Wednesday, August 04, 2004

BOB THE BUILDER

He would be 92 years old today. The middle child of seven to Emmons and Bernice, Bob was born in the family farmhouse in 1912. The growing Chittenden family grew up on a large parcel of farmland on the northeast corner of 152nd Avenue and Leonard Road. Bob and his 5 brothers and 1 sister spent most of their lives in the Spring Lake area.

A favorite photo of my father is one taken in the early 1930ís with his youngest brother, Edward. Family was always important to him and he loved his little brother. It was only after his death in 1996 that I discovered this photograph. Dad lived with prostate cancer for nearly 7 years and died in the hospital on a Sunday morning with Jeffrey and myself at his bedside.

I suppose it was quite natural for my dad to take interest in a farm girl from Iowa who had moved to Michigan in the 1930ís. I visited Humboldt, Iowa, for the first time last summer and enjoyed an afternoon of library research and locating the land my grandmother and mother owned and managed prior to moving to Muskegon. My dad and mom returned to her Humboldt roots to get married in the family home on Sunday, August 11, 1940.

He always loved mechanical devices, including the automobile, and is often pictured alongside a favorite car. Dad wasnít afraid to get his hands dirty. In the 1950ís his mechanical aptitude led him to develop a semi-automatic pinsetter for the restaurant/bowling alley he and my uncle owned...Brunswick was interested. The Idle Hour still operates today as a favorite restaurant gathering for Spring Lake folk. Some of the pinboys who worked for my dad still provide fascinating stories of their first jobs as teenagers.

Bob and Margaret gave birth to their first child, Bonnie, but the delivery was difficult, and Bonnie died shortly after her birth in 1951. After receiving word from Judge Jacob Ponstein that a baby boy was available, they adopted me at 3 weeks old in April 1953. To their surprise, mom became pregnant and delivered a healthy baby girl, Dawn, a year later.

We moved into the village of Spring Lake in the late 50ís. The large McKinley home at 224 East Savidge became available for $16,000. The neighborhood was populated by young families providing a great childhood playground for Dawn and myself. In August of 1959, my sister and I were the first children to attend Sunday School at the newly established Wesleyan Methodist Church. Pastor Ron Smeenge and his family were wonderful neighbors for nearly a decade.

Dad loved to build. Although his formal education was limited to eighth grade, the skills he learned in trim carpentry from his father and Uncle Dewey would follow him throughout his life. The lumber yard was like a second home at times. Dad became one of the first builders to develop South and North Holiday Hills for Rycenga Homes and continued working with me as a carpenter when our home was built in 1987. He was working on a special project for the Wesleyan Church a week before he passed away in 1996.

We celebrate his life today. We remember his contributions to his family, his church, his village. Bob Chittenden was a builder beyond hammer and nails. He constructed relationships and memories that remain nearly a century beyond his humble farmhouse birth. Thanks, Dad. We love you!

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