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Marion Vander Veen died on March 19, 2019. Her spirit of adventure matched her husband Dick’s, and her grace, liveliness, and love of beauty embroidered everything they did together. She was an accomplished water colorist, a gardener, a committed Democrat, and the encouraging mother of three skating, sailing, nature-loving boys.
The Vander Veen Center for the Book at the Grand Rapids Public Library is a tribute to her generosity. She and Dick established the Center in the 1990s to celebrate the Art of the Book, marking a lifelong personal engagement with books and libraries, including a family foray into the rare book business that made her a knowledgeable, appreciative collector.
Marion’s civic commitment continued to the end of her life. In 2018 she established the Marion C. Vander Veen Great Lakes Education Fund to engage and educate young people to “protect our Great Lakes for future generations.”
She was born Marion Pearl Coward in Webberville, Michigan, on Jan. 21, 1924.
She and her two brothers were raised in Port Huron and Plymouth before the family moved to Muskegon, where Marion met her future husband, Dick Vander Veen, when they played opposite each other in the high school Christmas pageant. While Dick served in WWII, Marion graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a teaching degree. She served as a national officer of Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, which presented her with its Mabel Lee Walton national leadership award, calling her “one of those unusual people who is as pretty as she is intelligent as she is charming.”
The couple married in 1946 and set up housekeeping in Boston. Marion taught grade school in Brookline while Dick attended Harvard Law School. In 1950, they settled in Grand Rapids, building their first home at 205 Woodside Drive. Marion taught kindergarten at Alger School in Grand Rapids. They were active members of Westminster Presbyterian Church until their deaths.
Marion supported Dick as he co-founded the Vander Veen, Freihofer and Cook law firm and laid the groundwork for many important local institutions, including Channel 13, GVSU, and the Ryerson Library Foundation.
In 1974, Marion threw herself into her husband’s campaign to be the first Democratic congressman from Grand Rapids in 60 years. Dick Vander Veen’s victory at the height of the Watergate scandal was historic for West Michigan and was reported by news outlets nationally and around the world.
Life in Washington, D.C., confirmed Marion’s political commitments. She was active there in the International Women’s Club. In 2012 she was appointed to Michigan’s Electoral
College, chaired by then State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, and cheerfully cast her vote for President Barack Obama.
Marion and Dick sailed the world together, from their home on Fisk Lake to the Great Lakes to the Virgin Islands. They sailed across France and the Netherlands with author-explorers Irving and Exy Johnson on the Yankee.
Marion is survived by her sister-in-law, Marilyn VanderVeen and her sons Rich (Susan Pattullo) of Marquette, Larry (Lauren Scheer) of Washington, D.C., and Paul (Mary McHugh) of Owings, Maryland. She delighted in her five grandchildren, Kate (Craig Scheuermann), Betsy (Daniel Rutz), Ben (Dina Marinelli), Jacob (Katie McDougal), and Miles, as well as her four great grandchildren, Julia, Eero, Remy, and Quill.
The family sincerely thanks Judy Clowney, Amy Pattullo, Marilyn Vander Veen and the Porter Hills staff for their loving care.
Marion’s family welcomes her friends to a memorial service to be held on Monday, March 25, at 11 a.m., Westminster Presbyterian Church, 47 Jefferson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids.
Memorials in Marion’s name can be made to support the Grand Rapids Public Library Vander Veen Fund, 111 Library St. NE, Grand Rapids, 49503 or Emmanuel Hospice, 2161 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids 49504.
Grand Rapids Public Library
111 Library St. N.E., Grand Rapids MI 49503
2161 Leonard St. N.W., Grand Rapids MI 49504