It was only fitting for a guy who loved breakfast to honor him one last time with his favorite thing: breakfast. When his family couldn’t settle on menu choices, we suggested serving breakfast at his memorial service.
“Everybody commented on how personal this was and how this was just SO Carl! At church for weeks following his memorial, people came up and kept saying, ‘I can’t believe how cool that was!’” said Nancy, his wife of 51 years. “It was just so perfect. It was the perfect way to honor Carl.”
It was a fitting way to honor someone who took his breakfast seriously.
Nancy started making a hot breakfast for him back when they were first married prior to heading out the door early in the morning for her 7 am. shift at the hospital.
“After about two months people at work said ‘you’re nuts to get up that early to make his breakfast!’ So I told Carl, ‘Can’t you do something about this, or just eat cereal?’ I quit making breakfast because it was just too early!” laughs Nancy.
Carl should have known that breakfast gig wasn’t going to last, since he already knew that his Nancy didn’t always follow the rules. After all, they’d met while skipping church, hitting up the Big Boy on Plainfield for coffee instead of their Sunday evening worship services.
But a man has to eat and Carl didn’t much care for making himself food, so he started going out for breakfast.
He and his nearly lifelong best friend Dale started the breakfast circuit together back in 1973, when they worked together as masons. Dale worked for Carl’s business Meekhof Masonry before starting his own. Over the years they visited the likes of The Red Hot Inn, Mr. Fables, New Beginnings, and Anna’s House, among others.
Then they stumbled upon Grand Coney.
“We were here at Grand Coney since 2004, the first week they opened. We’ve been here a long time. When they opened it was something new so we decided to try it, and we’ve been here pretty much ever since,” recounts Dale.
Dale and Carl ordered the same thing every time they ate breakfast together at the Grand Coney: The Basics. They never used a menu, because they already knew their favorite item. It’s only served before 11 a.m., but that was never a problem for these lifelong friends, because even though they’d both been retired from their respective masonry businesses for a number of years, they still got up early and met for breakfast.
“We never argued. As much as we got together, we always had something to talk about. He was my best friend.”
From 2004 until September 24th of this year, Grand Coney was their breakfast home.
Sometimes grandkids or kids or siblings joined them. Sometimes friends did. Sometimes they made friends with fellow breakfast patrons, such the Saturday breakfast crowd Carl affectionately dubbed The Democrats, a moniker conferred on them for obvious political reasons. “And we got along just great with them!” says Dale, with a smile.
Carl and Dale also made friends with their waitresses, and their daily exchanges were laced with sarcasm and wit and laughter. Cindy, one of the waitresses who often waited on the pair, walked by and picked up a chip that fell on the ground and teasingly offered it to Dale. He said, “You touched it -- so no thanks.” Cindy air-licked it and offered it back with a laugh.
“See what abuse I put up with here?” said Dale.
These same waitresses who bantered with them for the last 13 years came to pay tribute to Carl at his visitation.
Visitation guests were encouraged to leave a note on a whiteboard about something that Carl taught them. “Someone wrote that Carl taught them ‘what causes pregnancy’ I knew I had to find out who wrote that one!” said Nancy.
It was written by Stacy, one of Carl’s waitresses at Grand Coney, who Carl teased because she kept having kids (8 of them, to be exact) and therefore spent a lot of time being pregnant. Every time she became pregnant Carl would tease her, “Do you know what is causing this?!”
Carl passed away unexpectedly on September 24th, bringing an abrupt end to a tradition 10,000 breakfasts in the making.
“That’s how many breakfasts I figure we shared,” recounts Dale.
A father to 3 and grandfather to 9, Carl sideline cheered at many sporting events. “He loved sports of all kinds and just loved watching Grand Rapids Christian High School’s girls basketball team!” said Nancy. Carl and Nancy have faithfully attended GRCSH games ever since their daughter played on the team, and Carl’s presence was a sideline fixture there. “Oh, you knew he was there!” she laughed. “He wasn’t a quiet fan at all, and yes, he even hollered at the referees, but it’s just because he loved the game and the team so much!”
Their daughter’s friends wrote on her Facebook page, “Your dad always stuck up for us at games.”
They also cheered on GRCHS's guys' basketball teams, South Christian High School's cross-country teams, volleyball, and football. Whatever sport kids or grandkids played, Carl cheered them on.
So it's no surprise that he and Dale talked a lot about sports. “Carl’s favorite teams were the Lions and Tigers and he loved college sports. He liked Michigan State, and I liked Michigan and that was interesting sometimes. And we talked about our grandkids’ sports too.”
Carl’s love of family, sports, and breakfast was evident at his memorial service. Bricks and bent golf clubs (“he had a temper on the golf course," Nancy confirmed) greeted visitation guests. They reminisced and swapped stories over breakfast food at his memorial. His 6-year old grandson was one of his pallbearers.
“I’d always wanted to be married for 50 years. I’m so thankful. I’m so glad we made it to 51. We had that. We had our kids and they all married people we love, and it was wonderful that together we were able to see our kids and grandkids grow up like we did,” says Nancy.
As they prepared to say their final goodbyes to Carl, Lee Karelse handed each person there a Grand Coney sticker in memory of Carl. One of the grandkids, without a word, peeled the sticker off and placed it on the casket. Soon everyone else followed, and they laid Carl to rest with the words of their favorite memories and stickers from his favorite breakfast hangout.
“Carl tried helping out our son Steve laying bricks one day after he retired. So he got up and got his clothes on and I thought this is going to be funny,” recounted Nancy. “He came home at noon and he said, ‘Oh my gosh I couldn’t do it any longer!’ He quit at noon and didn’t go back.”
“I think it’s because we had too many breakfasts,” said Dale.