Emma Woudstra will be lovingly remembered for her giving nature. She lived a life rich in family and friends. She always put others first. Anyone close to her knew that she could be counted on to be there for them, whatever their needs. Her home was a sanctuary for her family; her door was always open for her friends. A realist at heart, Emma was resilient and always found a way to keep moving forward through life. She embraced change and met life’s difficulties, sorrows, and challenges head on. She had a strong and independent spirit which served her well throughout life. She was steadfastly devoted to her family and was an amazing wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend. All those who knew and loved her will cherish the memories and special moments they shared together. She will long be remembered in the hearts of those who knew her best.
As the roaring 20’s came to an end and on the cusp of the Great Depression, for parents Charles and Lucille Provence, it was a happy time when they welcomed their first daughter, a black-haired beauty they named Emma Louise, on August 28, 1929. Two years later, Emma’s sister Charlcy was born. The sisters were inseparable and shared an exceptionally close bond, often being mistaken as twins. When Emma started school, Charlcy missed her so much that they begged their mother to let them attend together, despite their age difference. From then on, the girls were in the same grade and eventually graduated from high school together in 1948. Emma grew up in Pennington Gap, a small town in southwest Virginia, surrounded by the beautiful Cumberland mountains. Her father, Charles, supported the family as a coal miner and her mother, Lucille, was a homemaker keeping her family fed with her wonderful southern cooking. Though times were hard, Emma’s childhood was simple and happy. It was a typical small-town life where everyone knew each other, and extended family were always close by. Pastimes included picnics and porch swings, going to the movie theatre, or stopping by the local drug store soda fountain for a Coca-Cola with friends. Shortly before graduating from high school, Emma and Charlcy were elated to welcome their baby brother Randy into the family. The sisters doted on him affectionately.
After graduation, Emma worked at Gibsons, a local family run department store. She spent her free time with her sister and best friend, Wilma. During the summer, Mountain State League baseball teams would travel throughout the area playing games. It was at one of these games that she met her love, Norman (or Woody, as he was known to all), with the help of her best friend. Wilma was dating one of the umpires, who was a good friend of Woody’s, who was also an umpire, and the two of them arranged a first date. Emma and Woody continued to date for the rest of that summer. When Woody left to return to Grand Rapids at the end of the season, they devotedly wrote to each other until his return the following summer. Upon his return, Woody proposed, and they were married at the local minister’s home on September 26, 1951.
The newly married couple spent their early years in Greenville, Mississippi. Woody continued his umpiring career in the Cotton State leagues and while he traveled throughout the south, Emma busied herself working at another department store. The oppressive Mississippi summer heat proved to be too much to bear, and the couple decided to move north to Woody’s hometown of Grand Rapids. True to her nature, Emma bravely moved forward in life, and left her family and small town behind.
The couple stayed in Grand Rapids for a few years, where Emma got to know her husband’s large family. Again, Emma found work at Herpolsheimer’s department store in downtown Grand Rapids. They soon bought a home and were overjoyed when their son, David, was born in May of 1956. Eventually they moved and settled permanently in Kalamazoo, where Woody found work with the Brunswick Company. Their daughter, Dianne, was born in May of 1961 while they were living in the Westnedge Hill Apartments. With a growing family, they knew they needed more space, so they saved and bought their home on Duke Street in 1964. After settling in her new home, Emma spent several years caring for her children and getting to know her neighbors. Oftentimes, she took temporary, part-time jobs to earn extra income. Once her children reached school age, she resolved to find permanent work.
Emma’s genuine personality and determination helped her to easily find work at the Kalamazoo Gazette. She absolutely loved her career at the newspaper, where she worked in the accounting department for 27 years. She was always grateful for the security it provided for her family. Her coworkers quickly became close friends, and she enjoyed socializing with them outside of work. Many of these friendships lasted throughout the years and into her retirement. Despite her busy working life, Emma never neglected her home life. She was always there for her family in every way, and she always had dinner on the table by six o’clock every night…including dessert.
As the years went by, Emma enjoyed participating in her children’s various activities, and taking family summer road-trips throughout the country. In their free time, Emma and Woody enjoyed socializing with friends and neighbors and playing bridge. As huge college football fans and season ticket holders, they loved tailgating and attending games at the University of Michigan for many years. True to her southern roots, Emma was the proverbial ‘hostess with the mostest.’ Always happy and willing to host or contribute her delicious creations for any event. Her passion for cooking and baking was renowned. She drew people in with her warmth and cooking. No one left her home empty handed.
Emma especially loved the holidays. She made every holiday special for her children and grandchildren. Her grown children received Easter baskets well into their fifties! Christmas was an extravaganza every year. Always going above and beyond, not only with decorations in her home, but also with beautifully wrapped gifts in abundance, and stockings stuffed to the brim, Emma made every Christmas happy and unforgettable. Close neighbors and friends eagerly awaited her yearly platters of homemade candies, cookies, and sweet treats; her peanut butter rolls often being fought over. Her family eagerly awaited her special holiday dishes. Many special and long-lasting memories were made around Emma’s dinner table, etched in her children’s and grandchildren’s hearts forever. Emma loved her children and grandchildren, and made sure they always knew they were loved.
After the death of her husband of 53 years in 2004, Emma forged ahead as usual. Not one to stay down for long, she occupied herself with outings with friends and volunteer work. She enjoyed working in the soup kitchen at First Baptist Church, where she was an active member for over fifty years. She also had fun as a volunteer ticket taker at Miller Auditorium, enabling her to enjoy many Broadway shows after her duties were finished. She remained in her family home many years after Woody’s death, but in 2019 she was ready for a change and to be relieved of the care of a large house. Leaving her home of 55 years was sad, but again she moved forward. She spent her last three years of life at Hope Woods independent Senior Community. There she made many wonderful new friends and enjoyed as many community activities as she could. She maintained her health and independence until shortly before her death. Sadly, in the last three months of her life, she was plagued by numerous health issues. Shortly after returning home from a rehabilitation center, she died peacefully in her own bed, on her own terms, with family close by.
Emma Woudstra, age 92, died on October 27, 2021 at her home in Kalamazoo, MI. She was born August 28, 1929 in Pennington Gap, VA , to Charles and Lucille (Stewart) Provence. Emma was preceded in death by her husband Norman (Woody); and her sister, Charlcy Provence. Surviving are her children David (Wendy) Woudstra and Dianne (Billy) Martin; grandchildren: Christopher, Rachel, and Ian; great-grandson, Isaac; brother Randy (Debbie) Provence; sister-in-law, Carol Blue; and many nieces and nephews.
Please join us at a Life Story Funeral Home at 11 AM Friday, November 5, 2021 at Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo, 269-375-2900. A reception with food and drinks will follow in the Life Story Center. Visit Emma’s webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive favorite memories, photos, and sign her guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to First Baptist Church, 315 West Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49007. A graveside service will be held at 11:00 AM on Saturday, May 7, 2022 at Lee Memorial Gardens in Woodway,VA.