ORANGE CITY—Mr. Randall Van Gelder, age 100, of Orange City, passed away on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, at the Prairie Ridge Care Center in Orange City.
There will be a funeral service at 2 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19, at the Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Orange City. The Rev. Robert Drenten will officiate. Interment will follow the service at the West Lawn Cemetery in Orange City. Visitation with the family will be the hour before the service at the church.
Arrangements are with the Oolman Funeral Home in Orange City.
Randall Van Gelder was born on June 9, 1919, the second child and first son of John and Anna (De Vries) Van Gelder, who lived at that time a mile east of Ireton, Iowa. He attended Ireton Christian School as a boy and remembered those long walks back and forth to town.
In the late 1920s, his father determined to relocate the family to a farm north of Orange City. To get his family there, father and son drove two horse-drawn wagons loaded up with farm tools and household goods, a highly responsible job for a 10-year-old boy, but a task he enjoyed remembering.
Moving to Orange City meant changing schools, which he did, graduating from eighth grade at Orange City Christian. It was the height of the Depression, but it wasn’t poverty that kept him from going on to get an education; the family’s farm was, back then, a way of life, maybe especially for the oldest boy.
That Randall Van Gelder loved farming goes without saying, but throughout his life he couldn’t keep himself from wondering what his life may have been like if he’d been able to keep going to school, to learn more about the world he found himself in as a young man.
Along with two of his brothers and millions of other Americans, he went to war after Pearl Harbor. One of those brothers, Charles, would not return. Before going overseas, Randall, the farm kid, went to mechanic’s school, where the International Harvester Company taught him and others how to service tanks and tank engines specifically.
In England, like so many others, he awaited the massive invasion that would be unleashed on the beaches of Normandy, France. Two months after June 6, 1944, he and the 555th Ordinance Tank Maintenance Company crossed the English Channel and set up the motor pool in France, just behind the lines of warfare. That’s where he and his buddies stayed, following the front all the way to Germany.
His military experience meant a great deal to him. For many years after the war, he kept in touch with several army buddies with whom he’d served.
On July 5, 1946, he married Bertha Visser in Orange City, Iowa, less than a year after he was discharged. Together, they moved to a farm just down the road from his father’s place, put in a crop and began their lives together. A sudden freakish hailstorm virtually destroyed what they’d planted so hopefully that spring, forcing him to find work in town, where for two years he took a job as a mechanic to stay afloat.
Two years later, Randall and Bertha welcomed their first and only child, Barbara Kay.
When he returned to the farm, Randall ran a standard operation for the time: he milked some cows, raised some hogs, harvested some row crops and kept a big garden. Barbara’s first memory is of her dad hoisting her up on the back of one of the big work horses he used until he could afford a first tractor.
Randall and Bertha began their life together at First Christian Reformed Church in Orange City, but, later in life, became charter members of Immanuel Christian Reformed Church. For him, church wasn’t just a brick and mortar place, it was a family. He believed in the covenantal family of faith, treasured his relationship to Immanuel and felt loved.
Randall and Bertha moved to Orange City in 1983, some time after he told himself and those he loved that he simply did not want or need the stress of another harvest. Bertha was greatly pleased to move to town.
Randall was “handy,” could fix anything — or, if he couldn’t, he’d devise and build some alternative way to get the job done. He worked for farmers and apartment owners, and with Bertha did occasional volunteer work for church relief organizations. But he also took some well-earned time to fish with neighbors and friends, and always had time for kids and grandkids. He even worked for Bertha, rebuilding the chairs she’d been asked to upholster. For a time, they were a team.
In 2001, always having to be busy, Randall began volunteering his days to Hope Haven where, for almost fifteen years, he loved rebuilding wheelchairs. They were a far cry from tractors and Sherman tanks, but needy folks thousands of miles across the globe got new mobility because of what went on in that volunteer shop. He enjoyed paging through photos of overseas recipients blessed by a wheelchair he’d repaired or reconditioned.
After moving to Landsmeer in 2003, he devotedly tended Bertha’s needs as her caregiver through a progressive, rare nerve disease. She died in May of 2009, but Randall lived on, alone, to reach 100 years old — and two months. His death was unhurried and quiet, as peaceful as death can be.
He is survived by his daughter, Barbara, and her husband, James Schaap, both of Alton; two grandchildren, Andrea, and her husband, Piet Westerbeek IV, of Sioux Center; and David Schaap, and his wife, Kristina Davis, of Perkins, Oklahoma; as well as four grandchildren: Jocelyn Westerbeek, Pieter Westerbeek V, Ian Westerbeek, and Olivia Schaap.
Randall Van Gelder was the second oldest of the children of John and Anna Van Gelder, but the last of his 10 siblings to pass away: sisters Jennie Schalekamp, Margaret Reinders, Johanna Hofland, Agnes Van Gelder, and Mary Vlieger; and brothers George, Charles, Gary, and Ken Van Gelder.
His pastor says Randall, in these last years, was interested greatly in what heaven might be. Today, we’re greatly thankful that he knows.
Memorials may be directed to Hope Haven Wheelchair Ministries.
You may express your sympathy at www.oolman.com.