William "Bill" Valk
(1912 - 1989)
My maternal grandfather, William "Bill" Valk, was born 30 October 1912 in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan, the third of eight children born to William James Valk and Agnes "Aggie" Tuinstra. His siblings were: James William "Jim" Valk (1910 - 1997); George William Valk (1911 - 1973); John Chester "Chet" Valk (1914 -1944); Oscar William Valk (1916 - 1984); Theodore William "Ted" Valk (1917 - 2002); and twins Barbara Dorothy Valk (1918 - 2001) and John Valk (1918 - 1918).
He was born at home on 1242 Courtney Street; this house is believed to have been owned at one time by his mother's family. Whether his parents owned or were renting is unclear. By 1920, his parents owned the house at 1006 White Street, where he spent most of his childhood, and where the family lived until at least 1945.
During his very early childhood, the United States was involved in World War I. The pandemic influenza epidemic which followed killed more people than the war itself. Bill's mother Agnes apparently contracted the illness, and although she survived, was never the same afterward. She was committed to several psychiatric institutions, and when the 1920 Federal Census was taken, the family was scattered about. Agnes was in Kalamazoo State Hospital, while her husband William was living at the White Street address alone. Bill's older brother James was living with their paternal grandparents, James and Barbara (DeJong) Valk. Oscar was in a foster home. The other children, George, Chet, Ted and Barbara were living in Blodgett Children's Home in Grand Rapids. And Bill was living in the same home neighborhood with the family of Gerrit and Jennie Jarstra (possible relatives of his mother) at 1149 Pine Avenue.
After his mother passed away in 1921, Bill's father married a widow, Iva Eva Lambrecht Schadler, who brought to the household a child by her first marriage. The family was reunited, and expanded by the addition of eight half-siblings, five of whom survived infancy: Jennette Mildred Valk (Mrs. Robert James Drew) (1926 - 1993); Robert John Valk (1927 - 2003); Kenneth Raymond Valk (1928 - 1928); twin baby boys who were born New Year's Eve 1930 and only survived a few hours; Raymond Edwin "Ray" Valk (1932 - 1990); and two other children who are still living as of 2003.
Bill was still living with his father and step-mother on White Avenue, and was working as a laborer when he married his first wife, Elfriede Lomker on 13 May 1937. She was the daughter of Fred Lomker, Sr. and Anna Kirchdyke. They were married in South Bend, St. Joseph County, Indiana. In those days, Indiana was where Michiganders went for a quickie wedding. Bill and "Frieda" had a son, James "Jim" Frederick Valk on 25 February 1939. The marriage was not to last, however, and on 7 March 1941, a divorce was granted. The divorce record mentions that Bill was employed at Sheldon's Sandwich Shop in Grand Rapids. Elfriede later married Bill's brother Chet. Jim was developmentally disabled and was later institutionalized until his death on 20 May 1958. (See information at the bottom of this page.)
On 6 January 1943, Bill was drafted into the U.S. Army at Camp Grant, Illinois. At the time, he was a welder's helper and lived at 2048 Greenfield Avenue, Grand Rapids. He served in World War II in the European Theater as a cook in an ordinance company. He received the Victory Medal, American Theater Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal and one Overseas Service Bar, and was honorably discharged 29 December 1945 at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.
There is some question as to what rank he reached; his official paperwork states he was discharged as a private, first class. However, I have found evidence that he was a corporal from three different sources: on my mother's birth certificate; in a newspaper article in 1945 about the combat death of his brother Chet; and in a photo taken of him in 1943 (see right) in his uniform. I have since learned that it was typical for the military to upgrade servicemen's rank during the high demand times of war, and then turn around and demote them after the need no longer existed, in order to conserve expenses.
Meanwhile, he had met my maternal grandmother, Ruth Lillian Hoekstra, a friend of his sister Barbara. Bill was probably stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas when Ruth came down from Michigan so they could be married. The wedding took place 11 September 1943 in Junction City, Geary County, Kansas. My mother was the only child born of this union. This marriage, too, was short-lived, and Bill and Ruth's divorce was finalized on 26 April 1946 in Grand Rapids.
Though he seemed to have bad luck with his own marriages, he was there for his younger siblings when they were married. He was a witness for Ted's wedding in 1947, and bought a wedding dress for one of his sisters who was married the same year.
A few years later, he married his third wife and had four more children. He worked for Wolverine Brass for 27 1/2 years, as a plater and a machine operator. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars - Creston Post, voted Democrat, and attended The Salvation Army church. He lived in Caledonia Township, Kent County, Michigan, where he passed away on 10 October 1989. He was buried three days later at Rosedale Memorial Park, which lies on the Kent - Ottawa County line. (obituary)
I have only a few memories of my grandfather; my first was of him and coming to visit my mother, father and I at my grandmother's home in Grand Rapids while we were visiting from out west. I must have been about 3 years old.
Another memory is when we came to Michigan for Christmas when I was 11 years old. A huge crowd of relatives met us at the airport, and we went over to IHOP for brunch. Bill sat down with my grandmother and step-grandfather and they were all visiting away. I remember remarking to my mother how odd that seemed to me; that I had supposed that divorced people didnít speak to each other except when they absolutely had to. What I didnít know was, that besides being mature people, my grandmother and grandfather had a lot of mutual friends, because their families had known each other for years. My grandmother not only was friends with my grandfatherís sisters, but also, before their marriage, dated Billís older brother Jim. Her sister, Mary Lou, also had dated Billís younger brother Ted at one time.
A few months before he died, Bill asked a young teenage neighbor boy to accompany him on a car trip out west to visit his brother Ted in Idaho, as well as my mother and us grandchildren. When he came to visit, I was impressed with his detailed memory. I asked him questions about the Valk family for my genealogical records. He knew the birth dates of all his siblings, his parents and stepmotherís birth, marriage and death dates, and the dates and names of his grandparents. I am greatly indebted to him for all this information, because it gave me a wonderful head start on my Valk research. Later on, when I ordered documents to verify his information, I was awed once again by his amazing memory since 99% of the facts he had given me turned out to be correct.
James Frederick "Jim" Valk was born 25 February 1939, probably in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan. After his parents divorced, his mother married his father's younger brother, Chet, who raised him for a short while until Chet's death during World War II. Jim had a developmental disability, and was institutionalized for a while at Kalamazoo State Hospital. He died at the age of 19 on 20 May 1958, probably in Grand Rapids, and was buried three days later at Rosedale Memorial Park, which lies on the Kent - Ottawa County border. (obituary)
Photo of Bill and Ruth (Hoekstra) Valk taken 2 Oct 1943 in Anderson Studio, Junction City, Geary County, Kansas - three weeks after their wedding.
I would like to acknowledge the research help of Susan McGaughey Barillas for this biography, as well as the wonderful information that my late grandfather, Bill Valk, shared with me shortly before his death.
created: 11 Jul 2003
updated: 18 Feb 2005
© Miriam Midkiff, 2003 - 2005