Keys for Kids Ministries announced the passing of Charlie VanderMeer (a.k.a., “Uncle Charlie”) on February 22 “with deep sadness, but great hopefulness.” He passed away quietly at his home following a recent fall.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” reportedly were the final words VanderMeer uttered to Keys for Kids’ president, Greg Yoder, who spent time with him just before he went to be with Jesus.
According to the ministry, VanderMeer wanted everyone to know in his final moments the “who” he was talking about was Jesus Christ. He reportedly said, “I trust Him today just like I did when I was six years old. Knowing Jesus as your personal Savior is the most important thing.”
That was the message that VanderMeer believed in and shared with millions of kids and families around the world through his 69 years of ministry on Christian radio at Children’s Bible Hour, now known as Keys for Kids Ministries. Whether it was on the radio as a child or hosting the program as “Uncle Charlie,” he wanted kids and families to know Jesus.
“I listened to Uncle Charlie when I was a kid,” said Yoder in a statement. “He loved kids. And he loved Jesus.” And that, the ministry noted, was why VanderMeer spent most of his adult life sharing Christ with kids on the radio, at radio rallies, and at churches around the world through magic tricks, ventriloquism, balloon animals, and stories.
VanderMeer was nine years old when he started taking part in the Children’s Bible Hour radio broadcasts in 1943. VanderMeer’s father had brought him to one of the live broadcasts in the WLAV studio, which was often filled to capacity. Children’s Bible Hour’s first director, “Uncle Mel” Johnson, would occasionally take a roving microphone and interview members of the studio audience. One of those he interviewed was VanderMeer.
According to the ministry, Johnson liked the way VanderMeer responded, and so he was invited to be a regular — not to sing, but to read Scripture, poems, and object lessons. VanderMeer eventually got a regular part in the dramatized stories written by Harry Trover.
VanderMeer left the program to attend college. In 1956, after graduating from Bob Jones University, he took a temporary position and made plans to go to the mission field. But in the end, Children’s Bible Hour became his mission field. He became “Uncle Charlie” in 1972 after the retirement of “Aunt Bertha” Shooks, becoming the fourth director of the ministry. It was a position he held until March 1999, though he continued to serve as the voice of Keys for Kids until December 2015.
A memorial service will be held for VanderMeer on Saturday, March 16, at 1 p.m. at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, near Cornerstone University.
VanderMeer is survived by his wife, Bette; daughters Lori, Linda, and Jenni; son Jeff; many grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and countless nieces and nephews who listened to him over the years.