Good afternoon. My name is Lauren Befus. David Van Dyke is my husband Michael’s grandfather, but I took to calling him my grandpa, too. I had the privilege of interviewing Grandpa and preserving his life story about ten years ago. I always joked with him—“Grandpa, I get your eulogy.” He said he was ok with that! So, here I am, so incredibly honored and proud to share with you some of the highlights of Grandpa’s life…
The cashier at Meijer had no idea what was coming when Grandpa walked into the store last year. She didn’t know that inside Grandpa’s pocket was a piece of plastic poop that he often carried with him to prank unsuspecting victims.
The cashier didn’t see Grandpa sneakily slip the piece of poop into a shopping cart. It wasn’t until Grandpa asked her, “Do you guys let dogs in here?” That he got her attention.
“No!” she responded. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” Grandpa said. “I got this cart and look, there’s poop in it.”
The cashier couldn’t believe her eyes. Disgusted, horrified and embarrassed, she started to apologize and take the cart from Grandpa when his mischievous smile and twinkling eyes alerted her to the fact that she had just been pranked—like dozens or even more likely hundreds of other retail and office workers around Grand Rapids—by the David Van Dyke.
Grandpa’s fake poop, his wallet full of jokes and his infamous fake nail through the finger bandage that he’d slip on to get a rise out of others, were trademarks of his. Everywhere he went, he brought cheer, joy, laughter and of course, a split second or two of horror and disgust.
David Storey Van Dyke, was born November 3, 1930, at Blodgett Hospital in Grand Rapids, which at the time had a population of 168,592 residents…a fact Grandpa would certainly have found interesting and likely knew himself. Numbers, addresses and dates—Grandpa knew them all! That same year, the average cost of a new house was about $7,000, the average income per year was $1,970, a gallon of gas was 10 cents, a new car cost about $600, and the Chrysler building was completed in New York City.
The Great Depression had been wreaking havoc on the United States and the entire world for more than 14 months when Grandpa was born—making money scarce for his family, who was living in a barn that Grandpa’s father, Bernard, had converted to a home and moved to 2810 Coit Street. This was the first of many moves for Bernard, Grandpa’s mom, Lila, and their three kids—Martha, then Grandpa, and his younger brother Philip. Grandpa’s brother Jack, lived with his grandmother and her four unmarried sisters.
Grandpa’s family moved from their home on Coit to 2815 Edgewood Street then to Cheney and then finally to 2844 Belknap. If you’ve ever driven around town with Grandpa, you likely know all of this. You couldn’t have been in the car with him for more than a few minutes when you started to hear—”Look there, I built that! Or, I used to own that land! Or, my dad built that house! Or, I remember when this was a dirt road.” I have no idea how he remembered all that he did!
As a young boy, Grandpa watched his dad build their house on Belknap. They dug out the hole using horses and a scoop. It’s certain that Grandpa caught the building bug early from watching his dad build not only their family home, but many others around the city. Even as a young child, Grandpa was already plotting out land and neighborhoods in his own development he called Davefree. He and a neighbor kid, Freeman, built streets and a fire station, measured out lots and sold them to neighbor kids on the site of an old greenhouse not far from their home. Grandpa was the fire chief of Davefree. Grandpa told me once, “When I think back about our city, I was the fire chief and we sold houses and we built the fire station. When I got older, I built houses, was a fireman and I developed lots.”
Grandpa’s family attended Berean Baptist Church—twice on Sundays—where he heard lots of teachings on the end times and sometimes frightening stories about missionaries. Grandpa attended North Park School from kindergarten to eighth grade and then went on to Creston high School. He loved math and history—no surprise there—and hated English and Science. Because Grandpa’s family didn’t have a lot of money, instead of participating in sports and extracurriculars, Grandpa worked…a lot. But he still managed to make time for a little mischief, like shooting water out of a pump can at people in the cars next to his, hitchhiking around West Michigan, or sneaking out of Berean to go over to Calvary Church where Grandma sang.
Grandpa graduated from high school on May 14, 1948—the day Israel became a nation. Something he quizzed me on almost every time I saw him. Grandpa decided to attend Calvin College and it wasn’t a fit right from the start. He quit after a few months and went to work at Alberta-Shook Chevrolet. It was a match made in heaven! He loved being around all those new cars and trucks.
In 1949, Grandpa heard that someone was going to ask Grandma out, so he decided to beat him to the punch. Grandpa could remember exactly where he was (again, no surprise!)—a hallway in Calvary Church—when he asked her. It didn’t go exactly as planned. Grandma thought he had already asked another girl out, so she said, “What am I? Second fiddle? Grandpa had never heard that term before and thought she thought he was in the orchestra. But it ended up working out and he took her to an ice skating event at the Civic Auditorium. That was the beginning of a more than 70-year long love story.
Grandpa left the Chevrolet dealer there to work for a short time at Keeler Brass, then he delivered frozen food for Gordon Food Service. He took a different job at Holland Furnace Company, quit there, and then helped his dad with building, but when that work dried up he took another job at McInerney Spring and Wire assembling car seats.
