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Carl Bajema

Carl Bajema passed away on a colorful, sunny and crisp fall day, symbolic of his love and appreciation of nature. He was born May 25, 1937, in Plainwell, the youngest child of John and Jenny (Geukes) Bajema. He passed away Oct 24, 2020, at Porter Hills Health Center from complications of Parkinson’s. Carl was preceded in death by his parents, a brother, Alvin, and a sister, Ruth Davis.

Carl is survived by his wife and best friend, Claudia (nee Vanderwall) and their two children: Rebecca (Michael) Paniwozik and their sons, Jake and Tripp; and Brandon (Rachael) and their children, Brett, Lucas, and Lily. He is also survived by two sons from his first marriage to Ann (nee Bos) Anderson: Mark (Colleen) and their children, Michael, Tim, and Jamil Bajema and Katie (Luke) VanDyke; Christopher (Sandy) and their children, Jake (Annika) Bajema; Tricia (Alex) Luke; Holly (Michael) Marino; Lydia Bajema; Blu Soe; and Khalid Rahman. Also surviving him are two step-children who consider him their dad: Kimberly (Chuck) Christmas and their children, Jordan and Corey Gilmer, Alex Christmas, and Maiya Christmas; Joshua Johnston and his sons, Sanjay and Neelahn. A special joy in his life was great-grandson, Charles Luke, and he was looking forward to welcoming two more great-grandchildren next year. He will also be missed by innumerable relatives, colleagues and friends.

Carl grew up in Wyoming, MI and graduated from Wyoming Lee High School where his picture resides on the “wall of fame.” He earned a B.S. in biology in 1959 from Western Michigan University and a PhD in Zoology from Michigan State University in 1963. His long and distinguished teaching and research career started at Mankato State College, but he returned to West Michigan a year later to join Grand Valley State University in Allendale. There he was a devoted Laker and taught Biology for 40 years before retiring as a Professor Emeritus in 2007. During that time, he also served two years as a visiting professor at Harvard University and one year as a visitor at the University of Michigan. He did postdoctoral work at Cornell University, Brown University, University of CA, Santa Barbara, University of Houston, and University of Chicago. He published too many articles to begin to name and 12 books.

His science interests were broad but revolved primarily around behavioral, quantitative and population genetics, science education, and evolution. Among his many professional contributions were fellowships, directorships, and research at many institutions, including The University of Chicago, University of CA, Berkeley, Harvard Center for Population Studies, and Population Council Europe. Carl was honored frequently in both the scientific and historical communities. He was a National Science Foundation Fellow and a Senior Population Council Fellow. He received a Distinguished Faculty Award from the Michigan Association of Governing Boards and earned a Distinguished Contribution in a Discipline Award from Grand Valley.

Over the course of his life, Carl made innumerable contributions to many local, state, and national organizations. He was an active member of the Historical Society of Michigan and was recognized several years ago as Volunteer of the Year. He was a “Lifetime” member of the Grand Rapids Historical Society, a former board member and officer of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, a founding member and president of Planned Parenthood of West Michigan, and a long-time member of The Center for Inquiry and Fountain Street Church.

A lifelong lover of the outdoors, Carl led numerous student trips over the years, often with his own children in tow, to such natural wonders as the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, and the Grand Tetons. His wife fondly remembers walks in the woods and on the beach and that he would always bring a trash bag to pick up litter. He had a great respect for the majesty and power of the natural world.

The awe with which he beheld nature fostered his interest in local ecology and in the ‘90s he began to focus his research on deforestation and Michigan history. His most recent published books explore logging in Michigan and Grand Rapids street railways. In the process of researching forests and logging, he amassed numerous collections from 150 years of newspaper articles. He was recently honored and thanked by the Historical Society of Michigan and The Grand Rapids Public Library for his collection of nearly 2000 volumes of research on Michigan history.

Yet, being a scholarly professor and active member of his community were such a small part of who Carl really was. He was beloved by all the younger members of his family for his sense of humor, love of movies and appreciation for “junk food.” Adding to the “overgrown kid” side of Carl was his love of trains, and he was an avid model railroad collector and enthusiast. Part of this collection was donated to Frederik Meijer Gardens where it brings smiles and joy every Christmas season.

A gifted raconteur, Carl had enough stories for three lifetimes. The only thing better than listening to one of his tales was telling him one of yours and eliciting his deep, genuine laugh. Everyone who was lucky enough to know him will miss his laugh, his wisdom, and his generosity.

During his 40-year residency in Grand Rapids he became committed to assisting Grand Rapids Public School students attend college. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that remembrances be made in the form of contributions to the Carl and Claudia Bajema Urban Schools Endowed Scholarship https://www.gvsu.edu/giving/bajema or to any organization identified above for which you share his commitment.

The family thanks his devoted and patient caregivers at Porter Hills, the many friends who visited him frequently especially during the last two years, and his special friend, Jeff Seaver, who spent hundreds of hours organizing and cataloging his Michigan History research which is now housed at the Grand Rapids Public Library.

A private virtual memorial will be held.

  • November 4, 2020
    Dear Claudia, As I reflect on Carl, what comes forward most for me was his enthusiasm for life. I recall that he also introduced me to one of his mentors, the ethicist/biologist Garrett Hardin. I also, of course, recall a certain marriage ceremony in the FSC chapel. I’m very grateful that Carl was part of my life! Bruce Bode
    Bruce Bode

  • November 3, 2020
    Wow. I didn’t realize Carl had so much education throughout his life!! What a beautiful & fun life Carl lived. He will truly be missed. Hannah Hensel

  • November 2, 2020
    To A Great Brother-in-law,Rest In Peace, CARL!!
    Jack & Peggy Jensen

  • October 31, 2020
    What a big life Carl has led. Beautiful read. We are blessed to have had him as a dear fiend.
    Carol and Perry Lopucki

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