing the organ, singing in the choir, and choir directing. George was not only the local church choir director, but he was also the South Bend District Choir Director for over 26 years. He served within his church as a deacon, priest, and the rector of the Grand Haven congregation from 1969 through 1981 and also of the Holland congregation from 1981 through 1993. In addition, George was an evangelist and a district evangelist during his lifetime. Further from home, he served in missionary work in the country of Uganda, East Africa, where he traveled 28 times over the course of 11 years, teaching the ministers of the church. George's favorite text word was from Psalms 40:8 "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart." He was retired from his ministry on August 3, 2003, by Bishop Marvin Tessmer. George’s favorite place on earth was the House of God, where they always felt God's love and grace through Jesus Christ and His Apostles. George and Shirley also enjoyed the fellowship with their brothers and sisters of faith.
During their retirement years, George and Shirley continued living fully in the moments they were given. Much of their time was spent with their children and grandchildren. They had always loved traveling together, and over the years George and Shirley went all over including to the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Spain. In 2003, they took a cruise down the Danube — Main – Rhine rivers, from Vienna, Austria, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and they traveled to Uganda, East Africa, in August of 1995 and April 2004. George and Shirley also enjoyed their travels to Florida, especially to Anna Maria Island. They loved visiting Disney World several times, especially Epcot. They were often joined by their children and grandchildren.
All who knew George Heidema would agree that he was truly extraordinary. He and Shirley were a perfect example of what marriage is truly intended to be as he they were instruments of their faith, servants to one another and to others, and best friends who were willing to do whatever was needed to bless all who were within their reach. George will be remembered for his determination to success, his willingness to work hard, and his compassion for all people, but most of all he will be remembered for his gentle and gracious touch. He will be forever missed.