Tag Archives: Dutch

TBT: The VW Clan

Vander Well Family Picnic

Speaking of Dutch heritage, for Throwback Thursday let me show you this rare gem of the clan hanging with their homeys on the farm in northwest Iowa circa 1938. The white-haired gentleman under the tree is, I believe, Walter Vander Well Sr. born Wouter van der Wel in Piershil near Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He came to the states as a young man by himself. The gentleman just to the right with the stylin’ white shoes and the baby on his lap is my grandfather, Herman Vander Well. The baby is my father, Dean. The other kid standing on the right of the photograph is my Uncle Bud.

My grandpa always had a penchant for ice cream and would often have a bowl before bed. I have to imagine that the fact that they’re all eating ice cream cones in this picture means they’d just made it for the occasion.

Tulip Time Photos (& More!)

Wendy and I are enjoying a much needed rest after three very full days of Pella Tulip Time. We have played Pella, Iowa’s founders in three different stage productions and were asked by the Pella Historical Society to get in costume and portray the couple for the annual festival. We rode in a carriage in each of the six parades, had our picture taken countless times and made appearances at the Pella Historical Village and Scholte House Museum.

It was fun to talk to people about the Scholtes and the history of Pella, and to answer many questions about Pella and our costumes. Women, in particular, were enthralled with Wendy’s period costume and little girls made Wendy feel like  Disney princess. During one of the parades a little girl pointed at Wendy and shouted, “LOOK! It’s the PRETTY LADY!” Wendy even had a young man of about five blow her a kiss.

The heavy dress with all the layers of period underthings did make for a lot of heat for Wendy. Fortunately, the days were very temperate with highs in the 70s. The worst part was her tall lace boots which made her feet very uncomfortable throughout the day despite all of her attempts to cushion the consequences.

My folks came on Thursday and brought Madison who had flown into Des Moines the day before. We had fun meeting friends in between parades at the Pella Opera House where we enjoyed the air conditioning, the padded seats, and the refreshments. Madison stayed with us Thursday night and then headed back to Colorado on Friday night as she was on call over the weekend.

Our friend, Megan Atkins, was on the Tulip Court this year. Megan’s dad passed away back in 2010 and Megan has honored me over the years by asking me to be honorary dad when school or other events called for father/daughter activities. I was so happy to get to escort her on Friday and again on Saturday with her mom, Cyndi, at the official coronation ceremony on the square.

We are already thinking about next year, though we are thankful that we have another 362 days to rest up!


Wendy and me in front of a portrait of H.P. Scholte.
Wendy and me in front of a portrait of H.P. Scholte.

“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: If the prince makes a gift from his inheritance to one of his sons, it will also belong to his descendants; it is to be their property by inheritance. If, however, he makes a gift from his inheritance to one of his servants, the servant may keep it until the year of freedom; then it will revert to the prince. His inheritance belongs to his sons only; it is theirs.'”
Ezekiel 46:16-17 (NIV)

This weekend is our town’s annual Tulip Time festival in which we celebrate those brave Dutch immigrants who braved unspeakable hardship to carve out a life for themselves on the Iowa prairie back in 1847. Tens of thousands of visitors will descend on Pella over the weekend to see the tulips, to see locals dressed in Dutch costumes complete with wooden shoes, to watch the parades, and to enjoy Dutch treats from a plethora of vendors. It’s quite an event. If you’ve never been, then you need to put it on your bucket list.

As part of the festival this year, Wendy and I have been asked to don period costumes and portray our town’s founder, Dominie (Dutch for “Reverend”) H.P. Scholte and his wife Maria. We will hang out in the Scholte House museum and historical village to greet guests and will ride in horse drawn wagon in all the parades.

Being a history buff and having played “the Dominie” in a handful of stage productions, I continue to do quite a bit of research about Scholte and his wife. They were amazing people, and our little town’s on-going success has their fingerprints all over it. The Dominie was also a stubborn Dutchman, a fierce individualist, and a lightning rod who stirred controversy throughout his life. He was wealthy, and when he came to the U.S. his wealth converted from Dutch guilders to Iowa acres. Even in death, his inheritance and the distribution of land was the source of controversy and conflict.

Inheritance is a tricky business fraught with the potential for all sorts of miscommunication and emotional entanglements that result in hurt feelings and family squabbles. I would dare say that there is not a culture in this world that does not experience the pain of conflict over inheritance. This morning I was reminded of the Dominie as I read the rules given through Ezekiel regarding inheritance of land in Israel. The Israeli royal could only give land to children. If it was given to a servant, then on a prescribed year the land reverted to the family.

That reminded me of this from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Today, I am thankful for the many ways we receive inheritance. I’m thankful for forebears who founded an amazing community that thrives 168 years later. I’m thankful for ancestors who carved a path and provided for my success and abundant life in a plethora of ways. I’m thankful for Jesus, who made provision for me (and any who would choose to receive it) to be adopted in God’s family as a co-heir to enjoy the full rights, privilege, blessing and inheritance thereof.

Eireflensjes Night

I think most families have some kind of culinary traditions. For my branch of the Vander Well family, the number one foodie tradition is eireflensjes. Once a year or so, as I was growing up, my Grandpa Vander Well would mix up a huge batch of these Dutch treats. Last night at my folks house we upheld the family tradition, and both my taste buds and tummy were extremely happy!