Grandpa and Grandma got married on May 27, 1950, and went to Sault Ste. Marie for their honeymoon. They settled into married life and shortly after started having kids—first Barb, then Carol, David, Tim and Jan. By the time Carol was born, Grandpa was working for the Grand Rapids Fire Department and doing a lot of side jobs. Grandpa earned the highest score on the fire department exam. He started there in July 1952 with an annual salary of $3000. Grandpa was so proud of his years with the fire department. He was not only a firefighter, but he was also the resident chef at Engine 14. Thank goodness for grandma. Grandpa used to call her for help with all the cooking. The kids used to visit him at the station and he let them play and slide down the pole.
In 1956, Grandpa built his first house at 1511 Herrick. His passion for building grew and Grandpa started building and building and building. But not on his own. He wanted his business to be different than his dad’s. He knew he needed partners to grow. So, after leaving the fire department to focus on building, Grandpa started Plad Enterprises. They developed Whispering Pines and started buying and developing land all around the Grand Rapids area. Grandpa was an entrepreneur. He made things happen…a lot of things. From developing Lake Bella Vista to building multi-family properties and more houses, Grandpa was always on the go. But he was never too busy for his family.
He’d get home from work and lift the kids up on his legs for a few rounds of airplane. He was always a cheerful and stable presence. He didn’t yell. He was supportive and kind. He took the kids with him to his building sites and showed them the ropes. When Carol and Barb were still quite young, he hired them for $1 an hour to clean his new apartments. Grandpa trusted his kids and gave them lots of responsibility and opportunities to learn…sometimes the hard way. You’ll hear those stories from David and Tim later!
Grandpa and Grandma loved traveling with their kids from the east coast to the west coast, especially in a motorhome. But be prepared, no matter how far out of the way it was, Grandpa was going to stop at the state capital or any civil war historical site. His kids will never forget stopping at pecan stands in Georgia, blasting the Beach Boys on the way to Florida or that time when the ac went out in Kansas on a 105 degree day and the horrible smell of cattle blasted through the windows. And when Grandpa wasn’t in a motorhome, he was the proud driver of a 1970 Oldsmobile likely with a custom license plate, and then a 1971 Oldsmobile, and then 72, 73, 74, 75, 77. Grandpa knew what he liked…and what he didn’t. When Carol’s boyfriend Ray pulled up to the house on his motorcycle, Grandpa questioned him about his “murdercycle.”
After Grandpa’s sons Tim and David graduated, they joined Grandpa in the building business and for more than three decades, they developed land and built apartments around town for their company Primeland. Grandpa, up until this very day, has had his hands in building and developing land all around Grand Rapids.
Grandpa and Grandma and the kids attended Calvary Church for many years and Grandpa served on the board and on the building committee. He organized the parking crew and system that is still in place today. Grandpa’s faith in God shaped so much of who he was. He loved to read his Bible and study, especially about Israel. He often talked about his trip with grandma to the Holy Land.
Grandpa knew he could never outgive God and was determined to do his giving while he was still living. If he saw a need, he met it…quietly. He never tooted his own horn when he built his kids or grandkids houses, paid for braces, washing machines, college tuition, mission trips, cars. Most of us sitting in this room today have been recipients of Grandpa’s incredible generosity. We wouldn’t be where we are without him. And yet, he never spoke about it, never boasted or bragged. Even Grandma didn’t realize how many places Grandpa gave to until a letter would come in the mail and she’d ask him about it.
Of all that Grandpa accomplished in his life—he used to say to me, “I just can’t believe how much I’ve done and seen”—by far, his greatest accomplishment, his pride and joy, was his family. He dearly loved his kids and his “greats and his grands.” He knows when all of us—spouses included—were born…and even the in-law parents, too. He’s driven our kids to school, and of course, served as a tour and history guide along the way. He’s driven us to doctor appointments. He’s encouraged us to trust God when we’re feeling scared and anxious. He’s told us the same funny jokes or stories as he called them, over and over and over. He’s showed up at every party, every birthday, every gathering. He’s always just been there…for anything and everything, big and small. His greatest joy was just being with all of us.
It’s been hard to watch Grandpa decline in health. For some reason, I always thought he was invincible, like he’d be here forever. But that isn’t the case, at least in this life. Grandpa entered into the presence of his Lord and Savior a week ago today, on Friday, January 22, 2021, surrounded by his family at home.
It seems fitting to end Grandpa’s eulogy with a joke he used to tell. It goes like this:
A little boy was found by his mother with pencil and paper making a sketch. When asked what he was doing, he answered promptly, and with considerable pride:
‘I’m drawing a picture of God.’
‘But,’ gasped the shocked mother, ‘You cannot do that. No one has seen god. No one knows how God looks.’
‘Well,’ the little boy replied, ‘When I get through they will.’
I will miss Grandpa more than words can say, but I am so grateful to know that he is now standing face to face with Jesus, and that we too will get to see him again one day. Until we meet again, Grandpa.