Nearly 28 years after East Grand Rapids Public Safety Officer Bruce Van Popering died from injuries sustained in the line of duty, travelers along two local freeways are getting the chance to honor him.
Digital billboards along U.S. 131 and I-96 feature a photo of Van Popering in uniform, his name, end of watch date – July 17, 1994 – and the words “served with honor.” One billboard is along northbound U.S. 131 near 76th Street SW and the other is along westbound I-96 near Alden Nash Avenue SE.
Van Popering was directing traffic July 4, 1994, in East Grand Rapids following the City’s Fourth of July celebration when he was struck by a vehicle driven by a drunken driver. He died nearly two weeks later from his injuries at age 57, leaving behind a wife, two adult children, a grandson, a granddaughter on the way and a granddaughter born less than two years later.
The billboards featuring Van Popering went up Jan. 31 and will remain until Feb. 27. They are part of Brothers in Blue GR’s ongoing campaign to honor police officers who have died in the line of duty – and East Grand Rapids Public Safety Chief Mark Herald and the Van Popering family immediately said yes when asked if Officer Van Popering could be honored in this way.
“Officer Van Popering’s presence is still felt within our community,” Herald said. “Losing one of our own is among the most difficult moments in a department’s history. We are honored to pay tribute to Officer Van Popering’s memory, his steadfast service and the ultimate sacrifice he made for our community.”
As a 29-year veteran of the East Grand Rapids Department of Public Safety, Van Popering was remembered as a dedicated officer and, in 2006, Bagley Avenue SE from Lake Drive to Wealthy Street was designated Bruce Van Popering Memorial Drive. In 2011, a statue in his honor was dedicated at Wealthy Street and Bagley Avenue following the City’s Fourth of July parade with funds raised by his fellow officers.
The billboard campaign started last winter after local retired police officers discussed how they could support police departments and their officers as well as honor those who have died on the job. Last year’s billboard kickoff featured five officers. This month, four local fallen police officers, including Van Popering, are featured on a total of nine billboards. Through ongoing fundraising, Brothers in Blue GR plans to honor additional fallen officers in the future.
“It’s important to remember their sacrifice and keep their names, dedication and actions in people’s minds,” said Philip Werkema, a retired officer with the Grand Rapids Police Department who is leading Brothers in Blue GR and the billboard campaign. “They went to work every day with a purpose to serve their communities and neighborhoods. When they answered the call, they lost their life for public safety.”
Van Popering’s family is honored to have him remembered for his service and sacrifice.
“My dad was a good man who was taken from us far too soon,” daughter Kitrina Van Popering said. “He and my mom were looking forward to enjoying retirement life together when this tragedy happened. His commitment to service was – and still is – inspiring.”
Check out local media coverage of this story below.
FOX17: Grand Rapids area billboards honor fallen police officers
WZZM13: Billboards across West Michigan honor fallen police officers
WGVU News: Remembering Officer Bruce Van Popering