Centenarian and then some

Becky Vargo • Feb 9, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Fern Mastenbrook believes God has more work for her and that’s why she’s still spreading her faith among the staff and residents at a Grand Haven assisted living home.

The former Fern Kamphuis celebrated her 105th birthday Monday. She is hard of hearing and has almost completely lost her sight.

But that doesn’t stop her from listening to digital books or playing bingo with the help of Cathy Johnson, the activities director at Simmaron, a Lakeshore Assisted Living home where Fern lives.

“She’s still very much a part of the household,” Johnson said, glancing at Fern, who was dressed smartly in a bright-red sweater, matching headband and red slippers.

“Residents visit her in her room. They appreciate her wisdom,” Johnson added. “She’s an encourager.”

Fern was almost 100 when she finally left her home to live at the Grand Haven assisted living facility.

She’s humble about what she’s done over the years, but notes she always wanted to do better.

Fern was born Feb. 6, 1912, the daughter of Garret and Louise Kamphuis. She grew up on Franklin Avenue, married Fred Mastenbrook on Oct. 31, 1936, and eventually moved to a home on Grant Street overlooking the Grand River.

“She loved to go antiquing and did it until she couldn’t drive any longer,” according to Sue Larson, whose brother, Bill (Mary) Osner, is Fern’s son-in-law.

And even then, Fern would still get a car and have other people drive her wherever she wanted to go, Larson said.

Fern followed her mother’s encouragement into teaching.

“I didn’t really want to be a teacher, but there wasn’t anything else to do,” she said.

Fern kept at it for several years, driving her car “into the country” to teach at Peach Plains Elementary School, which at that time was a one-room schoolhouse. She said it was important to hang onto a job at that time because there weren’t many to be had.

Fern and Fred moved to Louisiana while he served in the military, and then eventually returned home with their young daughter, Mary. Fern took up teaching again.

When Mary was in elementary school, Fern taught at Bignell School, which was located near the corner of Groesbeck Street and 152nd Avenue. Fern also was a Girl Scout leader and volunteered for 20 years at North Ottawa Community Hospital. She also mentored children in reading for many years.

Fern is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Grand Haven, where she was a longtime member of the Eight Founders Circle.

When the Mastenbrooks returned to Grand Haven following the war, Fern said a minister made a lasting impression on her.

“I was very thankful,” she said. “It affected the rest of my life.”

Fern said she loves to learn more about God and share her faith with people at her home. 

“She gives them hope,” Larson said.

“I don’t feel one bit self-conscious about sharing His love for me,” Fern said, resting her head on her hand. “Thank you for that gift, Father.”

Fern said people are wonderful to her at the home and she wants to make sure they are cared for, too. In that respect, she wants to continue passing on God’s love.

“I want to let them all know that God is real and He is waiting to be used,” she said. 

Larson emphasized that her friend’s life has revolved around doing volunteer work and doing things with her friends.

“She’s a very independent woman, but still wanting to help people and wishing she could do more,” Larson said.

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