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Ralph Ockerse, passed away in Holland, MI at age 89, on Saturday, June 25, 2022. He was born on May 17, 1933, in Brussels, Belgium to Willem Fedor Pieter and Louise Johanna Ockerse (Tideman) while his father was on furlough from the Department of the Interior of the former Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia).

Ralph grew up initially in a large number of Pacific Islands, colonized by the Netherlands and where his father was one of many civil service administrators. During World War II, Japan invaded and occupied the Dutch East Indies and Southeast Asia and the far outnumbered Dutch forces surrendered on March 8, 1942. His captured father was shipped to Burma with 3,188 Dutch military POW packed “like sardines-in-a-can” in the cargo hold aboard a small 3040 ton river freighter to join 61,811 Allied POW as forced laborers to construct Japan’s notoriously infamous 258-mile long “Death Railway” in sheer impenetrable mountainous jungle terrain that took the lives of 12,621 Allied POW, including his father’s.

From October 1942 – January 1946, Ralph, his mother, and three siblings spent the 3½ war years with 250,000 Dutch women and children in the Dutch East Indies Japanese concentration camps, entirely cut off from the world outside. Following liberation and loss of all their possessions, but for some essential clothing, those who had survived were repatriated to the Netherlands.

There, Ralph resumed his formal education and graduated from Baarnsch Lyceum high school in 1953. He enrolled at the Haarlem Teachers College, and earned his teaching diploma in 1956. A year later, he and his family immigrated to the United States, gratefully realized by the Refugee Relief Act enacted by President Eisenhower.

After high school, he worked for two years at the biological laboratories of Philips Electronics Co in Eindhoven, the Netherlands on molecular principles of photosynthesis, and one year on plant cell culture tumorigenesis at the Chas Pfizer Pharmaceutical Co in Flushing, NY.

In 1958 Ralph was drafted to serve two years with the US Armed Forces Chemical Corps. Upon completion of his basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, he was stationed a year and a half at Hanau, Germany. Honorably discharged in 1960, he enrolled at Baldwin Wallace College to earn his BS in chemistry with distinction two years later, and went on to Yale University to earn his PhD in biochemistry and plant physiology under Professor Arthur W. Galston.

In 1966, he joined Hope College as professor of biology to teach and conduct scholarly research with his students on the molecular mechanism of interaction of plant hormones, supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and publication of research results in peer-refereed scientific journals with his students as coauthors. Nearly all of his students went on to earn their advanced degrees in the MD, DO, DDS, and the Ph.D. professional degrees. He also worked closely with Cal Vanderwerf, then President of Hope College, to strengthen Hope’s academic reputation as one among our nation’s very best undergraduate hands-on research colleges.

In 1976, he joined Indiana University to become chairman and professor of biology at the “Indiana University – Purdue University, Indianapolis” (IUPUI) campus. Under his leadership, the biology department also initiated its full-fledged graduate degree programs.

Retired in 1996, he accepted an invitation from Indonesia’s Ministry of Higher Education to lead and direct a four-year major effort by visiting professors from the US, Netherlands, and Australia, to raise the levels of faculty teaching and scholarly research competence to standards of internationally comparable quality at Indonesia’s 60 major public universities.

From 1997-2002, Ralph also provided advisory assistance to the head and research program directors of BIOTROP: Southeast Asia’s “Institute for Tropical Biology”.

In 1999, Ralph married his dearly beloved Fitri Yeni at Ciwidey, Indonesia, and their lives together were nurtured by their close relationship of the past 23 years. Fitri graduated from the University of Bengkulu in Indonesia and taught English at middle school. They traveled extensively worldwide for pleasure. A passionate bridge player, his zeal for reading and writing were noteworthy. Ralph wrote down his recollections and endured experiences in articles and published a book in 2011 entitled: “Our Childhood in the Former Colonial Dutch East Indies: Recollections before and during our wartime internment by the Japanese”.

Ralph was preceded in death by his parents, Willem and Loesje Ockerse and sister, Evelijn (Meis) Blaney of Tarpon Springs, FL.

He is survived by his wife, Fitri of Holland, MI; his sons, Hal (Mary) Ockerse of Boise, ID; Steve (Miley) Ockerse of Holland, MI; Rob (Cherie) Ockerse of Holland, MI; Brian Ockerse MD, of Warsaw, IN; Patrick (Meghan MD) Ockerse MD, of Salt Lake City, UT; and Rafie (Wina) Ockerse of Bogor, Indonesia; his siblings, Prof. Tom (Susan) Ockerse of Providence, RI and Gerrit (Linda) Ockerse of McKinleyville, CA; grandchildren, Josh, Jeff, and Kayla; Alex, Chase, and Cole; Brynn, Maxwell, Aron, and Connor; and Ellie, Jude, and Louisa; and great-grandson, Briggs.

Per his wishes cremation has taken place and no formal services will be held at this time.

To send a message of sympathy to the family, sign Ralph’s online guest book, or to share a favorite memory, please visit:

Cremation arrangements were entrusted to Michigan Cremation & Funeral Care, Grand Rapids, 616-452-3006, exclusive providers of Veterans Funeral Care.


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4 Condolences

  1. Yenni and Craig Beuker on June 30, 2022 at 8:18 am

    Please accept our heartfelt condolences for your loss. Our prayers are with you and your family. I hope God blesses and comforts you during this difficult time.

  2. Lana and Dan Ctilly on June 30, 2022 at 8:37 am

    Our deepest condolences to Fitri and family, may he rest in peace, RIP

  3. Siti & Peter Lam on June 30, 2022 at 10:26 am

    A thought of comfort and condolences to Fitri and family

  4. Mimih on July 1, 2022 at 4:42 pm

    Our condolences for Fitri and the family.

    Mimih Groendyke

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