Ruth Lillian Hoekstra
(1919 - 2001)
My maternal grandmother, Ruth Lillian Hoekstra, was born on 16 January 1919 in Blodgett Hospital, Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan. She was the oldest of three daughters of John Martin Hoekstra and Lillian Fern "Mary" Strong; her sisters were Hope Mildred Hoekstra (Mrs. Richard Vern Loveland) (1920 - 1968) and Mary Louise Hoekstra (Mrs. John Peter Glashower, Jr.) (1923 - 1994). Her name Ruth means "friend" in Hebrew, and she truly lived up to her name. She loved people, and nothing pleased her more than visiting others in person, on the telephone, or through the many letters she wrote in her lifetime.
Not long after Ruth was born, her parents moved across country to Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington to be near her paternal grandparents and Uncle Louis Hoekstra's family. When the 1920 Federal Census was taken, they were living on 58th Street, while Uncle Louis, Aunt Reatha and their cousin Reatha Jane were living over on 54th Street. During their time in Tacoma, Ruth's younger sister Hope was born. The three girls often played together. Ruth's father had difficulty finding work after a strike, so the family returned to Grand Rapids.
When they first returned, they lived with their Uncle Ed and Aunt Vi Strong, who had four girls who were "stair-stepped" between Ruth and her sisters (Mary Lou was born in Grand Rapids in 1923). At little later, the family lived in an apartment above a drugstore. By 1927, Ruth's parents had bought a house at 1815 Newark Avenue, S.E., where the family lived for many years. For a while, Ruth and Hope attended an "open-air school", which was created as a public health measure against the spread of tuberculosis, but was open to children with any range of health problems. There was an emphasis on outdoor exercise, rest, and nutritious food. Ruth's weak heart, caused by rheumatic fever, qualified her for this school. Hope was small for her age, and so also qualified.
Ruth became friends with members of the Valk family, especially Barbara, whose older brothers dated both Ruth and her younger sister Mary Lou. Ruth and Barbara maintained a life-long friendship and correspondence, which continued while Barbara served in Africa as a missionary. Ruth eventually married my grandfather, William "Bill" Valk, on 11 September 1943, while he was serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. She traveled down to where he was probably stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and they were married at Junction City, Geary County, Kansas. My mother was the only child born of this union, which lasted until their divorce on 26 April 1946.
To support herself and my mother, Ruth worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper. I know that she also worked in a Grand Rapids factory that I believe made fabric for war planes during World War II. After she remarried, she became a full-time homemaker and mother of two more children. For most of my mother's growing up years, the family lived at 464 Kenwood Street. Ruth loved flowers and always had some kind of a garden. She was very fond of cats, and I remember much of her letter stationery was either decorated with flowers or kittens. She also was an avid piano player, but also enjoyed playing the organ.
Although I grew up 3,000 miles away from my extended family, my grandmother was very involved in our lives. She came to help my mother for a few weeks after I was born. She stayed in touch by letter and by phone. She would send us grandchildren (and later, her great-grandchildren) little gifts and wrote us many letters as well. She visited us every chance she got, including traveling out for my wedding. She also invited various members of our family to visit her in Michigan over the years.
The last few years of her life, she struggled both with heart problems due to her weakened heart from childhood, and blindness caused by macular degeneration. Her feisty spirit was evident though, for she continued to write letters and play the piano despite her dimming sight. Her love of literature was satisfied by books on tape and the many hours her husband spent patiently reading and re-reading her favorite books. She had committed many Bible passages to memory, which sustained her during those tough times.
On 25 August 2001, at St. Mary's Hospital, Grand Rapids, she passed away peacefully after listening to her family and pastor gather around her hospital bed to pray and sing her favorite hymns. She was buried four days later at Fairplains Cemetery. (obituary)
More about my grandmother, Ruth Lillian Hoekstra, can be found in the Ancestories of her parents, John Martin Hoekstra and Lillian Fern "Mary" Strong, and her first husband, William "Bill" Valk.
Many thanks to Mom, Uncle Brian, Aunt Verna, and Aunt Sally for all their help and information that made this page possible. Grandma, I love and miss you very much...with love, from your "Merry Joy".
Miriam (Robbins) Midkiff
created: 8 Jun 2003
last updated: 20 Aug 2004
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