Worth the Wait

If there was ever a backup in the checkout lane, Shirley Despres was almost always to blame.

“Everyone wanted to go to Shirley’s lane,” one of her former Family Fare co-workers shared at the 84-year-old’s visitation on Thursday. “Shoppers would wait in line for twenty minutes even if other lanes were open just to talk to Shirley. That’s just how great she was.”

Several of Shirley's former co-workers gathered at her visitation on Thursday. 

Several of Shirley's former co-workers gathered at her visitation on Thursday. 

Shirley worked as a cashier for more than forty years at local Grand Rapids’ grocery stores including Hines' Market, Eberhard, Daane's, Sy's Market and lastly at the Family Fare, located at 1225 Leonard Street NE. Dozens of her co-workers from the various stores gathered together at Shirley’s visitation and funeral (on Friday) to remember one of their favorite and most standout colleagues, “Big Shirl.”

“She knew just about everyone in this town,” another co-worker said while looking at hundreds of pictures of Shirley’s life on display. “She was always so pleasant and so kind to talk to.”

Ask anyone about Shirley—family, friends, neighbors, former classmates, fellow proud “Northenders”—and they’ll all tell you the same thing:

“Shirley was so kind.”

“Shirley was so welcoming.”

“Shirley was so accepting.”

“Shirley was so loving.”

“Shirley was so fun.”

It’s no surprise that those same sentiments were shared at Shirley’s Mass of Christian Burial on Friday at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church. Shirley’s granddaughter Karley, her brother Tom and her daughter Renee all told stories about their beloved grandma, sister and mother (also known as “Cookie,” “Grams,” “Squirrels” “Shirl the Pearl” and many more).


“She wanted everything for everyone else first,” said Karley, adding that her grandma was always the first one to find out everything about everyone, not because she was a busy body, but because she was everyone’s listening ear. “She always knew what I needed and how to help.”

Tom joked that he grew up with two mothers: his real mother and Shirley. “Shirley has given to me and helped me since I was five years old,” he told the large group gathered at the church. Tom said that whenever Shirley said “Hi” to him or to anyone else, she did it in such a way that "always made you feel so special." “She had a real love for people,” he added.

Renee, surrounded by her siblings Mike, Steve and Cheri, shared about their life growing up with such a special woman chosen by God to be their mother. “She did everything with grace and love...and constant unconditional love,” said Renee. Even that one time when Renee asked Shirley to pick up her car from the auto shop and she ended up bringing the wrong one home, she and Renee just laughed it off, drove it back and exchanged it for the right one. The family never let Shirley live that one down!


Family and friends gathered after the service for a luncheon to continue telling stories and reflecting on Shirley’s life. Following the lunch, Fr. Pat Grile performed the Rite of Committal at Rosedale Memorial Park where Shirley’s family then gathered together with bright pink roses to write their farewell messages in marker on Shirley’s casket, a sweet goodbye to an incredibly sweet woman.

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