Who is Peter Spoelma?

Laura of Grand Haven asked, "A Mailbag last week asked about the 'GH Bird Club' bird bath in Grand Haven's Central Park. Not far from it is a little rectangular stone marked, 'In memory of Peter Spoelma, 1964.' Who was Peter Spoelma and why is it there?"
Mark Brooky
Apr 15, 2013

ANSWER:

What is now Central Park was the city's first cemetery. The first burial was 1837, according to local historian Dr. Dave Seibold, and the last was 1867. After becoming a local dump, the land was turned into a city park in 1901.

There are many stories that human remains and caskets are still buried there, despite an 1883 mandate for the removal of all graves.

But Peter Spoelma was not buried there. So who was he and where is he buried?

The findagrave.com website lists the graves of two Peter Spoelmas in the region: one who was born (1894)  and died (1985) in Muskegon, and buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Muskegon; and another who was born in the Netherlands (date unknown) and died in Kent County (1995), and buried at Georgetown Township Cemetery in Hudsonville. The Genealogy Bank website lists the Social Security record of another Peter Spoelma, who was born in 1918 and died in 1995, and his last known residence was Jenison.

Local historian Wally Ewing and Jeanette Weiden, the local history specialist at Loutit District Library, solved this mystery.

"I found an obit in the Grand Haven Tribune on May 8, 1964, for Peter Spoelma," Weiden said. "He died suddenly at the age of 58. He was superintendent of parks, a former local businessman and was employed by the city for 16 years. He was a baker for many years before that and operated the Harbor City Bakery from 1939 to 1946 in the Centertown shopping district."

Ewing said Spoelma was born in Grand Haven to John and Fannie Spoelma on Sept. 9, 1905. 

"Until at least 1930, Peter lived with his mother at 829 Grant St., but later he resided at 532 Colfax with his wife, (the former) Nellie Cooper of Muskegon," Ewing said. "He died on May 7, 1964, and was buried at Spring Lake Cemetery."

So that's not his grave at Central Park, but rather just a small memorial his family or city staff had placed there because of his job supervising the city parks department in the 1950s and early '60s.

"Mr. Spoelma prided himself in operating his city department close to the budget allocation," Weiden said.

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