Karl Vander Laan ’56

VanderLaan, Karl Edwin 8/24/1934 – 5/6/2021 Ada age 86, died in the early hours of May 6, 2021 due to complications from COVID-19 after suffering a stroke two years prior.

Karl was born on August 24, 1934 to the late Helen and Sieger VanderLaan. He was the second of four boys, Richard, Robert, and Ronald who all preceded him in death. After being born in a farmhouse in rural Rockford, MI, he and his family moved to Hastings, MI where he spent his early school days. In fourth grade, the family moved to Godwin Heights where he graduated from high school in 1952. He was a very active and curious child and enjoyed lively comradery with his brothers and many lifelong friends.

Karl went on to Hope College and graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in education. He then taught sixth grade at his alma mater, Godwin Heights, for eight years. While teaching, he obtained his master’s in education administration from MSU in 1959. He then spent 14 years as a principal at Byron Center Public Schools and in Kentwood at Brookwood and Glenwood Elementary Schools.

A lifelong lover of sports, Karl spent summers and weekends writing for the Grand Rapids Press as a sportswriter and as a lifeguard and water safety instructor. With an entrepreneurial spirit, Karl worked as an accountant for small businesses during his time in education. Karl retired early from education to go into business full time. He started VanderLaan Software Systems creating, marketing, and selling educational computer programs to schools and universities throughout the Midwest.

Karl met his loving wife of 64 years, Jean Albers, at Hope College in his senior year. She was a sophomore transfer and they married in the fall of 1956. Together they had four children, Steven Blake (1957) who passed away at the tender age of seven from a car accident, James Craig (1960) (Kathy Jo), Scott Alan (1964), and Susan Beth (1966) (Bruce) Vander Kolk. The family traveled and enjoyed many summers at their home on Murray Lake. Throughout their married life, Karl and Jean traveled the world, enjoyed winters in Florida, and designed, built, and decorated seven homes together. Karl was very proud and supportive of his grandchildren, Nicholas James (John T. Jones), Elizabeth Mae, Julia Leigh, and Zachary James. He was always at every sporting event and music and theatre performance, cheering his grandchildren on.

Karl’s many hobbies and interests included sports, travel, and music. He was a fervent MSU football and basketball fan and followed high school football, basketball, and tennis all his life. A lifelong lover of music, Karl sang in choirs and a quartet and was a longtime supporter of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Opera Grand Rapids, where he served on the board for many years. Karl taught high school and post high Sunday school classes and was a deacon and treasurer in one of his churches. He also served on the board of Kentwood Parks and Recreation and was a member of Cascade Hills Country Club.

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