Column: The best way to remember my grandfather

My dad (far left) and my grandpa (far right) work on the lawnmower while I attempt to help as a kid.

My dad (far left) and grandpa (far right) work on a lawnmower while I attempt to help as a kid.

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

GRAND RAPIDS — What can I say about my grandfather that hasn’t already been said?

A lot of things actually.

More than two decades ago, Lawrence Bernard Wittkowski Sr. was given another chance at life. After major heart surgery, he was told he would only have a couple years left to live ‒ which he somehow stretched into 25 years. Being the stubborn and hard worker he was at General Motors, my grandpa proved his doctors wrong by changing his diet and daily routine.

His new breakfast consisted of Raisin Bran and Rice Krispies with the occasional banana. No matter what lunch he had that day, it was always followed by an apple and an orange. In the mornings, my grandpa would go for walks. Long ones.

I tell you all this because this how I remember my grandpa. I remember him as the only guy, other than Michael Douglas, who could pull off wearing those thick-rimed glasses and an Army crew cut.

I remember my grandpa as the guy who took me to Lions and Tigers games in Detroit. We would convoy to Ford Field or Comerica Park on a party bus each year to watch a team that found new ways to disappoint us and another team that gave us a reason to believe in sports. My two favorite sports growing up were baseball and football because my grandpa took the time to share something with me that he liked as a kid.

My grandpa was always down for a nap.

My grandpa was always down for a nap back at the house on Buchanan.

One of the relics my grandpa held onto was his Pontiac.

One of the relics my grandpa held onto was his old Pontiac.

I remember my grandpa as the man who would pick me up during the summers when school was done and take me to see a matinee at Studio 28 ‒ a Wyoming theater which has since been abandoned. He would call me up to see what times were best and what movies piqued my interested. Even when there wasn’t anything good to see, we would still watch something (this included “Napoleon Dynamite”). Watching movies is perhaps my biggest hobby because my grandpa learned to sit through movies he was not so interested in (this also included “Napoleon Dynamite”).

I remember my grandpa for the type of beer he drank and the music he listened to. One of the records he never needed an excuse to play was by the Scottville Clown Band. Don’t ask me which one, all their music sounds similar. Grandpa’s beer of choice after a day’s worth of work was Bud Light. If he was sitting in one of his lawn chairs ‒ the ones with the folded webbing that left lines on the back of your legs ‒ it was almost a certainty he would have a Bud Light wrapped in a mug cozy.

I remember my grandpa for his creativity. When I was younger and my birthday was approaching, he would bust out his old typewriter and make what to me felt like an official ID card. He added an extra touch by laminating it. I was too young for a driver’s license, but I thought it was cool how he would take my picture each year and update my weight/height/updated address (which all changed quite often). Unlike the DMV, this process left me smiling.

I remember my grandpa as a creature of habit. He would catch both the local and national news every night. Between 6-7 p.m. his focus was on Peter Jennings. He would pick up his daily copy of The Grand Rapids Press and read it front to back. On the occasion my byline would pop up in the newspaper while I worked at MLive, he would keep a copy for me.

Most of all, I’ll remember my grandpa for standing outside his cabin, waving goodbye to any visitor that left. His cabin in Baldwin was not only his sanctuary but a home for several childhood memories. Not just for me, but for my dad and uncle. From the snowmobiles he kept running since the 1970s to the barstools from inside the cabin’s living room, it was everything a kid could ask for.

To the average reader, one might wonder why I’m telling you so much about a man you’ve probably never met. In all honesty, this has been more for me than anyone else. It’s always been easier for me to put something down on paper than to actually think it through.

That’s why I intend to remember my grandpa the best way I can ‒ through the written word. Well, that and the occasional Bud Light at Comerica Park.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.


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