Gerry Van Ginkel
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West Des Moines
Joseph Gerritt "Gerry" Van Ginkel, Jr. (age 88) was born to loving parents Betty and Joe on September 12, 1924 at Methodist Hospital. In his youth, he attended Elmwood ES, Callanan, and Roosevelt, where he was a tennis star.
From the age of 10, Gerry started working at the family business, Van Ginkel's Athletic Manufacturing (adding Bowling Lanes in `53), founded by his parents in 1922. He loved working closely with customers to create made-to-order uniforms. Gerry took great pride in growing the business throughout his lifetime, and loved it so dearly, continued working there until age 87. Van Ginkel's continues manufacturing and sells sporting goods under the ownership of his son, Joe.
In 1942, when Gerry was 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and became a China-Burma-India "hump" bomber pilot. He flew a B-24 Liberator on dangerous missions from India to China over the Himalayan mountains, transporting gasoline. Throughout his life he cherished memories of his service to the nation and loved entertaining friends and family with his war stories.
In 1946, he returned to work full-time at Van Ginkel's while earning his degree in business at Drake, where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Shortly thereafter he met his lifelong love, Ellen Peterson. He asked Ellen to marry him on the third date. He was a handsome war hero. They married in a Marshalltown garden in 1949 and enjoyed 63 extremely happy years together. Ellen heavily mourns the loss of her beloved, but lives on as the matriarch of their family of six children, fifteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Gerry loved researching his ancestry and was proud to be an 11th generation American. Ancestor Thomas Cocke landed at the "Curls" near Richmond, Virginia circa 1628 and the nearby family homestead, "Malvern Hill" was the site of significant Revolutionary and Civil War battles. Gerry visited these sites many times. His great grandfathers also included William Cocke, who was a general in the Revolutionary War, a judge, a founder of the State of Tennessee, a congressman representing three states (Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia) and a true patriot who enlisted as a private under his son in the War of 1812. His grandfather, Gerritt Van Ginkel, was a Dutch immigrant to Pella and entrepreneur who owned streetcar companies in both Des Moines and Dallas and built the tallest building west of the Mississippi. These men were lifelong inspirations to Gerry.
Gerry played tennis for most of his life and was inducted into the Iowa Tennis Hall of Fame. He was a farmer who loved Iowa, his nation and his church.
It was always Gerry's hope to personally promote world peace through friendships. Everywhere Gerry went he sought conversation with others. He and Ellen hosted numerous international visitors to Iowa, welcoming 18 exchange students to live in their home while attending high school. Through these experiences, Gerry enjoyed travel and extended his "family" worldwide. He maintained contact and always entertained a constant stream of visitors. Up until his last days, he continued to seek meeting people through friendly conversation and inviting them into his home.
Gerry enjoyed excellent health until age 87, when he suffered a stroke. Despite new physical limitations, Gerry rarely complained.
He passed away peacefully in the early morning hours of January 27 of natural causes with Ellen by his side. His passing came as a surprise to his loved ones as his energy and strength was increasing daily. In the hours before his death he told his family and friends that he saw a beautiful heaven and was visited by an image of his parents. He passed with a smile on his face.
His widow is planning a memorial service at West Des Moines Christian Church on Saturday, March 9 at 2pm. Later this year he will be interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetary in Virginia (details will be announced when available).
Additional survivors include his sister Nancy Schneider of College Station, Texas and his brother David (Judy) of Cincinnati. His six children include Joan Brown (Marvin) of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa; Valerie O'Dowd (Mike) of Denver; Betsy Winterhalter (Monte) of Arlington, Virginia; Joe Van Ginkel (Margaret) of Des Moines; Tamara Verkler (Chris) of Denver and Jennie (Alan) of Potomac, Maryland. He was preceded in death by his parents, his infant brother, Richard, and brother-in-law Vernon Schneider.
The family is organizing a tennis scholarship. Also, memorial contributions may be made to West Des Moines Christian Church, 4501 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265 or the VanGinkel Foundation, through www.thecommunityfoundation.org.
Published in Des Moines Register from Feb. 8 to Feb. 10, 2013