Cover photo for John T. Houdek's Obituary
John T. Houdek Profile Photo
1933 John 2023

John T. Houdek

March 26, 1933 — March 1, 2023


John Thomas Houdek, Tom to family, passed away Wednesday, March 1, 2023. He was born March 26, 1933, in Chicago, IL, the son of George and Florence Houdek.  His family moved to Michigan in 1938, with most of his childhood spent in Grand Junction, attending the one-room Wood School in Covert, and graduating from Bangor High School in 1951.

While attending school in Bangor he met classmate Carolyn Freestone and on September 7, 1952, Tom and Carolyn were wed. They started life together at Michigan State College living in the quonset hut and trailer village which served as married housing. Carolyn recently passed away in August 2022, just a few weeks before reaching their 70th wedding anniversary.

A lifelong Cubbies fan, he was very proud of the history and accomplishments of his parents, siblings and the extended Houdek family. He was always interested in how his nieces and nephews were faring and what they were doing. He liked to remind his children that they were among 24 Houdek cousins in the family.

As the youngest of six children, he was preceded in death by sisters Dorothy, Georgia, Virginia and brothers Dan and George.

John earned his Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and PhD from Michigan State and taught full time in the History Department for two years as a doctoral candidate.  While at Michigan State he established lifelong friendships with several faculty members who generously enriched and supported his academic and family life. While in Lansing he also worked part time campus custodial jobs, on the Oldsmobile assembly line, maintenance of Forest Akers Golf Course and the Michigan gypsy moth survey.

In 1963 he joined the History Department faculty at Western Michigan University. His 35 years at Western included teaching both on campus and at numerous off campus extension class locations throughout the state.  He also spent time within the Agriculture Department and developed a keen interest in the rural history of Michigan. After retiring he continued that research with colleague Charlie Heller, and they have published over thirty papers and articles about rural Michigan history. He was particularly proud of being able to document how many Michigan women were rural landowners and financiers during the nineteenth century. He never tired of scholarly research and writing and the WMU Archives staff were patient and dedicated supporters of his enthusiasm to learn more.

During retirement John remained active both at Western and in the Kalamazoo area, serving on many Boards and committees, with an emphasis on his interests in education, the arts and love of gardening.

He stayed connected to Michigan State and served on the Michigan State Alumni Board and was the recipient of the College of Arts and Letters Distinguished Alumni Award. He and Carolyn provided scholarships to students in the Social Sciences and Special Education at MSU.

At Western he and Carolyn volunteered countless hours and effort creating and maintaining the Honors College flower garden and expanded their campus beautification work with the help of WMU facilities staff. At one point he and Carolyn were caring for 72 garden beds around campus.

He was president of the WMU Theatre Guild, a member and advisor to Phi Alpha Theta and Emeritus Council President. He and Carolyn provided scholarships and support to numerous WMU students.

John and Carolyn were also deeply involved in multiple volunteer roles in the community including the founding of Kalamazoo in Bloom and the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek.

To the very last days of his life John was an avid reader of reference books and maintained the ability to draw out the most obscure yet fascinating historical facts when sharing his perspective of current events. As an unwavering Democrat his opinions were often laced with a sharp wit and “Houdek” sense of humor.

He deeply loved and supported his children and grandchildren and never tired of hearing what they were studying, how their careers were progressing and where in the world they were living.

He is survived by children, Karen (Edward), Diane (John) and Steven; grandchildren, Bryan, Matthew (Sonia), Kelly and Peter and great-grandchildren, Jack and Mila.

In accordance with John’s wishes there will be no memorial service.  Arrangements have been entrusted to Langeland Family Funeral Homes Burial & Cremation Services, 622 S. Burdick St., Kalamazoo, MI  49007.

John’s remains will be placed in the columbarium of the First Presbyterian Church of Kalamazoo.

Those wishing to make a gift in his memory may do so to the Emeriti Council Book Scholarship Fund in care of the WMU Foundation, 1903 W. Michigan Avenue, Kalamazoo, MI  49008-5403.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of John T. Houdek, please visit our flower store.


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