Life Story / Obituary
When thinking of Bill Grow, the words that first come to mind are hard-working, steadfast, courageous, strong, and multi-talented. Bill could always fix, build, and figure anything out. He was a man’s man with an incredible depth of love and tenderness.
Born on March 11, 1944 to parents of the Greatest Generation, the second child of Glen and Edith Grow grew up in the optimistic post-WWII era. Bill’s world was one of endless possibilities, and he was molded by the work ethic of his parents and by the joys of small-town life in Montague. He was a typical boy, with backyards, ballfields, and White Lake as the background for his childhood adventures, but play was only a part of what shaped Bill. He was taught to earn his own way and never feel entitled. So, from the time he was very young, he worked setting pins at the bowling alley, delivering newspapers, and picking sweet cherries at his uncle’s orchard. When there were no jobs, he and his brother Jerry collected bottles and returned them for the deposits. Bill always had a job; he never retired.
Bill also had an innate ability to understand how things worked, fit together, and operated. Some of this he learned by his father’s side, but most simply came naturally. He was a hands-on kid, always tinkering, playing sports, making mischief with Jerry and neighborhood boys who turned into lifelong friends, and lovingly picking on his little sisters Glenna and Vicki.
At 17, Bill married and started a family; his first daughter, Sherri Jane, was born in 1962, and Sondra Kay was born in 1963 but passed tragically a year later. When his first marriage ended, he entered a phase of self-discovery that he never experienced as a teenager. Typical of the 1970s, Bill grew out his hair and beard and strayed from the strictness of his formative years. Though he could no longer be a full-time dad, he never stopped loving and caring for his daughter, watching her proudly as she grew to adulthood and started her own family with her husband, Brian Gradisher.
In 1975, Bill met the love of his life, Jennifer Johnson. For her, it was love at first sight. Bill, skeptical of falling too hard and fast for someone a decade younger, gave in a month later. It was a whirlwind relationship, and before too long, they did a daring thing for those times: moved in together. Nothing, including “proper” behavior, would keep Bill and Jenn apart. They were married on August 20, 1976. Though times were sparse in the early years, their little house on Johannah Street is where their love grew and where they started their family; Laura Marie was born in 1978, and David William came along in 1980. It was a home filled with love and laughter. When they outgrew their tiny space, Bill and Jenn realized another dream and moved just down the street to South Mears Avenue, where for 31 years, Bill’s talents and work ethic were put to good use, remodeling, maintaining, and providing a safe and secure home for his family.
Bill’s greatest joy in life was his role as protector and provider. He was a man from a time when gender roles were distinct, and he took that seriously. From his job in aerospace engineering to starting his own marine engine repair business that kept many a White Lake boater happy for two decades, his hard work allowed Jenn to stay home with the children when they were young. He also always made sure the cars were running and the yard work was done. As the years went by, his traditional perspective softened a bit; he taught both Laura and David how to have common sense and be handy, he was Jenn’s greatest cheerleader when she returned to college to earn her teaching degree, and he even invented the perfect fish batter recipe and discovered he loved to do dishes and iron! Nonetheless, one division of labor stood the test of time: Bill dispatched the occasional mouse, and Jenn always eliminated the spiders.
Despite his strong work ethic, Bill found time to enjoy his hobbies. In his spare time between boat seasons, he built two amphibious airplanes, and restored an antique Ford Model truck, a Model A car, and a speed boat, each of which he then got to test drive. Bill’s biggest passion was golf; he didn’t become a world-class golfer, but he was never concerned about that. He loved the game, the challenge, and the chance it gave him to relax with his family and friends. He and his brother even won the Harvey Huston Golf League championship in 2005 at Old Channel Golf Course.
In February 2007, this vital, hard-working man received the devastating news that he had multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that attacks the bones. He needed surgery for a broken vertebrae, followed by intense chemotherapy. Bill, in his typical courageous manner, looked at the doctor and said, “Hit me with everything you’ve got. I want to live.” Thus began nine long years of fighting, without complaint, through treatments that knocked him to his knees and wreaked havoc with his system, but enabled three remissions. Bill never let cancer define his life even as it affected it. He remained strong in his resolve to fight and enjoy the time he had: designing and completing an addition to the house; fixing boats; playing golf; traveling on vacations to the Great Plains, the mountain west, the northeast, and around Michigan; watching his grandchildren Nikki Gradisher, Kayla Gradisher, and Forest Lewis graduate and become successful adults; and seeing his family grow with David’s marriage to Sheila (Ahern) Grow, Laura’s marriage to Matt Hayes, and the birth of his and Jenn’s first grandchild together, Piper Anne Grow.
Bill considered himself to be a very lucky man. As the end neared, he and Jenn were fortunate to enjoy many frank, emotional discussions where he revealed how grateful he was to see his children and grandchildren happy, healthy, and embracing life, firmly grounded in the foundation his love provided. He also reiterated his love and gratitude for Jenn and her steadfast support through their 40 year journey together. Their exchanges often included a long-standing debate about who loves the other more. The issue remains unresolved, as neither party would concede.
The coda to Bill’s life reflected how he lived: he was strong until the end. His siblings, his children, his grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews got the gift of being able to say goodbye as he hung on to ensure nothing was left unsaid. In one of his final lucid moments before entering hospice, he fought through his delirium to ask whether his family was happy. The love coming from Bill was palpable and filled the room. Being assured that everyone is happy and will miss him greatly allowed Bill to rest comfortably, and he slipped away peacefully and pain-free on March 13, 2016 with loved ones at his side.
Bill's family will gather on Friday March 18, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Clock Funeral Home-Muskegon and one hour prior to the service on Saturday to share stories and memories. A Memorial services will take place on Saturday, March 19, 2016, 11:00 am at Clock Chapel - Muskegon with Rev. Keith Koebel officiating. To honor Bill, please consider a donation to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (www.themmrf.org) or Harbor Hospice Poppen Residence of Muskegon (harborhospicemi.org).