Family, friends pay respects at Congressman Ehlers’ funeral

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. --  A crowd of mourners packed into Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church on Thursday afternoon for the funeral of former West Michigan Congressman Vern Ehlers.

Some humorous anecdotes lightened the tone of the memorial service.

Vernon J. Ehlers died Tuesday in Grand Rapids at age 83, from unspecified causes, according to a news release from a former Chief of Staff. Governor Rick Snyder had ordered flags in Michigan to be flown at half-staff in his honor.

Ehlers' letter to former press secretary

Ehlers' former press secretary, Chris Barbee, drew a chuckle from those attending the funeral service when he recalled a humorous incident that reflected his boss's personality: "One of my jobs was to make sure before I left for the day, Vern had the papers from Michigan on his desk so that he could catch up on the news and 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 returned to work the next day, I had a note on my desk on 'V.J.E.' letterhead. I still have that note today: 'Newspaper question mark, comic question mark, job question mark. Vern'."

Ehlers attended Calvin College a few years as an undergraduate, before transferring to the University of California-Berkeley, where he earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. Matt Walhout, a physics professor at Calvin, remembered his strong Christian faith: "As a scientist, (Ehlers) remembered that, even the details of atomic physics were important only in a broader moral perspective."

Ehlers was elected in 1993 to represent the Third District, often called "the Jerry Ford" seat, in memory of Gerald R. Ford, who held the job for many years before going on to become President of the United States. Ehlers replaced former Congressman Paul Henry, who died in office. Ehlers served eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before retiring in 2011.

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