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Dr. James Martin Riekse, aged 94, died on the 8th of April at Blodgett Hospital, with his beloved wife, children and grandchildren by his side. He was a remarkable man, husband, father, grandfather and physician, who never stopped learning and growing and who could still give a contestant on Jeopardy a run for his money even a week before his death.
He was a prominent obstetrician and gynecologist at Butterworth Hospital where he practiced from 1950 to 1988, delivering over 7,200 babies; it's likely that almost everyone in town knows someone he delivered. He served as Chief of Staff of Butterworth from 1985 to 1987, Chairman of the OB-GYN Department from 1961 to 1965, and the President of West Michigan OB-GYN from 1970 to 1988. Dedicated to women's health, he helped found Planned Parenthood of Kent County and served as its Medical Director from 1965 to 1972. While still practicing, Jim became frustrated with the fact that west Michigan doctors were having to borrow money to pay their malpractice insurance premiums and came up with the idea of creating the Michigan Professional Insurance Exchange, originally an organization jointly owned by Butterworth Hospital and participating doctors which has since expanded to include much of the western Michigan medical community. He served as the Exchange's medical director from 1988 to 2000.
Working always with quiet effectiveness, Jim contributed to the community in ways almost too numerous to name. During the turbulent 1960s, he served on the Grand Rapids Human Relations Commission, helping to foster improved race relations in the community. He put his beliefs into practice as a founder and board member of Neighborhood Health Services, which delivered free health care to the poor. He helped to organize and served on the board of Park School, an educational program for pregnant teenagers run by the Board of Education and housed at facilities of the Salvation Army. He was a member of the Mayor's Committee of 100, a group organized to plan for the future of the city of Grand Rapids and to find solutions to existing problems. He also served as a member of the Planning Committee for the United Way of Kent County.
Jim would never have been able to afford to attend college and medical school if it weren't for the generosity of an older physician and mentor who loaned him the necessary funds. Having been helped in this way made him sensitive to the needs of others and adamant about the importance of education in our society. He put these values into practice in many ways, including helping several other medical students to achieve their goals and acting as an Associate Clinical Professor at the
Michigan State University
College of Human Medicine.
Jim was born in Grand Rapids on December 13, 1919 to Henry and Lucretia Riekse, both children of Dutch immigrants. His early life was greatly shaped by the Depression, when his family lost their house and he needed to help make ends meet by selling wood with his father and delivering meat and Liberty Magazines starting at age 11. He had a beautiful singing voice and could earn an extra 25 cents for every solo he sang during church performances.
Jim was the first member of his family to attend college, and he graduated from Hope College in 1941. Hope College recognized Jim with its Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000, and has since graduated two of his children and seven of his grandchildren. During his last year at Hope, he was concerned that his dream of attending medical school would be jeopardized by his final exam grade in organic chemistry. To his great relief and the good fortune of the medical community, final exams were cancelled that year due to a visit to Holland by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.
Due to the outbreak of
World War II
, Jim had to complete medical school at the
University of Michigan
in two and a half years, and immediately upon his graduation received his commission as a Captain in the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army.
While an intern at Butterworth Hospital, he noticed a fetching young nurse by a drinking fountain, and had the good sense to marry Helena Braendle five months later. They celebrated the 69th anniversary of their extraordinary marriage and partnership in January, marking that considerable achievement with the 28 people whose lives they helped to create.
Jim's faith and his church have been the bedrock of his life; he and Helena have been members of Central Reformed Church for over 50 years where Jim served as an Elder and Vice President of the Consistory. Whenever a board or task force was created to address an issue, Jim was on it. Whether contributing to the life of his church, his medical community or the community at large, Jim never cared whether he received credit; he saw needs and he worked tirelessly to meet them. That life improved for those around him was all that mattered.
Jim was preceded in death by his son, Jim Riekse, Jr. his son-in-law, Jack Zepp, and his brother and sister-in-law Martin and Agnes Riekse. Jim will be lovingly remembered by his wife, Helena; children, Nancy (John) Norden, Meredith Riekse, Judith Riekse Marcus, Laurel (Fred) VanDyke, his eight grandchildren, Jim (Julie) Riekse, Jamie (Sean) McWilliams, Andrew (Shanna) Norden, Brad (Heather) Norden, Kate (Troy) DeWys, Tom Hoesch, Karl (Tracey) Hoesch and Leah (Matthew) Brooks, his 15 great-grandchildren, 3 step-grandchildren and a step-great-grandson, Stephen Van Dyke, Samantha Van Dyke, Lindsay Van Dyke, sister Lucille (Howard) Claus and several nieces and nephews.
Details of the memorial service will be forthcoming. Those who wish to make memorial contributions are asked to direct them to Heartside Ministries or
Published in The Holland Sentinel on Apr. 13, 2014
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