Where Food, Drinks & Stories Are Shared

John Girts Kesteris

May 15, 1943 - August 12, 2021
Plainwell, MI


Life Story Open House

Wednesday, August 18, 2021
4:00 PM to 6:00 PM EDT
Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes
Kalamazoo Location
6080 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
(269) 375-2900

Pleas join us for a Life Story Open House where food, drinks and stories will be shared.

Driving Directions


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


As his family and friends can attest, John Girts Kesteris truly understood the secret to a life well lived. He treasured his family above all else, and nothing brought him greater joy than hunting, fishing, and spending time with his loved ones. John’s kind and gentle spirit touched the lives of all those around him in such a special way. He was a constant source of strength, even in the most difficult of times.

During the 1940s, Latvia was occupied by other nations including the Soviet Union. More than 100,000 Latvians fled to other countries during this time, many to the United States and Australia. Janis and Zigrida (Straumite) Kesteris experienced great joy in their lives as they announced the birth of the baby boy they named Janis (John) on May 15th, 1943, in Jelgava, Latvia.

John and his parents were one of the families who left their homeland in search of relief. In 1949, their family fled to Germany and were placed in a displaced persons camp. They were sponsored by a church in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1950, where they remained for two years before settling into the larger Latvian community in Kalamazoo. On May 12th, 1969, it was a day to celebrate as John became a United States citizen.

Throughout his childhood, John attended local schools striving for success. His education allowed him to build the foundation for the strong work ethic that would serve him well for his entire life. John played football and basketball for Kalamazoo Central before graduating in 1961. He went on to attend Western Michigan University, where he earned his Bachelor's degree, then later received his Masters degree in social work. John worked for many years as a social worker for the State of Michigan where he enjoyed many successes in helping people through difficult and sometimes trying times.

John met the love of his life while she was still in high school. Her name was Ellen McGrail, and the two first met when they both attended a dance at St. Augustine High School where Ellen was a student. Although she was one year younger than John, they hit it off immediately. With a desire to spend the rest of their lives together, John and Ellen were married at St. Augustine Church on August 14th, 1965.

Of all the things John loved in life, he treasured his family above all else. He and Ellen settled into a home on AB Avenue in Plainwell. Together, they were overjoyed to welcome two beloved children, John and Anita, into their hearts and home. John was always supportive of his children, and he was devoted to raising them into responsible, hard working individuals. He was always generous with them and provided for them, but he also taught them the value of hard work. In everything he did, John’s family always came first. He strove to be an excellent role model for his children, for which they were forever grateful. Because of the importance of family, John’s mother also lived with them before she passed away in 2006.

Throughout his life John had a challenging career. Following his graduation from Western Michigan University, he began practicing social work for the State of Michigan. Over the years, John worked a variety of positions within the department from child protective services to licensing adult foster care homes. This is the department from which he eventually finished his career of 30 years.

Never one to sit still for long, John pursued several hobbies in his free time. He enjoyed passing on his wisdom through storytelling, and his stories were always captivating. John was a true outdoorsman. He was an avid hunter and fisherman and loved spending time in the woods. He shared his passion for hunting with his family and friends. The Kesteris family owned a small cottage in Delton on Little Pine Lake, where they spent many summers fishing, boating, and entertaining. John’s favorite meal at the cottage were deep fried bluegills. Many precious memories were made there. In 2007, John and Ellen took an unforgettable trip to Germany to visit family. John loved discussing politics, and he always got the last word in a debate because he was always right!

When reflecting on the life of John Girts Kesteris, it is easy to see his unwavering strength and his unconditional love for his family. He was a shining example of responsibility and determination, and time spent with his loved ones was time well spent. Known for being a gentle giant, John had a huge heart and was always willing to serve others in ways both great and small. Through the life he lived, it was easy to see that John truly understood the value of hard work. Though he will be deeply missed, John leaves behind a priceless legacy that his loved ones will carry on.

John Girts Kesteris of Plainwell died on Thursday, August 12, 2021 at his beloved home. Members of his family include his wife Ellen; 2 children: John and his wife Denise Kesteris and Anita and her husband Matthew Perkins; 3 grandchildren: Johnathan, Alex and Abbi. He was preceded in death by his 2 half sisters- Maija and Vija. Cremation has taken place. Please join us at a Life Story Open House where food, drinks and stories will be shared on Wednesday, August 18th from 4-6 PM at Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900. Visit John's webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive favorite memories, photos and sign his guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.