Sandra Ekster ’61 Bixel

Sandra J. Bixel, age 81, of Jenison, went to be with the Lord on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. She was preceded in death by her parents, Lambert and Catherine Ekster. She will be dearly missed by her husband of almost 60 years, David Bixel; children, Paul (Teri) Bixel ’84, Carolyn (Michael) Garrett, Kimberly (Steven) Lauber; 9 grandchildren, Kaitlyn (Brian), Emily (Matt), Alex, Anna, Jack, Kiko, Lydia, Cara, and Sam; brother, Peter (Char) Ekster; sister, Cheryl (Rob) Zylman; and brother-in-law, Dr. Gordon Bixel. Sandy could light up the room and make everyone feel at ease. Sandy enjoyed her music, church life, traveling, and her winter home in Naples, FL. More importantly, she loved spending time with family and friends. She was born in Chicago and lived in Spring Lake until she was 12 when her family moved to Sudan and she became a “missionary kid”. Her African experience influenced her entire life and was the source of many stories. While transiting from Africa to the States, she met Dave, the love of her life, in Bethlehem. When she returned to the States, she graduated from nursing school at Chicago’s West Suburban Hospital, associated with Wheaton College. She married Dave in 1961 in Holland, Michigan. Sandy was a wonderful wife and mother, considering that her most important job. She was a favorite aunt to all her nieces and nephews and treasured her family time. After years of nursing, and obtaining her bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan, she went on to be a nursing supervisor at Foote Hospital in Jackson, MI. Later, she co-founded Hospice of South Haven becoming its first Executive Director. For her retirement, Sandy and Dave became house parents to six Sudanese refugees (“lost boys”) that settled in Grand Rapids. In 2004, Sandy became one of the founders of Partners in Compassionate Care (PCC), a Christian organization providing hope and medical care to the people of South Sudan. She served as PCC’s treasurer for many years, making several trips to South Sudan, and was an invaluable board member. That organization, now with its four clinics, serves over 26,000 patients a year in war torn Jonglei State. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Sandy’s remains are to be cremated and a private family service will take place. A Celebration of Life gathering, at a date when it is safe for friends and family to gather, is under consideration. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Partners in Compassionate Care, 1000 Front Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504 or or Condolences may be sent online at
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