Sylvester Van Oort ("Van") was born on the family farm in Iowa, in, 1925, the second son of Henry and Nellie Van Oort. He follows his wife Lily Rae, his sisters Dena and Daloris, his brothers Jean and Harold in death. Surviving are a few struggling congregations he tried to bring to life, first wife Jane, four children, Janis and her daughter Jessica, Kathleen (Spence), Marcus (Kate) and their daughter Arabella, Timothy, brother Rev. Glenn Van Oort, (Eileen) sister Lois, (Robert Falk), sister-in- law Josephine Van Oort.
His life is the story of America for the past 100 years. He was born on an Iowa farm in the boom years of the 1920s, grew up farming with horses during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, served in the Pacific in WW II, went to college on the GI Bill, moved east, became a minister in the Reformed Church of America, and raised a family.
Like his generation, he was honest, thrifty, hard working, and could build or fix anything. He believed in and preached a loving God, and worked for the betterment of all, especially those who were discriminated against due to race or gender orientation. He loved his work, his family, softball, games, fishing, skiing, and hiking. Life was to be enjoyed and kids were for playing games with.
One of his great pleasures was taking the church youth groups on hikes and overnight backpacks in the Catskill mountains. Later, he worked at Manhattan Community College and took New York City students on skiing and camping trips. He skied every winter with family until he was 94.
Of his many achievements, the ones he was proudest of were when he helped a young person get his life on track. Sports were usually involved, of course. He was also proud of his education, earning a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Education.
He was a gifted and dedicated speaker. Very few slept through his sermons. At 97 years old, he gave a stirring address for the Memorial Day ceremony in Sisters, Oregon. As always, he spoke without notes.
He told the best stories. This one is actually 100% true.
One day, Riley and I were skiing powder. On the lift, Riley said, "I'm going to be like you and ski black diamond slopes when I'm 60".
I said, "Riley, you don't have a chance. I saw how you were huffing and puffing when we walked uphill. If you keep smoking, you'll have emphysema by 50 and be dead by 65."
Then I hit him with it: "I know, because I've buried a lot of them".
He was silent. The discussion was over. Two weeks later, he came up to me and said "I've quit." Riley not only quit, but became a youth counselor and tells this story in his presentations.
Sylvester will be remembered by family, friends, church members, and all who experienced his exuberant passion for life.
A celebration of his life will be held at a later date, time and location to be determined. His request is for memorial to be made to American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) at ASPCA Gift Processing Center, PO Box 9628, Washington,D.C.20077 or Sandford Health Foundation, 1305 W. 18th St., Sioux Falls, S.D. 57117.