Life Story / Obituary
Written by Rita:
Rita Noreen (Siertsema) Sours was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan at Bronson Hospital November 25, 1932. Parents: Clayton Kent and Verley Belle (Day) Siertsema.
At the time that Rita was born, her parents lived on Staples Avenue in a little bungalow on the east side of the street. Clayton worked in the carton department of Sutherland Paper Company on Pitcher Streeet. The 25th happened to be Thanksgiving Day that year and Verley thought she was having gas pains but it was labor pains and she ended up in Bronson Hospital a couple of weeks before her due date.
Rita thought she might enter this world feet first but since all women have the perogitive of changing their mind, she flipped around head first and a c-section was averted. The Siertsema’s, now three, lived in the bungalow and later moved to Lake Street where Rita had a good friend named Maybelle who lived next door. They lived there until Rita was towards school age an they moved back on Staples Ave., but across the street from the little bungalow and just a little farther north. Maybelle’s mother and Rita’s mother would take them to visit each other, for several years. Rita’s Grandma Siertsema lived with them part of the time.
The Siertsema three liked to go to musical movies and now and then stop at the North Street Drugstore for Sealtest ice cream cones. They also went for ice cream on weekends to Sillivan’s Ice Cream Store in Battle Creek for the best malteds in the whole world. They would go to Grandma and Grandpa Day’s farm in Hasting about every other weekend. Once in a while Rita and her mother went to Kewpie Hamburger Joint when in downtown Kalamazoo shopping. Rita enjoyed going squirrel and rabbit hunting with her Dad and fish with Mom and Dad. They spent a lot of summer days fishing at Lake 21 near Cloverdale.
Rita started her education at Woodward Elementary School Kindergarten at the January session after she turned 5 the previous November. During the first grade she was ill with tonsilitis and her tonsils removed. Then, she had an ear infection and ended up with mastoid bone surgery behind her ear. These illnesses cause her to lose one semester. She restarted school the next September with different classmates, some of whom were still classmates at graduation from high school in June of 1951. While in first grade, the teacher brought a typewriter to class and Rita wished for one right there and then. Her Christmas present was a toy typewriter, which she enjoyed immensely, but, of course, she kept on wishing for a real one.
There were three buildings at Woodward: one that had kindergarten thru second grade, one that housed third thru sixth grade, and Woodward Junior High with seventh thru ninth grade. There was a square cement area in front of the third-sixth grade building where the students could roller skate. As there was no sidewalk until halfway to school, Rita carried her skates to where the sidewalk began and skated with her friends to the elementary building where they skated until class started.
During the seventh grade, they tested all the students eyes and said Rita was nearsighted and she went home crying, “I have to get glasses.”
After graduation from ninth grade, her parents said she should work that summer or take a class. She cleaned house for one of her girlfriend’s sisters that had two children. She also took a typing class at Kalamazoo Central High School on South Westnedge Avenue that summer where she started high school the next fall. She finally had her own portable Underwood typewriter to practice on. The next summer she took a typing class again. During the rest of high school she continued learning office skills including stenography and typing. Also taking Latin, Spanish, World History and other classes to prepare for college. She achieved her shorthand 120 words per minute pin and 60 words per minute typing pin.
In the Senior year of high school she was on a co-op program where students could attend classes and get experience working. She was assigned to Edmonds Insurance Agency. She graduated from Central High School in June 1951. Going on to Western Michigan College office training she stayed on co-op with the insurance agency. After one year of college, she decided to apply for a different job and was hired at Fuller Transmission Division as the assistant manager’s secretary.
Junior High Schools in Kalamazoo all sent their students on to Central High School. There she became reacquainted with Maybelle and they became good friends again. They both liked to roller skate and dance. They started going to the Plainwell Roller Rink. There Rita met Robert Sours and Maybelle met Wilson Munn. And these fellas became their husbands.
Rita and Robert were married January 17, 1953 in the First United Methodist Church in Kalamazoo. Rev. Robert Willoughby, assistant pastor officiated. He later became pastor of Plainwell United Methodist Church and officiated at their children’s baptisms. They first lived in an apartment in a big old house on South Westnedge Avenue for a few months. Then they moved to an upstairs apartment on Summer Street. There was an ice storm on January 17th and all the decorations on the car froze on. They planned to stop at Robert’s grandparents in Indiana on their honeymoon but ran into black ice and had to turn around and go back to Three Rivers.
Robert just didn’t like working night shift so he announced he was going to start looking for a print shop that didn’t have a night shift. He soon got a job at Master Craft Corp. where they printed business forms.
While still living on Summer St., Roger was born in 1954. In 1955, they bought their first home, a little house on 105th Avenue in Plainwell, Michigan. They planted Christmas trees on their 18 acres there. Robert had had his medical for the service. He received his greetings and in the same envelope was his deferment due to dependents. He didn’t have to go to the Korean War. In 1957 Steven was born while they lived at 105th. When Steven was two years old, they moved to Sixth Street in Plainwell. This place had 3 bedrooms, a one-are garage, and 53 acres. And they again planted Christmas trees. Robert moved on to DeLano Printing in Allegan, Michigan. In 1962 Thomas was born. While the kids were young, Deans Ice Cream became the family’s weekend stop. Or at home it was toasted cheese sandwiches and ice cream, carrying on the Sours tradition.
Rita took a refresher bookkeeping class when Robert went into business, starting Sours Engine Center in 1977. The first couple of years she set type on a Compugraphic Junior at the weekly Plainwell Newspaper and kept the books for Robert. Soon Robert’s business was booming and she quit the newspaper and worked just for Sours Engine Center. They had lots of dunebuggy friends and spent many hours on the Michigan dunes. Robert built up engines for people for dunebuggy drag races and hill climbs. With the engine building being slower in the winter, they started traveling in the winter.
The first trip west was to the Grand Canyon, Arizona; south to Tucson to visit a friend; through Texas, along the gulf coast to Alabama, to Florida, and back home. Tom was still in high school and they went during Christmas vacation.
Robert and Rita travelled to Florida a couple of times, then started going west because of Rita’s allergies. The drier climate helping her immensely. They started going to Tractor and Farm Engine Shows. Robert bought his first flywheel engine in 1992. They showed at shows all across the United States and a couple in Canada; and accumulated full-size engines, model engines, and toy engines plus some other farm items to display. When in Indiana and Michigan they also visited with relatives and friends.
In 1985 they purchased a 3-acre lot in Hidden Valley, nine miles west of Stanfield, Arizona. In 1987 they sold their home in Michigan. Robert got a job at Verde Grande Vineyards near t heir home in Hidden Valley. Then he delivered propane and finished off his working career driving school bus. Rita worked at the Casa Grande Public Library for a short time.
In 1994-95, Robert fulfilled his dream of converting a semi-tractor into a motorhome. Having a Six Pac pickup camper on a dually Chevy pickup, he took that and put it on a Freightliner tractor changing the title to motorhome. A patio was installed on the back with a Tommy Lift to lift the antique engines up to the patio. The antique engines were shown out on the Tommy Lift at many shows across the United States and Canada. Many pictures were taken of this rig on the road and at the shows until we finally made a sign that proclaimed: this is the most photographed motorhome in the world. During this time Rita kept a file of all the comments made about the motorhome on the road and at the shows.
In 2005, they moved from Hidden Valley into Casa Grande, Arizona. Robert and Rita found a place where the alley didn’t have any overhead wires and they installed a back gate so the motorhome could get in.
As the years went by and ice cream stores evolved, that old love of ice cream brought them to soft-serve and Wendy’s Frosties. But nothing matches up to that old Sealtest cone.