Longtime valley resident Barbara Van Genderen died Sept. 14 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease, with her husband of 58 years, Larry, by her side. Her family provided the following:
Barbara was born Jan. 4, 1938, to Peter and Lena Marcusse in Holland, Michigan, the youngest of four daughters. She grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan picking blueberries and participating in the Tulip Time festivities. Barbara attended Calvin College in nearby Grand Rapids and earned a nursing degree from the Blodgett School of Nursing in 1958.
Following college Barbara exemplified her venturesome spirit when, in 1961, she left her family and hometown behind to marry Larry Van Genderen, a Westerner from Denver then attending Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. He also attended Calvin College, but it took Barbara six years to finally agree to marry and follow Larry in his military and medical assignments all over the country before finally settling in Wyoming. She gamely agreed to honeymoon in Stowe, Vermont, where she strapped on skis for the first time in her life, thereafter becoming a lifelong and accomplished skier.
Larry and Barbara lived for stints in Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Michigan, Illinois, Texas and Colorado again before arriving in 1973 in Jackson, a town they chose because of work opportunities and Larry’s love of the West, mountains and skiing. They have been residents of Teton County for more than 47 years. Larry was one of the valley’s early orthopedic surgeons at St. John’s Hospital.
Larry and Barbara’s first two children were born in Connecticut, Peter in 1965 and Sara in 1966, where Larry was stationed in Groton as a United States Navy medical officer aboard the USS Lincoln, based in Holy Loch, Scotland. Daughters Andrea arrived in 1971 in Denver and Megan in 1975 in Jackson.
True to her character, Barbara embraced motherhood wholeheartedly and with true grit, especially since she often was a single parent when Larry later began commuting to Idaho Falls to pursue his specialty as a hand and upper extremities surgeon at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. She endeavored to give her children the best of all opportunities and adventures, whether it be taking them to museums and zoos, attempting to instill her love of music through piano lessons and musical theater performances, spending summers on the beaches of Lake Michigan or hiking and camping in the Tetons.
Barbara was a fun-loving mother and grandmother, enjoying amusement parks, haunted houses, and hot fudge sundaes as much as the kids.
Upon arriving in Jackson, Larry and Barbara moved into the family’s first home, the Van Vleck House, which is now Café Genevieve. Having left Michigan and her sisters, Barbara immediately set out to make her place in Jackson by finding good friends and meaningful interests. Early on and for years she volunteered for St. John’s Auxiliary and served as a lay chaplain in the hospital. She served as an elections judge and in her children’s classrooms, accompanying them on numerous field trips and outdoor adventures. Her love of music and singing led her to participate in early community musical productions such as “The Music Man,” “Mame,” and “The Sound of Music.”
Barbara joined the 1970s jogging craze and would leave her youngest, Megan, as a small child sitting on a hutch in front of the living room window while she ran up and down Kimball Lane on the Teton Village Road, where the family later moved.
When the family moved to Skyline Ranch in the early 1980s, Barbara oversaw the construction of the family’s current home. Barbara was a consummate trooper and would join her husband and children on expeditions up mountains and down ski trails. She especially enjoyed cross-country skiing and accompanied Larry and friends in 1993 on an adventurous five-day ski trip through the Yellowstone backcountry, sleeping in snow huts that they built each evening.
Barbara formed true and lifelong friendships in Jackson as a member of a group of free-spirited and not-so-serious bridge players who dubbed themselves the “Trumpettes.” The group consisted of Mary Mead, Janine Hawkins, Paula Jorgenson, Beth Overcast Matney, Jolynn Coonce, Nancy Jaycox and Charlene Kominsky, among others. Over the years they played bridge and threw hilariously themed dress-up parties to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and family celebrations. The Trumpettes never took themselves too seriously and were known to stop book club mid-discussion to float Flat Creek on inner tubes instead. They took excursions to boat on Lake Powell, hike in Yellowstone and gamble in Mesquite. Barbara’s friendships sustained her in the West, though Larry encouraged her to return to Michigan for months each summer to enjoy the companionship of her sisters.
She also was blessed to have dear friends in her sisters-in-law, especially Martha Van Genderen, married to Larry’s brother, Warren. They have a home in Jackson and have children the same ages. The two couples were lifelong devotees and supporters of the Grand Teton Music Festival and could be found there together most summer evenings enjoying the performances.
Barbara’s faith was a cornerstone of her life. She was a founding member and deacon of the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole. She loved singing in the choir at the First Baptist Church and later the Presbyterian Church until she was no longer able. Amazingly, though not surprisingly, the last of her memory to be lost was her ability to remember and sing hymns. She was singing “Jesus Loves Me” with Hilary Camino, the music therapist at St. John’s Living Center, in early August despite the fact that she was noncommunicative at that point in her life.
Barbara was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008 at age 70, though she had begun showing signs years earlier. Her three sisters had developed and died from Alzheimer’s, so she knew what lay ahead for her and she accepted her fate with true dignity and grace. Barbara remained grateful, sweet and kind to the end, which endeared her to the staff at the Living Center. The family is so thankful for the love and care that the St. John’s staff gave to Barbara in the last year of her life. The family especially would like to thank and recognize Hilary Camino for her love of Barbara and hours spent in musical therapy sessions that allowed her to sing until her final days.
Barbara moved to the Living Center in July 2019, when she could no longer walk or stand. For over 15 years, Larry was her sole companion and caregiver. He was truly dedicated and devoted to her, rarely leaving her side. Their marriage is a remarkable example of true love and loyalty. He sacrificed his life and interests for hers, gladly doing so.
Barbara followed Larry all over the country and eventually to the West, and he returned her devotion by being a compassionate spouse in her time of need. Larry spent his days with Barbara at the Living Center until the pandemic prevented him from doing so. Toward her death, the staff of St. John’s kindly arranged for the family to be with Barbara when she entered hospice by taking special precautions. The family greatly appreciates the time they were able to spend with her as she passed.
Barbara is survived by her husband of 58 years, Larry; son Peter and grandchildren Elizabeth and Thomas Van Genderen, of Jackson; daughter Sara, son-in-law Andrew and grandchildren Jack and Andie Cornish, of Jackson; daughter Ani, son-in-law Joe and grandchildren Ryland and Harrison Sauter and Scarlet Amdor, of Jackson; daughter Megan, son-in-law Eric and grandchildren Will, Catherine and Carrie Plummer, of Colorado Springs, Colorado; brother-in-law and sister-in-law Warren and Martha Van Genderen, of Jackson; brother-in-law and sister-in-law Scott and Heidi Van Genderen, of Boulder, Colorado; sister-in-law Beverly Van Genderen, of Holland, Michigan; sister-in-law and brother-in-law Sue and Greg Watson, of Holland, Michigan; and numerous nieces and nephews who adored “Auntie Barb” for her fun-loving spirit.
Barbara — wife, mother, grandmother — will be missed. Her family deeply mourns her passing, while celebrating the rich legacy of her life. They are comforted knowing she is now completely at peace.
Following pandemic precautions, a memorial service is pending in the future.
Those wishing to memorialize Barbara’s life may consider a gift to the music therapy program at St. John’s Living Center or the St. John’s Health Foundation Sage Memory Care Unit, which is presently under construction.