US Army


Keith Frederick Cole

October 4, 1924 ~ September 8, 2018 (age 93)
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A Joyful Life Lived to the Fullest - Keith F. Cole, age 93, passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, September 8, 2018.  He was born in 1924 to Harold and Helen (Smith) Cole of Grand Rapids.  He graduated from Ottawa Hills High School in 1942 and attended Michigan State University prior to enlisting in the Army Air Corps during WWII.  Keith had a very distinguished and decorated military career. During WWII, he served with the 492nd Airborne and the Office of Strategic Service (OSS), which later became the CIA. Their mission was to drop spies, supplies and saboteurs behind enemy lines and bring a quickened end to the war.  In 2015, he received the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian honor, and in March he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, our country’s highest honor.  Most recently he was asked to speak of his roles during the war to various military organizations, including United States Central Command at MacDill Air Force in Tampa, Florida.

Upon his return to civilian life, he married Martha Elder of St. Joseph in 1951, who preceded him in death in 2010.  Keith was employed by Travelers Insurance Company in Grand Rapids and later the State of Michigan, where he rose to the Bureau Director of Medicaid Operations. He retired in 1992 and summered in Michigan and wintered in Sarasota, Florida.

Living life to its fullest was Keith’s credo.  Throughout his life, he arose early to embrace the possibilities of each day, and enjoyed walking, traveling, and playing golf. He was even fortunate enough to accomplish a hole-in-one.  Keith lived every day filled with joy and purpose.  He was a Deacon of East Congregational Church where he taught Sunday School for 11 years.  He also enjoyed music, playing the harmonica, and participating in The Meadows Choir.  On several occasions, he performed harmonica concerts at nursing homes. Most of all, Keith was an uplifting and ever-encouraging friend, mentor, and faithful ally. 

New friends are Silver – Old friends are Gold - For 70 years, Keith cherished the friendships with Phi Delta Theta brothers, and created fond memories with the Stanton Road Gang (cottage folk), as well as the Golden Kiwanians, Hudsonville neighbors, and his dear friends in Sarasota.  He regularly got together with his friends who spanned his lifetime; some of whom he first met in Kindergarten.

He was an extraordinarily loving and caring man who will be forever missed by his family and all those who knew him. His remarkable wit, charm, and compassion were his lasting gifts to all he met. We are certain that there are many people still chuckling from the last story Keith told them and many more smiling from their last conversation with him.  Keep smiling.

Keith will be dearly missed and remembered by his son, Charles (Lynn) Cole of Pierceton, IN; two daughters, Kathy (Gary) Valentine of Beverly Hills, MI and Peggy (John) Cole-Gibbons of Howard City, MI;  grandchildren, Kelsey (Mike) Pressler, Brady Gibbons, Shelley and Nicholas Valentine; four great-grandchildren; nephews, Brian Cole and Tom Jereb; and his very dear extended family, Boris, Lucy, Alex (Inna) and Sasha (Annette) Deriy of Chicago, IL.

The Celebration of a Wonderful Life will be on Saturday, October 13, 2018 at 10:30 AM at East Congregational Church - 1005 Giddings Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506. Fellowship and refreshments with Keith’s family will follow the service.  Memorial contributions may be made to East Congregational Church or to Talons Out Honor Flight of Michigan.

Donations may be made to:

East Congregational Church
1005 Giddings Ave. SE, Grand Rapids MI 49506
Tel: 1-616-245-0578

Talons Out Honor Flight of Michigan
PO Box 280, Portage MI 49081
Tel: 1-269-273-4545

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