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Life Story / Obituary
William James Youker "Jim," born in Traverse City, Michigan on May 19, 1940 to Deronda (Chum) and Mary Levenski Youker. Jim was the younger of two boys, his brother Dick was five years older, quiet and reserved. Jim always said Dick wasn’t necessarily better behaved, just smarter at not getting caught. Jim got caught a lot, but that was part of his devilish charm, most often talking his way out of trouble.
Known as William, after his maternal grandfather, until 3rd grade when his Immaculate Conception class had six Williams. When the teacher asked if anyone would like to be called by their middle name, he volunteered and from that moment on was known as Jim.
Jim was lucky to grow up in the heart of Traverse near most of his close family and friends. He spent time riding bikes, playing in the creek next to his house and State Hospital woods. He was a boy through and through. Their family doctor would often joke it was a miracle he survived childhood with too many concussions and stitches to count. He was a paperboy, Boy Scout, albeit short-lived for three days and showed interest in studying to be an altar boy, until he found out it conflicted with recess.
The Youker and Levenski families consisted of a dozen siblings each, so aunts, uncles and cousins were always nearby. The door was always open at the house on Madison Street, where anyone was welcomed with coffee and goodies. So many friends and stories of those years and he blessed to have many of those lifelong friendships to this day.
Important to his parents he attend Mass and Catholic schools, he benefitted from his education at Immaculate Conception Grade School through graduation from Traverse City St. Francis High School. He always said his athletic ability kept him at St. Francis along with a few academic and behavior tune-ups from Father Kohler! "Uke" as he was often called, lettered in football, basketball and baseball, well known as their quarterback. He followed the St. Francis teams all of his life and his Catholic upbringing remained important and constant.
After high school, he worked for Montgomery Ward Co., where his mother worked for many years in Accounting. He created and even won awards for their seasonal window displays. A few years later, he moved south, this time following in his father's footsteps, a long time baker at the Traverse City State Hospital. He settled in Kalamazoo working at their Regional Psychiatric Hospital and in 1967 married Suzanne Schwenter. Together they had a daughter Ronda who was his pride and joy. He was a member of the first slow pitch softball league in Kalamazoo playing 1st base for the Kalamazoo Insurance Agents team and played on multiple golf leagues. Jim followed Ronda through many sports and activities, living in Kalamazoo most of his adult life.
In the Spring of 1994 he and Carolyn began their life together; they were married on August 25, 1995. Jim retired as Domestic Service Director at the Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital, and they moved back up north to a home on the Muskegon River near Big Rapids, Michigan. Their house was a hub for family tubing events, drinks on the deck watching the river go by, dinners at Jim’s local favorite, The Last Chance Saloon and working in the yard – a passion that they loved and kept them busy. Earlier this year, when home ownership became too much, they moved back to Kalamazoo and enjoyed being closer to family. Jim and Carolyn enjoyed vacations in Wyoming, Niagara Falls, Florida, and a trip down the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky. There were many trips back to Traverse City and their favorite location Leland. Life was busy and happy.
Jim lived a full life making people laugh and always at the center of a good time. He could build anything, loved food and cooking from scratch, tubing on the river, old cars, Western movies and just relaxing at home with a game on. Jim was a lifetime Notre Dame Fighting Irish fan and football season ticket holder for many years. He will be deeply missed by many, but has left everyone who crossed his path with warm memories.
He is survived by his wife, Carolyn; daughter, Ronda (Toby) Lichtensteiger of Port Washington, WI; step-daughter, Kelli (Michael) Cruz; two granddaughters: Ashley and Alexandra Cruz of North Liberty, IN; two brothers-in-law: Bob (Heidi) Golliher and David (Renee) Golliher; sister-in-law, Barb Shorter; and several nieces and nephews. He had a very special relationship with his niece, Kristine Kennedy. Jim was preceded in death by his parents, Deronda and Mary Youker; brother, Richard; and sister-in-law, Connie Youker. Cremation will take place. Services will be held at 11 AM on Friday (May 31) at the Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900 with visitation beginning at 10 AM. Food and drinks will follow the service in the Life Story Center. Private burial will take place at Mt. EverRest Cemetery. Please visit Jim’s personal memory page at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com where you can read his life story, archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his guestbook before coming to the funeral home. Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan or St. Francis High School Athletic Department, Traverse City.