Kay Larison ’65 Szymanski
When reflecting on the life of Kay Szymanski, it is easy to see that there was no higher calling in her life than to be a mother and grandmother. She lived to selflessly give and then give some more, all while expecting nothing in return. Kay was hardworking and made everything she did seem effortless, an inspiration to all who were near. She was guided by an unwavering faith, her life an example of what it means to be the hands and feet of the Lord she loved. Life will never be the same without Kay here, but she leaves behind a timeless legacy that her loved ones will proudly carry on in her footsteps.
Life during the first half of the 1940s was largely defined by our nation’s involvement in WWII. Countless young servicemen and women were called to serve while those who remained stateside became familiar with rationing on common goods. It was as summer was coming to an end in Newport, Rhode Island, that Harold “Larry” and I. Lenore (Polderman) Larison were pleased to announce the birth of their baby girl on August 27, 1943. Born while her father was stationed in the Navy, Kay Susan was the older of two as she was joined in her family by her younger sister, Karen.
With the end of WWII in 1945, their family moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, which is where she primarily grew up. Even as a young girl Kay was a bustle of activity. Her family was very musical, and Kay followed suit as she learned to play the piano. She played the piano for youth group at Trinity Reformed Church, which is where she learned the fundamentals of the faith she held near. She attended Prairie View Elementary and Lakeview High School where she was very social and popular among her peers. Kay simply loved people, and she always had a ton of friends. She also loved to talk and have fun. In addition to holding down her studies, Kay worked at an ice cream parlor and started at a telephone company in the summer.
After graduating from high school Kay went to Hope College where she studied to be an elementary teacher and majored in English. While here, she met Ken Szymanski on the beach. Actually, they met because his friend started talking to her friend, which left Kay and Ken to begin talking as well. They began dating and were married on August 6, 1965, in a ceremony in Battle Creek. The newlyweds set off on a honeymoon that started at Niagara Falls and then continued throughout the Western United States as they took in the sights. The couple then settled into the home they built in Grandville, which was the place Kay called home for the rest of her life.
With her education behind her, Kay was ready for a rewarding career. She started teaching sixth grade at Walker Station Elementary, but before long she moved to first grade. Kay loved teaching first grade, and she remained teaching first grade at Zinser Elementary for nearly 30 years. She treasured the relationships with both her students and the people she worked with. Since Kay seemingly never aged, students would forever approach her because she was their favorite teacher, and although she was busy there was always room for more. Kay also worked at the Grand Rapids Press, becoming a district manager for the distribution area, overseeing local routes.
In addition to inspiring students, Kay made quite an impact at home. She and Ken were blessed with three children, Matt, Teri, and Micki. Kay kept a neat and orderly home as everything had a place. She was a great cook, but it was her baking that was her specialty as dessert was always the best part of the meal. Although Kay was busy outside of her home, her role as mother was always the most important. She was an amazing mother who poured into her kids’ lives including as a Boy Scout leader, Girl Scout leader, softball coach, and more.
Kay was welcoming to her kids’ friends, many of whom called her Mom. Faith was an important part of her life, and she raised her children up in the faith as well. When Kay’s children were older, they often gathered at her house each Sunday after church for dinner. As a young family they did some camping, and this was also something they did once her children were older and had families of their own. They also did some vacationing together as an extended family. Later in life Kay was thrilled to become a grandmother, and she has been called the best grandma in the world. When they were young, she was there to babysit her grandchildren, and as they got older she loved spending more quality time with her them.
As an expert communicator, Kay kept up with the times so she could still keep up with her grandchildren including texting. For the grandchildren who lived nearby, she helped with rides, and she knew all of their schools, sports activities, and test schedules. Kay was there to cheer them on, and when she couldn’t make it in person she still encouraged them from afar. For the grandchildren who lived further away, Kay regularly visited them, even making it to their games and activities as well. Kay was never still. Even during her retirement years she kept right on going.
She continued to volunteer including as a longtime helper in Bible Study Fellowship, and she also volunteered in her church, Mars Hill Bible Church, in children’s ministry where she as known as Grandma K. Kay was active with DeColores and began volunteering for Our Daily Bread, which eventually turned into a full-time job for her. Kay loved looking her best and keeping in shape. When her kids were young they rode their bikes to practices with her as she was a bicycle lover, and for about 15 years Kay took trips with Backroads. She biked throughout the world including Yellowstone, Maine, Wine Country, the Netherlands, and as she got older Kay became even more adventurous including hiking and kayaking on those trips. Kay loved going to Curves, primarily for the social component. She had just started to think about slowing down at work when she suffered heart problems. Generous, genuine, and faith-filled, Kay Szymanski was a blessing to so many. She lived the life of a servant and loved all people as no one was ever a stranger. Kay wasn’t one to make decisions quickly and carefully liked to weigh all her options. No one told a story quite like Kay, and most of her stories were filled with plenty of tangents.
Dearly loved, she will never be forgotten. Kay S. Szymanski, age 75 of Grandville, went home to be with her Lord and Savior on November 21, 2018. She was preceded in death by her granddaughter, Devyn Beatty. Kay is survived by her children Matt & Stacie Szymanski, Teri & Mark Beatty, Micki & Mike Owens; their father, Ken Szymanski; grandchildren Kennedy, Cameron and Logan Szymanski, Jace and Chloe Beatty, Connor Owens; sister, Karen Nelson; nieces Shelly Nelson and Rebecca Lacey; and many friends. Kay taught at Zinser Elementary for many years, and had a servant’s heart, volunteering at numerous places including Our Daily Bread, Bible Study Fellowship, Mars Hill Bible Church and with DeColores.