Crash victim was ‘passionate’ cyclist, Christian

Former high school band teacher Clarence Doornbos killed in Saturday crash

Clarence Doornbos, Claire Elgersma
Claire Elgersma (left) and Clarence Doornbos (right) in a 2013 photo courtesy Doug Lutke.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Friends and family are remembering a beloved former high school band teacher who was hit and killed while bicycling south of Grand Rapids.

Around 8 a.m. Saturday, 76-year-old Clarence Doornbos and his friend 69-year-old Claire Elgersma were riding on Hanna Lake Avenue just south of 92nd Street in Gaines Township when they were hit by an SUV. Elgersma sustained serious injuries. Doornbos later died at the hospital. It’s not yet known if the 83-year-old driver who hit them will face any charges.

Deputies investigate after two bicyclists were struck by a vehicle in Gaines Township. (July 15, 2017)

Jean Scott, a close family friend of Doornbos, who went by Clare, said she was at the hospital as the family got the devastating news that he would not survive.

“I called (Doornbos’ wife) just to reassure myself that it wasn’t them, and she answered the phone and I said, ‘Oh good, it’s not you.’ She’s, ‘Well, I’m here at the hospital with Clare. He’s been hit.’ And I said, ‘It is you.’ I said, ‘Do you want me to come?’ And she said yes,” Scott told 24 Hour News 8 on Sunday. “The neurologist came in and gave us the news that there really was no hope, that the damage in his brain was not fixable.”

Scott said the shock of losing Doornbos brought a back a flood of emotion, reminding her of the death of her husband two years ago. Her late husband and Doornbos became good friends years ago, as both were Calvin College graduates and taught music.

Doornbos retired from teaching band at Grand Rapids Christian High School in 2001.

“Like my husband, so many students came forward at the time and mentioned how much they love music because of him, and the same is coming true for Clare,” Scott said.

She says cycling was also dear to Doornbos’ heart. He had already completed two bike tours with Sea to Sea, a ride across parts of the United States and Canada to end poverty that Elgersma co-founded, and was only weeks away from another tour.

“Clare was so focused on how many miles that he would ask the other people riding with him, ‘How many miles did you get? How many miles did you get?”” Scott recalled.

“Clarence was a very passionate cyclist. He loved cycling. He was a passionate Christian. He was passionate about marginalized people,” Ed Witvoet of Sea to Sea told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone.

Doornbos was a member of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. Rev. Peter Jonker, the minister of preaching at the church, said that even though he has only been at LaGrave for four years, he knew Doornbos pretty well.

“When I first arrived, he was one of the first people to invite me out to have coffee with him because he was that kind of a people person,” Jonker said.

He said Doornbos was always bringing people together.

“He’s the kind of person who shows up both for morning and evening services. He’s the kind of person who goes to the fellowship hall afterwards and engages in conversation. He’s one of the last ones to leave at the end of the day,” Jonker said.

This loss is all too familiar for members of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church. Church member Jeff Looman, also a music teacher, was hit and killed while cycling in May 2013.

“We lost, at 76 years old, a man of tremendous energy. A child of God, a person who gave his life for blessing others, and we’re thankful for the time we have him,” Jonker said of Doornbos.