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Waves of peace and pleasure

Lakeside living, from Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids to the shores of Lake Michigan, creates its own
wondrous way of life.

By Angela Klinske

Sometimes when Eric and Kathy Wynsma get their three kids ready for bed, they’re not really going to bed. In lieu of a bedtime story, donning pajamas is a prelude to boarding their Boston Whaler, chugging across Reeds Lake to Rose’s Restaurant for some takeout bistro fare, and voyaging around the lake for a sunset cruise.

Meanwhile, on the shores of Lake Michigan, Marcia VanderWoude is lulled to sleep by the sound of waves lapping the shoreline.

All upon a mid-summer’s night of lakeside living.

As the last evidence of winter succumbs to spring skies and warmer breezes, lakeside dwellers everywhere are gearing up for an all-too-short yet gratifying season of boating, swimming, fishing, beachcombing — all the attractions that propel lake lovers to this luxurious way of life.

Having spent their childhood summers on lakes, the Wynsmas wanted their kids to build memories on the water. So the couple spent many summer weekends lugging the kids from Grand Rapids to the home of one grandparent or another, on Lake Michigan and Silver Lake in Rockford. The commute from city to lake became a bigger burden as the young family grew. Their solution? About two years ago, the couple purchased property and built a year-round home on Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids.

Now, while other folks fight Friday rush-hour traffic and tote coolers and suitcases to their weekend getaways, this family has made lakeside leisure a daily way of life, relaxing on the beach, sailing and waterskiing. And with Eric’s downtown office only five minutes away, the chasm between work and play diminishes to one beautiful life.

About 30 miles due west, the street names say it all: Whispering Sands. Hidden Treasure. Rolling Dunes. Atop the largest freshwater sand dunes in the world, Marcia VanderWoude, author and president of MLV Consulting LLC, has found paradise.

For VanderWoude, Lake Michigan provides respite from the corporate world. “Chez la bonne santé” — French for “at the home of good health” — is scripted above the door of her beach house, from which VanderWoude enjoys a 30-mile panoramic view of Lake Michigan.

“I walked on the deck, looked at the view and knew immediately that I wanted it,” she said of the home she purchased 15 years ago.

And yet Michigan winters are a little too brisk for VanderWoude, so it’s off to La Costa, Calif., for consulting work until warm weather returns sometime in May. Meanwhile, her husband, Ken Weidenaar, stays here, where he works as a reverse mortgage specialist at Wells Fargo & Co.

During a phone interview in mid-January, VanderWoude inquired longingly about the lake she calls home.
“ Are there waves today?” she asked plaintively. For VanderWoude, there’s nothing like the sound of waves resonating through open windows. But winter can be brutal on Lake Michigan summer homes.

“ Big winds blow across the lake, sometimes 70 or 80 miles per hour,” VanderWoude said. “The house feels like it might blow over; the windows actually move. Sometimes the waves reach 18 feet.”

When VanderWoude arrives back at the beach house this spring, she’ll wash and paint her deck furniture, getting it ready for another season. Her big plans this summer? Paddling her purple kayak along Lake Michigan’s coast (longer than California’s), hosting a “girlfriends” retreat, and sharing grilled salmon with friends and family. She’ll take advantage of the lazy summer days by reading, knitting and writing.

Nature’s bountiful offerings also await Richard Bereza, an orthopedic surgeon at Spectrum Health who lives just up the road from VanderWoude. As the sun radiates down on the Lake Michigan shoreline, Bereza will prune his lush garden of hydrangeas, hostas, ferns (30 varieties), hemlock trees and exotic pines.

“ There is nothing that quite compares to Lake Michigan in the summer,” said Bereza, who described the lake as a world-class treasure. “My favorite thing to do is get up, bike to Grand Haven (he and wife, Judy, keep six bikes on hand for guests to make the trek with them), get coffee, power walk to the pier, and go to breakfast.”

At home they relax in their beach cabana, entertain friends and enjoy nighttime views of the popular Grand Haven pier. Their three grown children travel from New York and Florida to visit their childhood summer home, and to golf with Dad at nearby Wuskowhan Players Club, recently named one of the top five golf courses in Michigan.

After a long day of swimming through the health care system, performing surgery and managing a practice, Bereza makes the 27-mile commute back to the Big Lake for a refreshing summertime swim, grilling a summer supper and tending his garden.

“ I never get tired of it,” he said. “It’s like a mini vacation.”

That’s just what Eric Wynsma said about Reeds Lake: “It’s like living at a resort full-time.”

Wynsma, who owns Terra Firma Development, caught the sailing bug from his dad. He races his Laser sailboat on Reeds Lake as captain of a fleet at Grand Rapids Yacht Club, competing annually in the Chicago to Mackinaw Race on his friend’s 40-foot Farr 395.

“ The kids love to yell, ‘Go, Dad, go!’ as he races past the house,” wife Kathy said about the 90-plus races he competes in throughout the summer. Last summer, Eric gave sailing instructions to children Ella, 8, and Murphy, 5, in the family’s swimming pool before letting them venture out in their own Opti as junior members of the yacht club. Seventeen-month-old Jenna will undoubtedly join them in a couple of years.

Sailing is big on Reeds Lake. The Grand Rapids Yacht Club, housed on the 283-acre lake, offers sailing classes from beginner to advanced, youth through adult. Competitive fleets race in local and regional regattas.
“ The lake is the center of year-round activity,” said East Grand Rapids Mayor Cindy Bartman. “In the winter it’s ice fishing, ice boating and even a golf tournament and kite-flying day. The summer is boaters and water sports of all kinds. Often, one can watch our high school crew team practicing or competing.”

Rose’s is a frequent Reeds Lake gathering place. Originally a bathing beach destination, then a local popcorn shop, Rose’s is now a favorite spot for dining or takeout (that way you can eat on your boat and enjoy the scenery).

“ Wildlife abounds around the lake, which makes it a favorite spot for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts all year round,” Bartman said.

As winter memories melt away with the snow, and summer promises its faithful return, Ella Wynsma suits up for her second summer of wakeboarding (think snowboarding on the water) and waterskiing, while Murphy hunts for Eastern painted and box turtles. Eric gets ready for a new sailboat racing season. The Wynsmas have seen owls, loons, foxes, turtles, and most recently, a bald eagle.

“ If all else fails and the kids are bored,” said Wynsma, “just stick the kids in the boat … and go explore!” GR

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