Don and Jodi Heeringa
The Ottawa County Cold Case Support Fund
Don and Jodi Heeringa established the Ottawa County Cold Case Support Fund, a nonprofit endowment fund, in 2014 to show support of and to help solve local cold cases, an issue that is very close to their hearts.
On November 23, 1987, Rick Brink didn’t show up to work at Trendway Corporation. Rick was a long time employee and friend of Don Heeringa, owner of Trendway.
“Rick was a great young man, wise beyond his years. He was very responsible and he had excellent people skills. We had worked together for years and it was out of character for him to not show up. It was very alarming to us at Trendway. We contacted his family and his wife’s office, and no one had heard from them in a few days,” remembers Don. Rick’s wife, Gail, was also absent from work that morning. Don felt something had to be wrong so he drove from Trendway to Rick’s home to check on him.
When they arrived at the house, Don and Rick’s family experienced something no one should ever have to go through. Both Rick and Gail had been shot to death. “It was a total shock. Even now, after 28 years, the details are still crystal clear. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen here in Ottawa County, especially to two people that were so well-loved and such good friends and employees. There’s no training for this type of loss or what to do next,” noted Don.
The Brinks case remained opened and unsolved for 27 years. Don installed a plaque and a flagpole in Brinks’ honor at Trendway Corporation shortly after the murders.
“We lived with this loss every day. Each day I would pass that flag pole and wonder how this could happen and not be resolved.”
In 2011, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department received special funding from the county commission to investigate a number of cold cases. The Brinks case was one of them.
Two detectives, Venus Repper and the now retired David Blakely, were assigned to the case full time in the hopes of solving it. “They interviewed over 200 people more than 25 years later. I was so impressed with their dedication. They worked on the case for over a year, giving 100%. It takes a lot of time and money to solve cases like this after all these years. The Sheriff’s Department and the detectives really put their hearts and souls into finding resolution,” Don said.
In January of 2013, a suspect was arrested. In April of 2014, the suspect was found guilty by a unanimous jury. Don attended each day of the three week trial and the conviction.
“Seeing this solved and knowing that justice was served closed a hole in my heart that was there for all these years. The commissioners, the Sheriff’s Department, the prosecuting attorneys and the jury deserve so much credit. I have the highest admiration for them. They did an excellent job,” remembers Don.
Many cold cases remain unsolved because advanced DNA testing and travel for out-of state interviews is very costly. Don and Jodi established the Cold Case Support Fund to help cover these extra costs and to show appreciation for the heartfelt effort that went into solving the Brinks case.
“We want to help others in the future, to ensure that the unanticipated needs of solving local cold cases are met. All of the advanced testing and travel needs really add up. This fund is a place the Sheriff’s Department can turn to when they have unpredictable expenses that are key to their investigation,” Don added.
“We see our fund here as seed money. We’d love for the community to get behind this and help us to grow the fund so that it can make a big difference in solving future cases,” said Don.
“We want to lessen the pain when such unbelievable things happen and help bring resolution to families. We think it will help for families to know that there are people out there that care enough to continue to press to find justice in these cases.”
Originally featured in the Community Foundation’s 2014 Annual Report. While this was written by CFHZ’s Communications Manager Nicole Paquette in 2015, we believe that stories of generosity are timeless and always relevant.