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Life Story / Obituary
Persevering and passionate, Mieke Maria ten Harmsel lived a life rich in family and service to others. With an adventurer’s spirit and a determination to live each moment fully, Mieke embraced each day she was given. Powerfully called to use her own experiences to ease the pain of others in their times of trials, Mieke freely gave of herself in any way she could. A devoted wife, mother, grandmother, and friend, Mieke touched, moved, and inspired many; undoubtedly, her spirit will continue to live on in the hearts and lives of all who were blessed to know her.
On May 7, 1945, in Hengelo, Overijssel, Netherlands Pieter Brandt and Maaike van Hermelen welcomed their first child Mieke into their hearts and home just one day after the Netherlands was liberated from the Nazis. Born in a wave of tremendous hope and promise for the future, Mieke’s birth was celebrated with particular joy.
At the age of 12, Mieke, along with her parents and younger sister Elisabeth, immigrated to America. Though the trip across the Atlantic was only supposed to take five or six days, the ship became caught in a hurricane. Travel was difficult and required the travelers to be confined to their quarters for a time. Many became sea sick. Finally, the weary travelers arrived at Ellis Island two weeks after their departure and on one of the last boats to arrive at the island. While elated to finally disembark, the family immediately faced new challenges. None of Mieke’s family members spoke any English. Now, with a mere $300 and a single trunk of belongings, they had to find their way to the train station and then to Grand Rapids, Michigan on their own. The Meijer family, also from Hengelo, was their sponsor; however, because of the delay in their arrival, no one was waiting to directly assist them on the rest of their trip as planned. With the signature determination that Mieke would learn to build the rest of her life upon, the family steadfastly continued their journey and soon received an offer for help from another passenger.
The kindness of this stranger led the family to make Holland their home. Once settled, Pieter, who had worked as a police officer in the Netherlands found work at a local bakery. Later, he worked at Howard Miller Clocks until retiring while Mieke’s mother worked at a nursing home.
As a teen, Mieke participated in Athletic Sisters, an organization that helped raise funds for sports activities. She was also a Dutch dancer for the Tulip Festival. A student at Holland High School, Mieke worked at a local pharmacy where she was held in high regard as she made the best chocolate malts. It was while creating the delicious treats in 1962 that she met the love of her life, Larry Jay ten Harmsel, who was a student at Holland Christian High School at the time. Easily smitten by both Mieke and her malts, Larry asked her out and the two were soon a steady couple with sights set on spending a future together.
Mieke graduated from Holland High School in 1963, and she and Larry married on Friday, August 13, 1965, in Zeeland, MI at Third Christian Reformed Church. The newlyweds honeymooned in Canada where they attended the Shakespeare Festival. Because it was so horrendously hot, Mieke never much cared for Shakespeare.
Upon returning from their honeymoon, Mieke and Larry first made their home in Grand Rapids, MI. Over the next few years, Larry’s work as a professor afforded them the opportunity to live in several different towns. Eventually, they settled in Kalamazoo in 1974 where they raised their daughters: Alyssa, born in 1968; and Liana, born in 1972.
While living in West Virginia, before settling in Kalamazoo, Mieke and Larry owned a plant store. While Larry taught as a professor at the university, Mieke ran the business. Running the business sparked a passion that returned with Mieke to Michigan and eventually inspired her to start her own business.
Challenged by the constraints imposed by Crohn’s Disease, Mieke faced each day with resolve and determination. Despite years of discomfort and frequent hospitalizations, she consistently chose to channel her energies into advocating for others who shared similar battles. For most of her life, she poured her passion for service into serving others with Ostomy and Ileostomy needs. During the late 1970’s, she and her friend Helen Arend founded H & M Ostomy, a medical supply company that specialized in providing support and supplies for patients with Ostomies. They later sold the company, but Mieke stayed on in a management role continuing to ensure the good care of their clients. She later worked at White and White and at Center Medical Supply where she continued to enjoy helping people with particular needs that she was knowledgeable about. Mieke was active with the Ostomy Association and tirelessly helped train the stomal therapists at Borgess and Bronson Hospitals so others with Ostomies could be properly cared for. Without a doubt, Mieke’s willingness to honestly share her own journey and energies afforded deep comfort for many people over the years.
Regardless of the challenges, Crohn’s imposed on her life, Mieke loved to travel. She had an adventurer’s spirit and longed to explore the world. She loved seeing and doing new things. Summers were spent with the family on the sailboat in Holland, MI. And while trips to the Netherlands, the Greek islands, Alaska, and Galapagos were fabulous, Aruba was her favorite destination. From the very first time she visited and was embraced by the island’s Dutch culture, to the last winter she escaped to the island, Aruba was “home” for Mieke. She especially enjoyed all the people she came to know over her month-long visits as well as the nearby casino.
While serving others and traveling were her passions, her absolute heart’s delight was her family--especially her grandchildren. Mieke loved being her grandkids’ “Oma” and treasured every moment she spent in their company. She loved playing with the kids. Whether making up skits and stories in the backyard, swimming in the inflatable pool, playing baseball in the yard, or taking trips together, Mieke relished being with Brendan, Kenzie, and Ethan. Her face lit up, and her heart burst with pride upon seeing them. Even though she hated cooking, she loved to bake for her family. Her pecan pie was unrivaled, and her fruit cocktail cake and cookies were the grandkids’ favorites.
Though it would be easy to describe Mieke as stubborn, as she was a formidable woman whose ability to endure unspeakable pain in order to be her best for her family, it is easier to acknowledge her as a master teacher whose most powerful lesson was that we are bigger than our circumstances. No matter the hurdle, Mieke continued to defy the odds and exceed the limits of her body. Mieke taught us to get up, keep moving, turn on the ball game, embrace the day, find its gifts, and share them with others. As she would say, “What’s the alternative?”
While the difficulties of her years cannot be denied, the power of Mieke’s dynamic spirit will prove to be the memory we hold dearest in our hearts. May we find deep comfort in knowing that Mieke is now at peace and free of Earthly limitations. As her undaunted love for her family will long be a source of comfort, additional comfort may be found in knowing that Mieke’s adventurous and genuine spirit remains in the hearts and memories of all who were blessed to know her. It is in our lives that her legacy will live and continue to inspire others as she inspired us.
Mieke Maria ten Harmsel, Age 73, died peacefully at her home on July 1, 2018. Mieke was born May 7, 1945, in Hengelo, Overijssel, Netherlands, the daughter of Pieter and Maaike (van Hermelen) Brandt, and immigrated to America in 1957. She was preceded in death by an infant son in 1970; grandson, Ethan Fox and sister, Elisabeth Poest. Surviving are her husband of 53 years, Larry; 2 daughters: Alyssa Ten Harmsel (Tom Teska) and Liana (Matthew) Fox; 2 grandchildren: Brendan and Kenzie; 2 nephews: Scott (Marguerite) Poest and Jeff (Erica) Poest and a niece, Sarah (Jeff) Tesmer. Cremation will take place. A celebration is being planned for later this summer. Please visit Mieke’s personal web page at www.betzlerfuneralhome.com, where you can read her story, archive a favorite memory or photo and sign her online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to West Michigan Cancer Center. Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr. Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900