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Tom Rademacher Resized 5

Encore Connections

As someone who writes for a living, I figured something out a long time ago – something that I lean on virtually every time I take to the pad or keyboard: That the best stories are those that help us to belong to one another.

I carved out a career at The Grand Rapids Press doing just that for more than 31 years. And now, I’m privileged to be writing stories that matter for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Encore initiative.

Encore is a movement that celebrates what we have to offer to one another, regardless of age. And it especially showcases people who have finished their “first” careers, but have launched something special in their next life that largely embraces others as part of the formula.

It’s been a full year now since I began writing Encore stories and the opportunity has put me in front of some remarkable people from Grand Rapids and environs.

Take Don Veldt, for instance, a soft-spoken gentleman with woodworking skills, who discovered people who couldn’t afford caskets in which to bury their loved ones. So he built some, melding fine hardwoods with love and compassion.

Then there’s Rich Havenga, known to the students he taught as “Father Nature” for his love of the natural world and all it has to render. He marries his photographs to prose and poetry, then publishes the pieces in a blog. Just because he thinks you and I deserve to be wowed from time to time.

Ray Johnson can hardly walk, his back hurts so. But he spent five years creating a 42-foot-high waterfall at a golf course in Kent City. And didn’t take a dime for the effort, explaining that it’s what you do for a friendly neighbor.

David Kagan spent a lifetime in advertising. These days, though, he quietly holds himself out as a photographer who takes what often become final family portraits, because they include a child  in hospice care.

There are more stories coming your way over the next year. A woman who founded a running service that takes joggers on historic tours of Grand Rapids. A man who spent a lifetime in public service and now refurbishes classic wooden boats. A couple who lost their son to suicide and have somehow managed to transform their grief into advocacy for others similarly affected.

It’s humbling work, because the stories not only inspire, but prompt the rest of us to consider if we, too, are tapping the full capacity of our hearts.Encore, it’s all about second acts for a greater Grand Rapids.

And if you have a story to share, please e-mail me directly at: trademacher@grfoundation.org

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