Bob and Edith Van Burgel Tell Their Story

I give the people at The Little Red House a great vote of confidence.

Theirs is a love story more than half a century in the making. He was a handsome young soldier who had just returned home from the Korean War. She was a pretty co-ed studying at Muskegon College. After his brother arranged a meeting between the two, Bob Van Burgel was smitten. Within months, he married his sweetheart, Edith Kramer. It was 1954 and the young couple settled in Spring Lake to start a family.

With their hands intertwined, they sat together at The Little Red House recently and joked about how long they have been married and reminisced about their good fortune in finding each other. They tipped their heads together to share a private laugh, and their mutual affection was apparent. Bob’s wide smile and the spark in Edith’s eyes spoke volumes about their shared love and happiness.

But like most love stories, Bob and Edith’s life has had its times of tragedy. In 1995 Bob’s health began to decline after he experienced a stroke followed a few months later by quadruple bypass surgery. Over the next several years Bob would suffer atrial fibulation and a brain bleed that kept him hospitalized for nearly a month. While nursing Bob back to health, Edith endured several back surgeries that rendered her bed-ridden and worried about her husband. Then the most devastating blow landed. In 2003, Ruth VanBurgel, the oldest of Bob and Edith’s two daughters, passed away at the age of 47 from complications of diabetes. Soon after, Bob suffered another debilitating series of strokes that drained him of his strength and much of his mobility. Bob lost interest in just about everything; and Edith, plagued with her own chronic pain, became not just wife but caretaker to Bob.

“I considered suicide,” Edith said. “I just thought we’d both be better off dead.” Life seemed bleak to her. Having worked outside the home for most of her adult life, she was now tethered at home most days, no longer able to lead the active life she was accustomed to. “I was angry about the things Bob could no longer do,” she admitted. “I wasn’t easy to live with.”

A friend at the dentist’s office casually mentioned The Little Red House to Edith after noting the change in Edith’s usually happy demeanor. When their daughter, Nancy, visited from Denver, Colorado about six months ago, she accompanied Bob and Edith to The Little Red House for its annual Heritage Festival Senior Day Ice Cream Social. Edith was impressed, and at her daughter’s urging, enrolled Bob to attend The Little Red House two days per week.

“God always finds a way to help you get through the difficult times,” Edith said. “He puts people in your path to help you.” Initially reluctant to attend, Bob is now enthusiastic and looks forward to the days he spends at The Little Red House. “Bob’s social skills are better. He is walking better and he’s stronger,” explained Edith. “He tells me what he does each day and he brings his prizes and awards home to show me.”

These days, both Edith and Bob are smiling again. While Bob is at The Little Red House, Edith is able to take time for herself. Asked what she does with her free time Edith answered, “I go to Bible study. I read a book. I go shopping. Or sometimes, I just do nothing.” Now that Edith is attending the Caregiver Support Group offered by The Little Red House, she is able to share her experiences with others like her.

These twice-weekly respites have helped turn the pages of their love story into a new, happier chapter. “I have a new lease on life,” Edith said, with relief evident in her voice. “I have peace of mind knowing that Bob is okay when he’s at The Little Red House. He’s happier now. He questions me and he has an opinion. He’s thinking more. It’s a good sign. I give the people at The Little Red House a great vote of confidence.”