W. MI says goodbye to former Congressman Vern Ehlers

Vern Ehlers
An undated courtesy photo of former Congressman Vern Ehlers.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Supporters, staffers, colleagues and loved ones filled Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids Thursday to say goodbye to former U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers by sharing their favorite moments with him.

The longtime congressman died last week after a long illness. He was 83 years old.

Thursday’s service lasted about an hour and included traditional hymns, Bible scripture and lighthearted memories of Ehlers, including his first selfie and the former college professor’s famous red pen.

Vern Ehlers
A portrait of Vern Ehlers graces the wall at the Kent County Administration Building in Grand Rapids. (Aug. 17, 2017)

“We would all do weekly reports for Vern each Friday, icswhich he would take home and read on the plane. The following Monday he would return them to us and we would see all the red circles and slashes correcting any grammatical errors and typos in our reports. We would sometimes also print out emails from constituents that we thought he should see. And those too would come back with red marks on them. We never gave those corrections back to the constituents,” recounted Ehler’s former press secretary, Chris Barbee, with a smile.

“Despite being a very mild-mannered man, Chris and I both had our jobs threatened during our careers with Vern,” recalled Rick Treur.

“One of my jobs was to make sure before I left for the day that Vern had the papers from Michigan on his desk so he could catch up on the news in the comics. Well, I found out how important that job was one day because I almost lost my job, because I didn’t put the papers on his desk before I left for the night. When I return to work the next day I had a note on my desk on that VJE letterhead. I still have that note today. Newspaper? Comics? Job?” Barbee said.

Treur recalled Ehler’s penchant for Meijer’s relatively inexpensive bananas, which he would bubble wrap to protect during the trip to Washington, D.C., as well as his advocacy for naps.

“I think we speak for the whole staff when we say we were honored to be part of Vern’s life. We know that what we had as a staff was special. We worked well as a team and that’s all because of his leadership and caring for us. The years we had working for him were some of the best professional memories any of us will ever have,” he said.

“Thank you for sharing Vern with us and for allowing him to make a difference in so many people’s lives,” Barbee also told Ehler’s family.

Ehlers represented the 3rd Congressional District from December 1993 until he retired in January 2011. Former Holland Congressman Pete Hoekstra said they worked closely together.

“He was a principled man who lived his faith in every decision that he made and truly was someone you could look up to, feel proud about, and he’ll be missed. It was a life well-lived,” said Huizenga.

Before going to Congress, Ehlers was a four-term member of the Kent County Board of Commissioners, spent two years serving in Michigan’s House and eight years in the state Senate. He was also a nuclear physicist.