Eireflensjes are basically the Dutch version of a crepe. The batter is made with a mixture of eggs, flour, milk and salt. Pour just enough batter to cover the bottom of a hot, buttered iron skillet and fry on both sides until golden brown. Stacks of of them are placed on the table with bowls of sugar. Sprinkle sugar over the top one, roll with a fork, then eat. Some have substituted the sprinkling of sugar with coating the eireflensje with jams/jellies, syrup, salsa, honey and peanut butter. Most of our family are purists, however, and stick with sugar.

Our family tradition has always held that the men of the family always make them, and everyone eats until the stacks are gone.

Our Hollandse Maagds (Dutch Maids)


Each year our little town of Pella, Iowa celebrates its Dutch heritage with the annual Tulip Time festival. At the core of this traditional celebration is the election of our Tulip Queen and her court (Our daughter, Madison, was a finalist in the contest back in her day). Our dear friend, Megan, is on the court this year, and so Wendy and I headed out last night to a packed community center auditorium to watch the Queen and her court perform the program that they will take on the road to promote our town, our festival, our heritage, (and our local businesses!).

I’m not sure that most residents in our town appreciate the way this annual tradition taps into some of the deepest sentiments of Dutch heritage. As the young republic of the Netherlands fought its revolt against Spain, one of the most powerful national patriotic metaphors emerged out of the deep sentiment the Dutch held for hearth and home: the Hollandse Maagd (Dutch Maid). Young, beautiful, and verdant, the Dutch Maid appeared with the rampant lion amidst her small fortress symbolizing the small republics small fortress state set amidst the sea and her enemies.

Hollandse Maagd 01

Later, the Dutch Maid’s fortress became a lush garden of prosperity over which she was enthroned.

willem buytewech allegory of the deceitfulness of Spain

Writes Simon Schama in The Embarrassment of Riches:

“The enclosure had by now become the verdant and well-stocked garden – the tuin – that signified the divinely blessed prosperity of the Netherlands and within the Dutch Maid, both comely and vulnerable, was now enthroned.”

The Dutch Maid even found her place on Dutch currency.

Dutch Maid Coin

I enjoyed watching last night as our local Hollandse Maagds paraded out in traditional Gronigen costume, complete with Dutch hat. The Tulip Queen and her court will metaphorically preside over our prosperous tulip gardens, lead our parades, honor our traditions, and promote our local commerce. All five of them truly are amazing, beautiful, intelligent, and talented young ladies. And, I realized last night, whether they know it or not these young ladies embody a metaphor that is more deeply entrenched in our heritage and speaks more deeply to our community psyche than most of us know or can possibly imagine.

My Life: A Photo Abecedarius


P is for Pella, Iowa my hometown for the past decade. It is an amazing, beautiful, quaint, community and I never planned nor imagined myself living here. I have come to fully appreciate all that is special and absolutely unique about it, even those things that drive you absolutely nuts.

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Simple Virtues; Simple Joys

A Des Moines Tribune headline from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981 I still have in my archive.
A Des Moines Tribune headline from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981 I still have in my archive.

You will eat the fruit of your labor;
Psalm 128:1-2a (NIV)

This morning as I went to the front door to gather the newspaper off the front porch, I was hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia. The simple joy of gathering the paper off the porch on a frigid January morning, and reading it over morning a hot cup of coffee is deeply rooted in my soul. I got my first job when I was almost twelve working as a paper boy for the now defunct Des Moines Tribune. There were two Des Moines newspapers when I was a kid. The Des Moines Register was the morning paper and the Des Moines Tribune was the afternoon paper. My buddy Scott Borg and I would categorize people in our neighborhood into “morning paper” people and “afternoon paper” people. Me and my family were afternoon paper people until the Des Moines Tribune closed up shop.

As a paperboy for “The Trib” I picked up my bundle each afternoon after school at the corner of Madison and Lawnwoods Dr. With a big yellow canvas paper carrier that was slung over the shoulder and a bag of rubber bands (or plastic bags on rainy days), I would begin my trek each week day west up Madison Avenue to Lower Beaver Road, then south to Douglas Ave. I would make my way back north on Lawnwoods Drive, as I zig-zagged up and down the side streets of Garden, Seneca, and Fleming Avenues. Delivering The Trib also meant you had to deliver the giant Des Moines Sunday Register early every Sunday morning. The slug who delivered The Register each weekday morning got to sleep in.

Map of my old paper route.
Map of my old paper route.

Every two weeks I was tasked with making a personal visit to each of my Tribune customers to collect their subscription fees. They would pay me and I would give them a little receipt torn from a perforated sheet of receipts. I would have to count the money, balance the amount, and turn it in to my regional manager. I got to know many of the people in the neighborhood around my home and even got a tip from time to time.

I come from a family in which the protestant work ethic was firmly engrained. Work was a virtue to be pursued at an early age. From my early career in the newspaper business I became an “Inventory Specialist” for my dad’s sign company. The monotonous task of counting hundreds of screws, bolts and washers out of large bins taught me very quickly that I just might want to do something different with my life. Paperboy, bolt counter, corn pollinator, lawn maintenance, film duster, actor, babysitter, bus boy, and retail clerk. By the time I left high school and headed off to college I had a wealth of work experience. By the time I left college I could add librarian’s assistant, cook, dishwasher, resident assistant, waiter, caterer, and voice over talent to the list.

There is honor in doing a job. There is even greater honor in doing a job well. That was the example of my grandparents, parents, and older siblings. That was the ethic of my Dutch ancestors. I’m grateful for that. This morning I’m thinking about simple virtues like doing a job, and about simple joys like opening up a newspaper with your morning coffee and reading your news “the old fashioned way.”

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