Where Food, Drinks & Stories Are Shared

Samuel Schaafsma

June 17, 1931 - January 3, 2020
Paw Paw, MI



Thursday, January 9, 2020
4:00 PM to 7:00 PM EST
Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes
Paw Paw Location
60900 Michigan 40
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-3870

Visit with family and friends while sharing food and refreshments. A Prayer Service will be held at 7 pm.

Driving Directions


Friday, January 10, 2020
11:00 AM EST
St. Mary Church
209 Brown Street
Paw Paw, MI 49079
Web Site


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan
7100 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
(269) 345-0273
Driving Directions
Web Site

Paw Paw Senior Center
600 East Michigan Ave
Paw Paw, MI 49079
Web Site


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

Taylor's Florist and Gifts
215 E. Michigan Ave.
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-6256
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


Sam Schaafsma was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and friend to many. A family man through and through, there simply wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for each and every one of them. They relied on his gentle wisdom and warm sense of humor over the years to guide them with life’s challenges as well as their celebrations. Devoted to his family, there is no doubt that Sam will be deeply missed by his many special friends and loved ones.

The 1930s were significantly impacted by the effects of the Great Depression. Banks were still closed but there was a promise of a new election year awaiting. During the middle of one of the toughest decades in American history, Sam was eagerly welcomed home on June 17, 1931, in Kalamazoo, Michigan to his loving parents and four older siblings; Ruth, Arthur, Garrett, and Sidney. Growing up on the northside, Sam lived a typical childhood of the times.

It was early to tell at an early age that Sam was born with a sense of adventure. He enjoyed running around the neighborhood with the usual crew of kids who loved to find enough mischief to go around. His parents taught him the value of a hard day’s work and pitching in to help others in need. As a young adult, he was drafted into the United States Army during the Korean War serving in Germany. Ambitious as well as driven, Sam was proud of his years of service. He often talked of these years and how he sold his cigarette rations to earn himself some extra spending money. His easy-going personality and his natural way with people made him many lasting friendships during this time in his life. When he returned home to Kalamazoo, he had a strong desire to complete his education as an engineer at Western Michigan University. Short on resources to support his dream, he found himself contemplating his next steps at a local coffee shop when a firetruck sped by sparking an interest in a new career path. This small moment in time started his remarkable thirty-year journey with the Kalamazoo Fire Department. Sam had many memorable moments during his career as a firefighter but two stood out from the others: the Kalamazoo tornado in 1980 and when he saved a boy from drowning. He received a citation from the city for each of these acts.

Not to be forgotten however was the woman who would change the course of his life forever, Helena Toliusis. Introduced by her sister, Erika, the two of them hit it off right from the start. After a short time of dating, the eager couple joined in marriage on June 9, 1962. Together they raised three wonderful children; Deborah, Tom, and Brenda. Never one to remain idle, Sam was an active father to say the least. He treasured sharing his love of the outdoors, especially water, at their family cottage on Birch Lake. He taught each of his children how to water ski, how to drive a boat, as well as how to fish. Successful or not, they always held many fond memories of their developing years spent at the cottage. Mealtimes were sacred in the Schaafsma home and Sam was always at the table when he was home from the fire department. Often before or after dinner, they would enjoy family bike rides. Sam always wanted to provide the very best for his kids. The shift schedule of the firehouse afforded him the opportunity to own and operate a propane gas business in Kalamazoo, later known as Paw Paw Gas. Loyal to his customers, it wasn’t uncommon for him to make emergency runs for them on holidays or during inclement weather. Despite his busy work life, Sam never wavered from spending quality time with his family.

In 1982 Sam received a certificate of recognition from the City of Kalamazoo for his 25 years of dedicated service. Shortly after the city decided to combine the fire and police departments into one unit. With these changes coming, Sam decided to step down from his post and Sam retired as a well-respected Lieutenant from the fire department. Retirement afforded him the time to go back to school at Southwest Michigan College and receive an associate’s degree in 1985. This enabled him to pursue his next interest as an Air Frame mechanic for Rockwell International. His time at Rockwell seemed to be a perfect fit as Sam had always held a special interest in flying.Sam was the proud owner of two Cessnas, a 150 and a 172, which logged hundreds of hours of flight time. He even managed to fly all the way to Vegas so he and Helena could soak in the city. There was no greater feeling than capturing the view from above as he pulled down on the throttle. No other hobby than flying ignited the same sense of adventure he had as a child. When he wasn’t flying, Sam was spending time fishing in both the summer and winter months which provided him the greatest opportunity for reflection and relaxation.

As much as Sam’s life was filled with success and great accomplishments, it was not without its trials. Sadly in 2002, their daughter, Deborah, died of cancer. Her loss shook him to the core. He and Helena leaned on the support of their many friends and family, yet Sam longed for the connection to Deborah and found it by finding his faith in the Catholic church. After converting to Catholicism he became a dedicated and active member of St. Mary Catholic Church in Paw Paw ever since. His strong faith served him well when Helena also passed away in 2012. As a widower, Sam found comfort in the time he spent with his special friends and especially savored his visits with his grandchildren.

His heart was put at ease when he was blessed to meet Marie Walker. They both enjoyed dancing and sharing meals together at the Paw Paw Senior Center. Her family was very welcoming of Sam and their budding friendship. They treated him like family and loved him for his sense of humor and the tender way he treated Marie. An exceptional person to know and to love, Sam leaves his family with the very best of life lessons. He modeled for them a lifetime of integrity and grit as well as the ability to enjoy each and every day to the fullest. May his memories live on in their hearts for generations to come.

Sam Schaafsma, age 88, of Paw Paw, Michigan, died on Friday, January 3, 2020, at Rose Arbor Hospice in Kalamazoo. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Deborah in 2002 and his wife, Helena in 2012. Surviving are his two children: Tom (Lora) Schaafsma and Brenda (Jeffrey) Kolodziejczyk, his grandchildren: Adam, Benjamin, and Caitlin, many nieces and nephews and his dear friend and companion, Marie Walker. Visit with family and friends on Thursday, January 9, 2020, from 4-7 pm at the Betzler & Thompson Life Story Funeral Home, 60900 M-40 Hwy; Paw Paw (269) 657-3870 where a Prayer Service will be held at 7 pm. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Friday at 11 am at St. Mary Catholic Church, 209 Brown Street, Paw Paw. Burial will be in the St. Mary’s Cemetery. Please visit Sam’s personal web page at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his online guestbook before coming to the funeral home. Memorial donations may be made to Paw Paw Senior Center or Hospice Care of SW Michigan.