Cornelius Van Heest ’52

On Friday afternoon, November 23, Neil ran straight into the arms of his Lord. Under Hospice care at his Lakeside Vista residence, he was surrounded by the bedside gathering of 20 family members.

He ran his race well throughout his 86 years.

His high school and Hope College athletic prowess included varsity letters in Cross Country. A long life of running included 5K races in his late 70s and related themes in his sermons on “Second Wind,” “Hitting the Wall,” “Fear of Failure,” “Finish Strong” and “Run for the Prize” to name a few. On Friday he indeed received his Grand Prize. His 2015 book, “Run for Life,” is a collection of sermonettes on these themes.

Neil is survived by his wife Mary Lou, the joy of his life. They modeled for family a 64 year love affair in which both sacrificed self for one another. He is survived by sons Jim (Nancy), Wayne (Chantal), Paul, Tom (Barb) and John (Joy), all blessed to be West Michigan residents and in regular fellowship with Neil and Mary Lou.

Also surviving are beloved grandchildren Jaime (Kylen), Allie, Simeon, Zoë (Brian), Sam (Jackie), Priscilla and Matt, and great-granddaughter Lorraine.

Neil is the son of John and Lucile (Bishop) Van-Heest. Born September 22, 1932, in Catskill (NY), he was predeceased by sister Rhea and is survived by brother Gerard (Eloise) and sisters Jacqueline (Donald), Lucille, Harriet (Ted) and Wilma (Lynn).

He enrolled in Hope College at age 15, excelled in athletics and studies (and dating Mary Lou) and graduated in 1952.

He completed a Masters of Divinity from Western Theological Seminary in 1955, marrying August 6, 1954, after the completion of Mary Lou’s degree at Hope.

Neil pastored RCA congregations in Fultonville and Schenectady (NY), Portage, Holland and Grand Rapids (MI) and Sheboygan (WI). He continued in RCA service as Specialized Interim Minister and Calling Pastor in a series of churches in Michigan (Rockford, Forest Grove, Grandville, Portage, Holland, Muskegon and Zeeland) and New Jersey (Peapack).

His tireless optimism was most often challenged as a fan of Detroit sports teams, and most often rewarded as a devotee of Hope College athletics. Alternating ecstasy and trademark “snits” over sports were gifts shared with all five sons.

His important legacy with family was modeling a life of service, while mentoring and encouraging others to follow his example. Family members adopted these principles of stewardship of time, talent and treasure. He influenced career discernment and passionate volunteer commitment to Church and community.

In honor of Neil’s ministry and the broader family legacy in ministry and overseas mission, the family encourages consideration of memorial gifts to the John and Lucile VanHeest Mission Fund at Hope College, supporting mission experiences for Hope students. 

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