February 6, 1934 – August 15, 2017

Vernon J. Ehlers of Grand Rapids, Mich., passed peacefully to heaven on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.

A celebration of Vern’s life took place on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, at 3:00 p.m. at Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.

He was born February 6, 1934, in Pipestone, Minn. Vern was a nuclear physicist by training and a teacher by instinct. Following 6 years of teaching and research at the University of California, Berkeley, and 16 years as a physics professor at Calvin College, Vern went on to serve as a Kent County Commissioner, State Representative, State Senator, and U.S. Representative. As a public servant who valued non-partisan action, Vern implemented a statewide 911 protocol, rewrote the nation’s science policy, worked tirelessly to improve STEM education, computerized the state legislature, put the U.S. Congress online, and spearheaded the landmark cleanup laws known as the Great Lakes Legacy Act. Vern’s love for the environment was evident in his leadership to solve Kent County’s solid waste problem, strengthen Michigan’s wetlands policy, and protect and restore the Great Lakes.

A life-long Christian, Vern did his utmost to live out the principles of Micah 6:8: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with his God. Vern placed his hand on these words in the Bible every time he was sworn into office. These principles, along with Vern’s personal mantra of “Leave it better than you found it,” helped him cross aisles and lead his peers to do the same. Vern was endlessly curious and brought his scientific acumen to his hobbies of photography and vegetable gardening, meticulously recording technical details about the best lighting for black and white photos taken on his Leica camera as well as the best methods for cultivating his favorite varieties of tomatoes (Big Boy and Sweet 100’s). A passionate educator, Vern was dedicated to advancing learning in the classroom, in the Grand Rapids community, and across the U.S. educational system. Always eager to spend time in a classroom, Vern thoroughly enjoyed invitations to any educational venue, from lecturing PhDs to donning a red and white striped Cat-in-the-Hat chapeau to read Dr. Seuss to elementary students.

Vern is lovingly remembered by his wife of 59 years, Johanna (Jo) Meulink, and by his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren: Heidi and Bob Rienstra (Sara [Savannah, Caelan], Tim and Stephanie [Malik], Andrew), Brian Ehlers, Marla Ehlers, Todd Ehlers and Mirjam Schaller (Anouk, Zoelle), as well as by his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Jake Engel (Ripon, CA) and his sister Henrietta Buurma (Willard, OH).

He was preceded in death by his parents, Rev. John W.C. and Alice (Doorn) Ehlers, his brother, Clarence (CJ) Ehlers, and brother-in-law, Robert (Bob) Buurma.