Julie Bontrager, 69

Julie Sue Bontrager, devoted and loving wife, mother of two, and grandmother of three, passed away at 8:20 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in Alpharetta, Ga., at age 69.
Julie was born Oct. 29, 1949, in Sibley, Iowa. She attended Zeelend High School in Michigan and married Levi B. Bontrager on Sept. 16, 1969, in Allendale, Mich.
Julie operated a fabric store as a private business owner for several years before beginning a 27-year career in the field of education. She began work for White Pigeon Elementary as a paraprofessional and attended Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, where she earned an associate degree in general studies in 2002 and in childhood education in 2003.
She was awarded a Bachelor of Science in special education from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo in 2006. She then worked at Three Rivers Middle School as a special education teacher. She completed a Master of Arts in humanities from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich., in 2008, then completed a Master in the Art of Teaching from Marygrove College in Detroit in 2009. This degree conferred to her highly qualified status as a Michigan special education teacher.
In 2010, the Parent Advisory Committee of St. Joseph County awarded her the distinction as Special Education Teacher of the Year. Later that year, she began her work at Colon Elementary as a special education teacher. She retired from her position at Colon Elementary in 2017.
Julie also served on the Board of Directors as Chairmen of the Very Special Arts of Michigan in St. Joseph County, an organization that promotes arts, education and creative expression among children and adults with disabilities. Part of her work included organizing hands-on workshops in visual arts, music, dance and drama for children with special needs in grades 1-6 through the annual Special Arts Festival. She enjoyed making art, especially watercolors, and she used her artwork to build community bridges within Southwest Michigan and across the Pacific Ocean. Her work was selected in various competitions, including the “Art for the Heart” fundraiser for Diane’s Way Expressive Arts Program of Borgess Visiting Nurse and Hospice. She led her students to make 1,000 paper cranes that they sent to Hiroshima, Japan, to adorn the Children’s Peace Memorial there. She loved spending time with friends and family, she enjoyed basket weaving, quilting and especially spending time baking cookies, banana bread and pumpkin pie with her grandchildren.
Julie was preceded in death by her mother, Johanna (Ytsema), and her father Wiebe (Willie) Kroontje. She is survived by her husband of 49 years, Levi; her sisters, Vonnie Rosentstein and Debi Kroontje-Stark; her brother, Wallie Kroontje; her daughter, Heatherly; her son, Shannon; and her grandchildren, Mairi, Adam and Ronan.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, at Rosenberg Chapel of Hackman Family Funeral Homes, 807 E. Chicago Road, Sturgis. Interment will be at Nottawa Cemetery on Filmore Road, followed by a meal at the Locust Grove Mennonite Church on Findley Road in Burr Oak.
In lieu of flowers, please bring backpacks full of books for children to be donated to Colon and Leonidas elementary schools and to honor Julie’s passion for children and learning. Alternatively, a donation may be made to the Julie S. Bontrager Memorial Friendship Bench for children to go to when they want someone to talk to,¬†www.gofundme.com/julie-s-bontrager-memorial-friendship-bench&rcid=r01-154708512923-ca3413bc0b7c4daa&pc=ot_co_campmgmt_w.

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