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Karl Edwin VanderLaan



Memorial Contributions

VanderLaan Prize

Opera Grand Rapids’

Collegiate Vocal Competition

 Opera Grand Rapids

1320 E. Fulton Street

Grand Rapids, MI 49503


Grand Rapids Symphony

General Fund at


Karl Edwin VanderLaan, 86, of Ada, MI, died in the early hours of May 6, 2021 due to complications from COVID-19 after suffering a stroke two years prior.

Karl was born on August 24, 1934 to the late Helen and Sieger VanderLaan. He was the second of four boys, Richard, Robert, and Ronald who all preceded him in death.

After being born in a farmhouse in rural Rockford, MI, he and his family moved to Hastings, MI where he spent his early school days. In fourth grade, the family moved to Godwin Heights where he graduated from high school in 1952. He was a very active and curious child and enjoyed lively comradery with his brothers and many lifelong friends.

Karl went on to Hope College and graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in education. He then taught sixth grade at his alma mater, Godwin Heights, for eight years. While teaching, he obtained his master’s in education administration from MSU in 1959. He then spent 14 years as a principal at Byron Center Public Schools and in Kentwood at Brookwood and Glenwood Elementary Schools. A lifelong lover of sports, Karl spent summers and weekends writing for the Grand Rapids Press as a sportswriter and as a lifeguard and water safety instructor.

With an entrepreneurial spirit, Karl worked as an accountant for small businesses during his time in education. Karl retired early from education to go into business full time. He started VanderLaan Software Systems creating, marketing, and selling educational computer programs to schools and universities throughout the Midwest.

Karl met his loving wife of 64 ½ years, Jean Albers, at Hope College in his senior year. She was a sophomore transfer and they married in the fall of 1956. Together they had four children, Steven Blake (1957) who passed away at the tender age of seven from a car accident, James Craig (1960) (Kathy Jo), Scott Alan (1964), and Susan Beth (1966) (Bruce) Vander Kolk. The family traveled and enjoyed many summers at their home on Murray Lake.

Throughout their married life, Karl and Jean traveled the world, enjoyed winters in Florida, and designed, built, and decorated seven homes together.

Karl was very proud and supportive of his grandchildren, Nicholas James (John T. Jones), Elizabeth Mae, Julia Leigh, and Zachary James. He was always at every sporting event and music and theatre performance, cheering his grandchildren on.

Karl’s many hobbies and interests included sports, travel, and music. He was a fervent MSU football and basketball fan and followed high school football, basketball, and tennis all his life. A lifelong lover of music, Karl sang in choirs and a quartet and was a longtime supporter of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Opera Grand Rapids, where he served on the board for many years. Karl taught high school and post high Sunday school classes and was a deacon and treasurer in one of his churches. He also served on the board of Kentwood Parks and Recreation and was a member of Cascade Hills Country Club.

The family will accept visitors at O’Brien-Eggebeen-Gerst Funeral Home on Cascade Road and East Paris from 12:00pm-2:00pm on Monday, May 10, 2021. A celebration of life will be held at 2:00pm on Monday, May 10, 2021.  Dr. Phil Johnson officiating. Services will be livestreamed at at 2:00 pm. Interment at Rest Lawn Memorial Park on Eastern Avenue will immediately follow. Masks and social distancing are expected.

In lieu of flowers, please honor Karl’s love of music with contributions to the newly named VanderLaan Prize as part of Opera Grand Rapids’ Collegiate Vocal Competition that Karl and Jean have supported for nearly 20 years. Gifts can be directed to Opera Grand Rapids at 1320 E. Fulton Street, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, or their website Additional gifts may be directed to the Grand Rapids Symphony General Fund at


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7 Responses

  1. So sorry for your loss. Such a beautiful tribute to a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, father in law, and friend. His kind and generous spirit will live in through the beautiful legacy of his family.

  2. Karl welcomed me to the family with open arms. He always had a story to share and was such fun to be around. He will be missed!

  3. Scott,
    Our deepest condolences for the loss of your father. We are sending our prayers and love for this difficult time.
    A donation to the Opera Grand Rapids will be sent for Karl.
    Our hearts are with you and your family at this time.

  4. I am so sorry! I have nothing but fond memories of his kindness, supportiveness, and passion for music, education, and family. Your loss is great. May his memory always be a blessing.

  5. A special person. It was my pleasure to know Karl. I will miss you at all the art events. Tom

  6. Dear Aunt Jean and family, my heart breaks for all of you at this difficult time. My uncle was a wonderful man who loved and cherished his family. I have so many fond memories of our family together at the holidays . The 4 brothers together interacting as siblings was fun to watch and be a part of . They are now back together and I’m sure already teasing each other . I have you all in my thoughts and prayers . Love you

  7. While not spending a great amount of time with Carl, as a brother-in-law to Ronald his younger brother, we came to know Carl a a kind and understanding person. HIs love of family both immediate and outside made him a very likable person and one that we were very happy and proud to be able to call a friend. Carl could walk into a room and seemed to know everyone and with his pleasant smile and outgoing manner, was immediately your friend. Our sympathy goes out to his wife Jean and the families of their children and grand children. Carl will be missed and our thoughts and prayers are with the family.

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