Life Story / Obituary
Perhaps it was his polite and kind nature, or the way he brightened the days of others with his goofy sense of humor, yet for those who came to know and love Eli Verne, their lives were never quite the same. Eli touched the lives of others with ways all his own, leaving a forever imprint. He was never afraid of expressing who he was. He was as authentic as anyone could be. Although his passionate, smart and fun-loving nature will be deeply missed, his beautiful soul will live on in the hearts of many.
Eli’s story began in Oak Park, Illinois, on November 15, 2001. It was a rough time in America as we were all challenged by the devastating attacks on 9/11. Yet for Rich and Jenna (Edwards) Verne, Eli’s birth brought hope and promise. One of three children in his family, Eli joined his older sister, Naomi, and later welcomed his younger sister, Miriam. He was named Elijah after his mother’s favorite great-grandmother, Elizabeth, following the tradition of using the first letter of a relative’s name.
Although Eli spent his early years in Oak Park, he moved with his family at the age of five to Kalamazoo for more space, opportunities, and adventures. The fact that the Kalamazoo Promise was announced soon after the Vernes moved to Oshtemo Township was serendipitous. Kalamazoo proved to be a great location for his family, which was halfway between each set of grandparents. (He used to have his diaper changed at 9th Street and I94 in the McDonald’s parking lot!) As a family they enjoyed trips to Colorado to go skiing, Florida, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Mackinac Island. They also took many trips to Cedar Point and a special father/son pilgrimage to the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Eli and his mom loved roller coasters and always waited for the first car while his dad was more up for skee ball and Whac-A-Mole competitions. Eli’s parents always reminded him that he was the first of the kids to visit the West Coast, even if it was while he was in his mom’s belly at the time! A particularly memorable trip for Eli was visiting the haunted Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. It was perfect for the boy who loved horror movies and Stephen King books.
Family was always an important part of Eli’s life. Like many siblings, Eli’s arch nemesis was his little sister, Miriam. They did have rare moments where they’d find a way to play or get along. Extended family like cousins Maggie, Emma, Lincoln, and Zeb adored Eli. While attending Loy Norrix High School, Eli’s sister, Naomi, encouraged him to join the swim team which truly gave him a sense of belonging. (Go Knights!) He made great friends and together they would first dye their hair and then shave it right before the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference (SMAC).
In his sophomore year, Eli swam the backstroke and launched off the wall stronger than ever. His parents were surprised at the breadth and definition of his back, almost not recognizing him. Eli was also part of the high school golf team. His Grandpa Verne taught him to play golf and the two of them would play several times a week during the past 10 summers, either at Cedar Creek or Cedar Farms. It was during this time that he befriended Dr. Fred Kopelman, Bob Schiff, and the other retirees who became his crew.
Always one to move to the beat of his own drum, it was no different with his first jobs. This summer, Eli cobbled together lawn mowing gigs and odd jobs around the Winchell neighborhood. One night his family decided to go out to dinner at Café 36. They got dressed up and enjoyed a nice dinner. When they were finished, the waiter asked if there was anything else he could get them. Eli replied, “How about a job?” After a chuckle, the waiter brought him an application. A few weeks later, Eli received a phone call, went in for an interview, and got the job! As a food runner at Café 36, his coworkers loved him and he loved the job. Eli worked super hard and always did a great job. It was here that Eli gained another set of friends. The brotherhood of the kitchen was perfect for Eli’s quick wit, sharp tongue and weak filter.
Eli absolutely loved sushi and recently perfected his sticky rice. He’d often take pictures of his creations and show them off to the chefs at Sakura and Ziki—his favorite restaurants in town. Eli was very proud of his skills in the kitchen and his kitchen family recognized them as well. When it came to food, Eli was particular (shock). He loved his sushi, hot wings, beef jerky, Lucky Charms and mozzarella sticks. But only the mozzarella sticks from Costco! Anything else and they would go uneaten.
A significant moment in Eli’s life was his Bar Mitzvah three years ago. The rabbi and his Abba (dad) thought he’d have trouble with his Torah portion and prayers. Eli was adamant that he could do it—and he nailed it! Eli chanted beautifully despite a loud disruption right in the middle of the service. Crash! went the dish in the synagogue kitchen, but he didn’t miss a beat. This past spring he completed driver’s education. His Abba then taught him how to drive a manual using his new WRX and “Rhonda the Honda.”
Eli had a penchant for detail. From artfully putting the sauce on sushi to building dollhouse furniture for Grandma Edwards, he was precise in everything he did. Legos and model airplanes and tanks were always something he enjoyed. As a young child he built Legos that were advanced for his age while making it all look easy. In fact, he even made his own remote-controlled Lego cars. Then he developed an interest in woodworking, spurred on by Grandpa Mike. The two of them built a workbench in the basement complete with an entire set of tools specifically to do so.
Also, near and dear to Eli was his love of nature and animals. After much persistence, he convinced his parents to buy—with his own savings—a 4.5' (with room to grow) ball python named Rico. Eli wanted a snake for many years, but his parents always said no as they already had two dogs, many fish, and didn’t need more pets. After Eli got a job and showed responsibility, he earned permission to get the snake. He then proceeded to ride around the Winchell neighborhood with Rico, even bringing him to his old Winchell classroom. He loved educating people about snakes and all sorts of reptiles. That said, Eli’s best bud was his dog, Liam.
Video games were also a passion. Some of his favorites included Fallout and Fortnight. He liked playing Mortal Combat with his dad, taunting him mercilessly and destroying him in the most vicious of ways using secret moves that he learned in between matches. His favorite band was Iron Maiden—thanks in no small part to fellow metalhead and uncle, Scott Verne.
Although Eli was very principled and authentic, he was known for his sense of exaggeration which his family dubbed “E-perboles.” He was polite to everyone he encountered, saving his unfiltered self for the home. (The McNally family knows exactly what this means.) Eli was passionate about the things he believed in. He had a beautiful heart, and was a smart, funny and goofy kid. Eli was never afraid of putting himself out there and simply being who he was.
Perhaps it was the way Eli had such an impact on people that made him so very special. He believed in doing what you said you would do. To Eli, being goofy was good for the soul and relieved the pressures of life. Eli wasn’t afraid of telling jokes or being humorous, thanks in part to the whole no-filter thing. He was known for his glasses, huge heart, sensitive nature, and rigid sense of right and wrong. The biggest lesson to be learned from Eli’s life is to always be open to someone loving you; to say “yes” more than “no.” Although he will be deeply missed, Eli taught us so much in such a brief time.
Elijah, “Eli” Verne, age 16, died September 16, 2018. He is survived by his parents; two sisters: Naomi and Miriam; grandparents: Michael (Sheryl) Edwards, and Ralph (Micki) Verne; Aunt Stacey, his biggest fan; Uncle David (Malisa) Edwards and Uncle Scott (Mary) Verne; and four cousins: Maggie, Emma, Lincoln, and Zeb who adored Eli. Services will be held on Thursday at 11 AM at Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr. Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900 with a reception to follow in the Life Story Center. Burial will take place at Riverside Jewish Cemetery. Please visit Eli’s personal web page at www.BetzlerFuneralHome.com where you can archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his online guestbook before coming to the funeral home. Memorial contributions in lieu of flowers may be made at www.childline.org.uk, www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/donate or the Eli Verne Memorial Fund.