Robert Louis Bytwerk (“Bob” to all) was born August 13, 1926, and died peacefully on October 1, 2019. He was the third of four sons born to Peter and Ida Bytwerk in Muskegon.
By the time he attended Muskegon Christian School, the Depression was everywhere felt. He remembered that his mother found a pair of used girl’s shoes that fit him, which he adamantly refused to wear to school. He and his brothers worked in the family grocery store as it slowly went broke. The four Bytwerk brothers were very close and made for a lively household, which he fondly recalled.
He graduated from Muskegon High School in 1944 and soon was in the Army Air Corps, joining the army of occupation in Germany in 1946. By his own admission, he was not a model soldier (“biggest goof-off in the army,” according to one angry superior officer, who phrased it more bluntly than that), but his background in the family grocery store and the ability to type got him the assignment of managing the base PX in Erlangen. He flourished, even considering staying in Germany after his army service was completed. He later regretted that he had missed the opportunity to sit in on the Nuremberg Trials of the major Nazi war criminals, since riding around southern Germany on a motorcycle he bought with a friend was more attractive to a 20-year-old.
He returned home and, supported by the G.I. Bill, attended Calvin College. He studied hard and graduated in 1950 with a degree in teaching. Along the way he found his wife, Ruth Stromback, and by graduation had their first son, Randall. Their second son, Daniel, was born a year after.
The post-war years boomed, but it took time to find his place. He took his wife and son back to Muskegon to a rundown house owned by his parents and looked for what to do. He had an office job with Continental in Muskegon, where timed passed slowly. After a month, he met with his boss and both agreed it best for him to seek other employment. He went door-to-door selling cemetery lots, baby furniture and landscaping.
He recalled one of the few times his father was angry with him during that period. A relative who had a double route delivering Eckrich meat took a new job. Peter Bytwerk was confident his son could take over that job. Bob wasn’t interested. “I don’t care what you think,” his father said. “You have a family to support.” Bob replied: “I don’t know what I want to do, but I know that it isn’t delivering meat.”
He found a job with Ehinger’s Shoe Store in Grand Rapids, where his boss introduced him to the advertising manager at the Grand Rapids Herald who needed a salesman. He took the job. It suited him.
Meanwhile, his son Daniel contracted cancer. Despite treatment at Mayo Clinic, Daniel died in 1956, a year after daughter Beth was born, followed by Jeanne in 1962.
His sales job took him to Robert Sneden, then president of Davenport Institute, who became his mentor. First, Sneden asked him to teach morning classes at Davenport. Later, Sneden told him Davenport owned the local franchise of Manpower, a temporary help service, that wasn’t going anywhere. Would he like to buy it? “I have no money,” he said. “We can work that out,” said Sneden. To build equity in his new business and pay medical debts, he taught courses at Davenport in the morning, went to Manpower during the day, drove home to take a nap, then taught evening Dale Carnegie courses throughout Western Michigan. Manpower flourished over time, and he took on a former student at Davenport, Dave Clonan, as co-owner. Through it all, as in all of his life, he rarely complained, he approached all he did with enthusiasm, and remarkable good humor.
In his 50s with Clonan as a trusted partner and Manpower succeeding beyond the dreams of a boy who grew up during the Depression, he gradually reduced his time at the office, enjoying travel, boating, downhill skiing and buying lakefront homes. He was challenged by his wife Ruth’s slow descent into the mists of Alzheimer’s. She died in 1999.
He spent the next 20 years enjoying his family, the company of good friends, travel, woodworking, his dogs Shannon and Buddy, Lake Michigan, and Charlevoix. He read widely and had well-founded opinions. He gave generously in many directions, commenting that what his mother had told him was true: “You will never become poor by giving.” He died as he wished, cared for by his children and Hospice, in his own bed looking over Lake Michigan.
He is survived by Randall and Sharon (Van Haitsma) Bytwerk, Beth Byrne, Jeanne and Grant Vander Veer, along with grandchildren David Paul Bytwerk and his wife Victoria (Moffett), and Heather Byrne, Sophia and Gavin Vander Veer, and great-grandchild Jalen Cuevas. He mourned the loss of his parents; his wife Ruth; his son Daniel; his brothers: John, Edward and Clarence; his granddaughter Katharine Bytwerk; and many friends.
A visitation will be held 6-8 p.m. Thursday, October 3, 2019, at The VanZantwick Chapel of Sytsema Funeral & Cremation Services, 620 Washington Ave., Grand Haven, MI 49417.
There will be a memorial gathering at Seven Steps in Spring Lake, 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, October 8, 2019. Details available at: https://www.bytwerk.com/bob/. If you plan to attend, kindly inform Randy Bytwerk (email@example.com). Those who wish may make to a memorial contribution to the Kate Bytwerk Scholarship Fund at Calvin College, the Alzheimer’s Association of Michigan, or Gracious Grounds (Grand Haven). Please sign the family’s online guestbook at www.sytsemafh.com.