Gene Robert Van Rhee

  • Born: December 2, 1930
  • Died: March 3, 2020
  • Location: Richland, Michigan

Farley Estes Dowdle Funeral Home & Cremation Care

105 Capital Ave NE
Battle Creek, MI 49017

Tel. (269) 962-5527

Tribute & Message From The Family

Gene Robert Van Rhee, 89, of Richland, Michigan and formerly of Zeeland, Irons & Battle Creek, Michigan died peacefully on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, at Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo.

He was born December 2, 1930 in Zeeland, Michigan the son of Edward and Henrietta (Goorman) Van Rhee. Gene or Bob, as he was known grew up in Zeeland and was a 1948 graduate of Zeeland High School. After high school he worked for Herman Miller Furniture Company. Gene honorably served his country in the U.S. Army in Korea. After the service he earned a Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Arts and Speech from Western Michigan University. He moved to Battle Creek taking a job at Pennfield High School and went on to receive his Master's Degree in School Administration and Supervision from Western Michigan University. He then became the Program Director for the former Fort Custer State Home and when it closed was transferred as the Program Director for the Coldwater State Home.

Gene Robert Van Rhee was united in marriage to Shirley Y. Haylett on May 5, 1950 in Plainwell, Michigan. Surviving are Shirley, his wife of nearly 70 years; daughter, Susan (Craig) Norrod of Battle Creek; granddaughter, Brittany (Tong) Mai of Snohomish, WA; two great-granddaughters, Amelia and Evangeline; brother, Jack (Judy) Van Rhee of Zeeland, MI. along with so many friends that were like family to him. Gene was preceded in death by his parents; two sons, David and Robert Van Rhee and a brother and sister-in-law, Wesley and Janette Van Rhee.

Gene and Shirley were heavily involved with the U.S. Power Squadron – America's Boating Club for over 50 years. Gene served in many positions at the local, district and national levels. Throughout the years, they boated all over the world. They also wintered in Fort Walton Beach, FL for 20 years. Gene also was an accomplished woodworker filling his house with beautiful cabinetry along with very special pieces for family and friends. Later in life he loved watching birds and could name every kind along with nurturing his tomato plants always trying a different kind. During high school he played basketball and always tuned in for the NCAA basketball tournament. In his younger years he liked skydiving, even letting his young sons pack his parachute. Gene will be remembered as the BEST Husband, Dad, Grandpa, Great-Grandpa and for always going out of his way to meet people who usually became lifelong friends. As many of you know his smile was infectious.

A committal service with full military honors by Fort Custer Honor Guard and the U.S Army Honor Guard will be held for Gene's family at Fort Custer National Cemetery. A gathering for family and friends to honor Gene's memory will be announced later.

Memorial contributions may be made to United States Power Squadrons, 1504 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607 or by phone at 888 367-8777.

Arrangements are by Farley Estes Dowdle Funeral Home & Cremation Care. Personal messages for the family may be placed here at

Condolence & Memory Journal

My sincerest condolences to Mrs. Van Rhee and family on Mr. Van Rhee "s passing. He was the Program Director at the Coldwater Regional Center where I was employed. It was an honor to know him and to count him as a friend. He was a mentor and respected advisor, and I am forever grateful to him for his wise counsel during a very difficult time in my life. His guidance and concern were instrumental in helping me make choices that would put my feet on a positive path for a better future. I will always remember his sincerity and humor, and his love and dedication to his wife and family. God grant you all peace and comfort during this difficult time.

Posted by Donna Bacies - Zephyrhills, FL - Coworker   March 13, 2020

Shirley, so sorry to hear of Bob's passing. My thoughts and prayers are with you and the family. If there is any way I can be of assistance, please contact me. Dave Marquette.

Posted by DAVID MARQUETTE - Battle Creek, MI - Friend   March 12, 2020

I am so sorry for your loss. Gene was a very special gentleman. His dedication to boating, promoting safe boating is legend. He will be long remembered as a friend and guide to us all.

Posted by Kathryn (Kay) Simkins - Lusby, MD - Friend   March 11, 2020

Shirley and Sue,
I'm so sorry to see Gene's passing. What great memories I have of being with your family in Irons and snowmobiling. Also, just the 45 year relationship with all of you is something I am thankful for.

Posted by Todd Angood - Boardman, OH - Friend   March 09, 2020

Dear Shirley , I was sadden to read about Gene's passing.My heart hurts for you and your family . He was a special person . Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family . Terrie Gammons

Posted by Terrie Gammons - Climax, MI - Acquaintance   March 08, 2020

For over half a century Gene Van Rhee worked for and enjoyed the company of the US Power Squadrons, a.k.a. America's Boating Club. His cheerful, folksy manner and easy laugh won't be forgotten. Gene and his wife Shirley were pillars of the organization. They both were born leaders and constantly gave of themselves to the organization. Heartfelt condolences to Shirley and the family in their loss.
Alan Wentworth

Posted by Alan Wentworth - Green Bay, WI - Friend   March 08, 2020

An outstanding leader. It was a privilege and an honor to have work for and with Gene over the years in USPS. He will be missed.

Posted by Richard Gallop - Friend   March 07, 2020

A good friend, a good United States Power Squadrons member and officer and just a great man. We all will miss him for a while until we see him again. Shirley, we are so sorry for your loss. God Bless you!

Posted by Theodore H. (Ted) Smith - Clarkston, MI - Friend   March 07, 2020