A Family Affair

From the songs to the flowers to the Scripture reading to the message, every aspect of Joan Vender Vennen’s funeral was a family affair.


“Every part of her service involved someone who was special to her,” said Life Story Funeral Director Lee Karelse.

Family and friends gathered to celebrate the 95-year-old’s life at the Alt & Shawmut Chapel last Wednesday. Joan’s three grandchildren all participated in the service. Betsy Zeerip played “The Holy City” on the piano, a song that was very meaningful to Joan.

“This isn’t just any song,” Lee said. Joan’s husband, Bill, played the trumpet in Melody Five, a traveling brass quintet and this song was a favorite.

Granddaughter Molly VanDerLaan read Psalm 27, a passage that Joan picked out for the service, which was then followed by a solo, “Give Me Jesus,” by grandson Blair Vander Vennen. Pastor Wayne Ondersma, Joan’s nephew, delivered the message of hope based on Psalm 27.

“Joan was a mother who was loved by her family,” said Pastor Ondersma, who shared many stories about his love for his aunt. “And she loved to hear the word ‘Granny.’”

To close the service, he invited everyone to stand and sing “By the Sea of Crystal,” another song Joan selected. Joan’s great grandkids served as the pallbearers. Her casket was decorated with a quilt she made and flowers designed by Holwerda Floral and Gifts, a shop owned by Joan’s family members.

“This was a very traditional service,” Lee said. “But it was also very personal. You can be as traditional and as personal as you want. The two don’t have to be exclusive.”

Following the service, family and friends gathered for a luncheon to continue sharing stories about their beloved mother, grandmother, aunt, sister and friend.

You can read more about Joan’s life and even share a memory of your own on her personal memory page.