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Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Barry VanderWeele would agree that he was the heartbeat of wherever he went. His jokes weren’t all that great, although he thought they were hilarious, but his contagious zest for life more than made up for what his jokes lacked. It was easy to see that Barry was married to the love of his life, and there was no greater joy than becoming a father. Known for his strong work ethic, he was such an inspiration to those around him. Life will never be the same without Barry here, but he leaves behind a priceless collection of memories that his loved ones will proudly carry on in his footsteps.
With the end of WWII in 1945, there was dancing in the streets as countless young servicemen and women were able to return home to the families they left behind. In the years that followed, America was making the shift to being a nation at peace as the baby boom got underway. It was during this exciting transitional time that Fred and Sarah (Gilkey) VanderWeele were filled with great anticipation as they were eagerly awaiting the birth of their new baby as the holiday season began to appear on the horizon in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1948. Their wait was over on November 4th when the baby boy they named Barry was born. He was the third of four as he was joined in his family by his older siblings, Mary and Gil, and his younger brother, Don. Barry’s father worked for Michigan Bell and later became a realtor while his mother was a busy homemaker.
In many ways Barry was a young boy of his generation. He enjoyed camping with his brother at Yankee Springs when they were teens. At first they started in tents, but they eventually bought a travel trailer as they got older. Barry attended local schools and Portage Northern High School. In addition to holding down his studies, he worked at a restaurant that was owned by some friends. Barry continued his education at Western Michigan University with two bachelor’s degrees including one in arts and one in science.
With his education behind him, Barry soon began working in the career he found so rewarding. He first taught in North Carolina but later moved back home and taught for the Adult Education Center and the middle school at Comstock Public Schools. Part of his drive to move home was his sweetheart, JoAnn, whom he had started dating prior to moving away. In addition, Barry just missed being near family so moving back home proved to be a great fit for him. Among his students and coworkers, he was known as a quiet and easy going teacher who was always approachable. Barry was well-loved by students, especially the adult education students as they often went out on smoke breaks together. He even stayed in touch with a few and once in a while, years later, a student would come up to him to say thank you. In 2000, Barry retired from teaching. Since he had always loved driving, he became a trucker driving local routes for Schneider National and then Chieftain Trucking and Excavating. Barry was known for his strong work ethic, and he was never without a job. Even on his summers off while teaching, Barry would find work at a local nursing home to stay busy and productive.
Not to be forgotten during his younger years was Barry’s introduction to the woman of his dreams. Her name was JoAnn, and they met while attending classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. She was sitting at a table with her cousin when Barry came over and just struck up a conversation. The rest is history as they say. They dated for a time and with the desire to spend the rest of their lives together Barry and JoAnn were married on August 1st, 1975, in Kalamazoo. While a young couple, they were avid square dancers as she learned from her parents and taught Barry as well. They had a big group of friends they often hit the floor with. Later, Barry and JoAnn welcomed their son, Michael, into their hearts and home. He was active in the life of his son including as a coach for his t-ball and soccer team. Since the soccer team was filled with exceptional players, Barry’s job was fairly easy.
One of Barry’s favorite things to do was to travel, and what made these experiences so much more memorable was sharing them with his friends and loved ones. When his son was touring around for a yo-yo manufacturer, Barry went with him as Mike made appearances and also competed. Barry loved traveling with his wife, and since his parents lived in California they made frequent visits to see them. Seeing the whales off the coast was a highlight. They also took a trip to Las Vegas together with his family and brother for Mike and Christina’s wedding. There were trips to Disney World as well as to Wisconsin for a big arts and crafts fair when they took the SS Badger from Ludington across Lake Michigan. Barry loved their Alaskan cruise where they took in the wonderful views of all the glaciers. Closer to home he liked spending time at JoAnn’s parents home on Brandywine Lake in Gobles as it was just a calming place to relax. Barry’s parents also had a motorhome and belonged to a camping club. Through that affiliation, they were able to attend the Rose Bowl Parade and park along the parade route the night before. He loved sitting there and watching the crazy people, but rather than being out in the crowd Barry watched on television from inside the motorhome as the parade passed right by.
Throughout his life Barry was a man of many interests who preferred to be busy. He enjoyed simple things like going to the movies or out for a drink with his wife. Since JoAnn’s cousin owned the Front Door Back Door bar, they were able to get in for free and were regulars there. As his family and friends can attest, Barry was a die-hard K-Wings fan and held season tickets for over 30 years. As a sports fan he also enjoyed going to his son’s games during his younger years. Barry loved the computer and being on the internet as he was forever checking out various news sites or researching his next trip. For years he raised orchids in his home, and on the weekends he could often be found reading books by his favorite author, Harry Turtledove. Barry was a proud member of the Sons of the American Revolution, and he loved knitting socks, scarfs, sweaters, and hats.
With a life that spanned times of great change in the world around him, Barry VanderWeele was a blessing in the lives of so many around him. He was quiet and more reserved, but a friend of Barry’s was a friend for life. He loved telling his awful jokes over and over, but he was certainly so much fun to be around. Barry was so loving and giving as he was so kind and generous to all who were near. Deeply loved, he will be forever missed.
Barry VanderWeele, age 70, died unexpectedly on July 6, 2019m at his home in Portage. Surviving are his loving wife of 43 years, JoAnn; son, Michael (Christina) VanderWeele; 2 siblings, Mary Zinchefsky and Gil VanderWeele; 2 nephews, Ryan and Stephen; a great-nephew, Mark; and furry companions who were always by his side: Chloe, Carly, and Tanner. Barry was preceded in death by his parents and his younger brother, Don. Visit with family and friends from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday (July 11) at Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr., Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900 where a service will be held Friday (July 12) at 11 a.m. Burial will follow at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Visit Barry’s personal web page at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com, where you may archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his online guestbook before coming to the funeral home. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Animal Rescue Project.