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'Community patriarch' Chuck Rycenga dies at 95

Marie Havenga • Aug 2, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Despite a successful lumber business, Chuck Rycenga never forgot his true foundation – faith, family, friends and fond memories.

Rycenga, 95, died Sunday. In this vibrant waterfront town, he leaves a legacy of love and generosity in his wake.

He was a steady guiding hand and financial driving force behind such entities as International Aid (built on the former site of his grandfather's Hickory Street farm), Christian Haven, the Salvation Army, Dunewood Medical Center, Rycenga Park and several housing developments including North and South Holiday Hills.

Throughout his life, he gave of his time, he gave of his heart, he gave of his money.

Up until a couple of years ago and into his 90s, Chuck still showed up every morning for work at Rycenga Building Center, which he and brother Louie founded in the 1940s.

He'd sit in a corner office in the southwest quadrant of the building at 1053 Jackson St.

The walls were plastered with family photos, grandchildren's graduation pictures, newspaper clippings of honors and plaques of appreciation.

There were no computers, emails or faxes in that office. Chuck and Louie relied on the old-fashioned way of doing business — with face-to-face hellos, handshakes and hard work.

They grew up on a seven-acre farm on Griffin Street. During the depths of the depression, the young brothers would venture into the woods with a crosscut saw to cut down trees to heat the family home. They delivered and sold the extra wood.

That's how Rycenga Lumber was born.

“We were blessed to have him,” said John Rycenga, Chuck's nephew and president of the family business. “He was a very generous man and very involved in the community. He loved Grand Haven and he loved the people of Grand Haven.”

John described his Uncle Chuck and his dad, Louie, who died in 2014, as “patriarchs” of the company and of the community.

“He (Chuck) always had a good business sense and was never afraid to try something new,” John said. “He and my dad had a great relationship. They had strengths in different areas but they made a great team.”

Chuck last visited the family business about two months ago.

John said the succession plan is to keep the business in the family.

“We plan to continue family ownership into the next generation or two or three,” John said. “In one of our conference rooms we have a founders wall with pictures and accolades. We're trying to follow in their footsteps.”

Dave Klaassen has known Chuck for 65 years and was his neighbor for 10 years at Sandpiper Condominiums. He would visit him often after Chuck and his wife, Non, moved into Grand Pines several years ago.

“He was a great friend to the community,” Klaassen said. “He was an entrepreneur that always had a vision for many things, not only in the church, but in the community. He just was one great guy. He was a very kind individual.”

Klaassen recalled how Chuck and Non started a scholarship fund at the Grand Haven Community Foundation and gave tuition money to children that otherwise couldn't afford to go to college.

“He gave all the credit to God for what he became and what he did for people in the community,” Klaassen said. “Sometimes he felt there were kids he knew that needed it. After the scholarships were awarded he and Non would do a separate thing out of their own checkbook so kids could continue their education at a college of their choice. Talk about some happy families.”

Klaassen said Chuck felt God was good to him, so we wanted to share the wealth.

Chuck graduated in 1939 from Grand Haven High School and in 2010, was inducted into the Grand Haven Schools Foundation Hall of Fame.

“He was a genuine soul with a deep and abiding concern for others in our community and around the world,” said Lana Jacobson, foundation director.

Among his generous gifts, Chuck donated 40 acres to Spring Lake Township for a community park.

“He was really a very caring, community-minded guy,” said Spring Lake Township Supervisor John Nash. “He was always there, ready to help. He was generous with donations in every respect.”

Nash said several years ago, he mentioned to Chuck that the township wanted to build a supply garage at Rycenga Park.

“He said 'I'll help you with that,'” Nash said. “He made himself the general contractor and brought in contractors he knew to help out. It ended up costing about half of what it would have otherwise. He was a very good guy. We miss him.”

The funeral service for Chuck will be 11 a.m. Monday, Aug. 8, 2016 at Second Christian Reformed Church.

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