Abraham “Abe” Willems was born on October 23, 1929 in Grand Rapids, MI to Henry and Theresa (Lugtigheid) Willems, who had immigrated from the Netherlands. Dutch was his first language. He entered the gates of Heaven on December 26, 2020 in Cedar Rapids, IA, succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease with complications from covid. The fourth child of five, he was preceded in death by his parents, his brother Peter, sister Joan Lemke, and wife Phyllis Bonnema Willems.
Abe grew up in Grand Rapids, attending public school for the first eight years. He graduated from Grand Rapids Christian High school. During this time, he helped his father clean offices. In 1951, he graduated from Calvin College. His first teaching position was with Roseland Christian schools in Chicago. Abe earned a master’s degree in counseling and education from Loyola University in Chicago.
He and Phyllis met in South Holland while he was teaching there. They were married on December 29, 1953 at First Christian Reformed church of South Holland. To this union, four sons were born: David, Daniel, Paul, and Timothy. They often enjoyed camping together in state and national parks. As empty nesters, they traveled the world: Mexico, Israel, China, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America and all 50 states. They often brought Bibles to distribute on their journeys. Abe and Phyllis were married for over 50 years until her death in 2013.
In 1965, they moved to Pella where he became a counselor at Pella Christian High for nine years. For three years, he and his wife directed the Liberty House, which was a halfway house for women released from prison. Later, he worked as a guidance counselor at Waco Community schools in Wayland, IA for seventeen years. In addition, he and his wife had a halfway house in the upstairs of their home for men coming back from prison for several years. They made a basement room available for the homeless.
Abe was a gifted teacher and taught the Bible to various groups. He began teaching when in his teens and did so until he was 82 years old. For three years, he served as a lay pastor for three Methodist churches. He often gave messages at Bethel Mission in Des Moines. He spent many years teaching Bible at the Newton Correctional Facility, Vacation Bible school, and at charter Bible camps in Kentucky and Michigan. He was a volunteer for the Billy Graham crusade in Chicago. In the Pella community, he volunteered for several organizations: Work of Our Hands, the Pella Public library, Crossroads, maintaining a garden space at Third Reformed church and as a spieler for the Tulip Time wagons. He also taught adult Sunday School for many years at Second Christian Reformed church.
Abe is survived by his sons David (Marjorie) of New Concord, KY, Daniel (Denise) of Cedar Rapids, Paul (Jeanean) of Story City, and Tim (Erica) of Middletown, VA. He is also survived by his sisters Harriet de Boer of Grand Rapids, MI and Theresa Bishop (Rev. Clarence) of Vancouver, Canada as well as sisters in law Henrietta Reynolds of Frankfort, IL, Pearl Willems of Findlay, OH, Marcia Bonnema of South Holland, IL and daughter in law Donna Willems of Polk City.
Twelve grandchildren and ten great grandchildren survive him. His grandchildren are Jeremiah Willems (Karndra), Josh Willems, Marissa (Tyler) Krehbiel, Mary Beth Willems (fiancé Drew Stevens), Dinah Afriyie (Joe), Mark Willems, Aaron Willems (Kara), Nathan Willems (Angie), Andrew Willems, Adia Willems, Noel Willems (fiancé Caleb Hummel) and Joshua Willems. His great grandchildren are: Khloe Willems, Ethan Krehbiel, Ellie Krehbiel, Elisha Krehbiel, Antony Afriyie, Titus Willems, Eden Willems, Alethea Willems, Caleb Willems, and Naomi Willems.
The family would like to thank Denise and Daniel Willems for the loving care and attention he received over the last seven years. The family would like to recognize the care he received at Fairhaven in Pella, Arbor Place (Methwick) in Cedar Rapids as well as The Gardens of Cedar Rapids which made his living spaces feel like home. The family would like to acknowledge the excellent medical care given from Dr. Doug Kanis of Pella, Dr. Bill Lottes of Cedar Rapids as well as Dr. Cliff Younger and Erin Balk (ARNP) of Cedar Rapids. The family would like to thank Pastor Jerry and Linda Fagerland of Home Free Ministries for their love and support during the last 27 months of Abe’s life. In addition, thanks goes to nurse Mary of UnityPoint Health Hospice for the comfort care that he received during the last weeks of his life.
Abe was known for his friendly manner and cheerful disposition. He had an evangelistic fervor throughout his life. This was demonstrated through his volunteering but also his personal witness, continuing even through his time in memory care where he made an effort to lead others to Christ. Thankful to the Lord for all His blessings, all that Abe did was in grateful response. He was a member of Third Reformed church in Pella, IA.
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