Tag Archives: Vander Well

R.I.P. Tom Vanderwell

I’m sure that for individuals with names like “John Smith” or “Mary Miller” the idea of another person sharing your name is akin to the reality that another person shares the same zip code. However, when you grow up in America with the name “Tom Vander Well” you feel a certain sense of individuality. It is not a common name. It was easy for me, as a kid, to believe that I was the only one.

Then came the internet.

I first became aware of “the other Tom Vander Well” because we were both posting to the internet on professional blogs. He was a mortgage banker in Michigan. I was a QA and CSAT specialist in Iowa. People started to get us confused. I received emails meant for him, and he for me. The same happened with phone calls and snail mail. We eventually reached out to each other and struck up a dialogue, which led to us meeting for a cup of coffee back in 2011 while Wendy and I were visiting friends in Michigan. While we were sharing that cup o’ Joe a friend of his came into the coffee shop and stopped to chat. It was hilarious when he introduced us. His friend became very confused as Tom and I enjoyed the moment. I’ll enjoy that forever.

My great-grandfather came to America from the Netherlands in the late 1800s and “Americanized” our surname “van der Wel” as “Vander Well.” Tom’s Dutch ancestors settled in Michigan a few decades later and Americanized the same surname as “Vanderwell” without a space between the “Vander” and the “Well.” A genealogist in the Netherlands wrote to me out of the blue years ago and identified our common ancestor back in the 1700s. Tom and I really were distant cousins.

As we casually corresponded with one another, we discovered that we shared a lot in common. We were the same age. We were both followers of Jesus. We both graduated from small, Christian liberal arts colleges. We both shared a passion for our faith and our family in the midst of our vocations.

Several years ago, I learned that Tom was experiencing significant health problems. We had a couple of long phone conversations, and Tom continued to share his heart with me in online messages.

This past week I learned that my cousin and “name doppleganger” ended his earthly journey and crossed over to eternity. I’m ecstatic for him, knowing that he’s been freed from the illness, suffering, and constraints of his earthly body. At the same time, I’m saddened for his family whom he loved so deeply and who will acutely feel the loss of his presence moving forward.

Rest-in-peace Tom Vanderwell. I know, by faith, that you are better right now than you have ever been. I beg Tom’s family to accept my sincere condolences as I can only imagine the grief that they are experiencing. I look forward to connecting with him again in eternity.

For any of my family and friends who hear news of the death of Tom Vanderwell, this may be my only opportunity in this life to share Mark Twain’s sentinment that the “news of my death has been greatly exaggerated.”

I can hear Tom Vanderwell chuckling in heaven.

Epic Wisdom

Epic Wisdom (CaD Ps 78) Wayfarer

I will open my mouth with a parable;
    I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
    things our ancestors have told us.

Psalm 78:2-3 (NIV)

My grandparent’s home in Le Mars, Iowa, was a humble little house with three small bedrooms and one bath. I grew up spending weekends there every few months, and as I got older I had opportunities to spend even more time there. It’s hard to believe it now, but when I was only about ten years old my parents would buy me a bus ticket and put me on the Greyhound bus bound for Le Mars where I would spend my spring break. Mom would tell me to sit right behind the driver so he could keep an eye on me. Wow. How times have changed.

The “west room” at Grandpa and Grandma Vander Well’s house was mostly a storage room that doubled as a guest bed when necessary. The small four-poster double bed, complete with a feather mattress, was from their wedding set and it took most of the room. One entire wall was covered, floor-to-ceiling, with shelves on which my grandparents stored the remnants of their lives. I spent hours in that bedroom exploring all of the strange, old things on those shelves and letting my imagination run free.

I have always had a thing for history. I don’t know why. It presented itself in me when I was very young. I was fascinated by the old stuff that had to be explained to me.

“Hey, Grandpa. What’s this? What does this thing do?”

As I grew, my curiosity led me to explore family history. What was fascinating was what meager little scraps of information were spoken. I have come to believe that there are multiple reasons for this. My grandparents grew up in a time when families tended to bury the family stories that they found shameful. Every family is messy, but my grandparents’ generation was particularly closed when it came to talking about such things. They were also the depression generation. Genealogy and family history are luxuries people could ill-afford when they were desperately trying to survive day-to-day and raise a family. Much of what I eventually learned about both my maternal and paternal families came late in my grandparents’ lives, or after their deaths.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 78, is an epic song in the traditional sense of the word. If you’ve actually been reading the Psalms on this chapter-a-day journey you know that they’re typically quick reads. Much like most of today’s popular music, three verses and a bridge is typically all you get. But then, every once in a while, a song stands out because it is epic. Psalm 78 is a musical epic that was written to teach children and grandchildren the story of their people. Reading was still very rare in the days when Asaph wrote the song, and most of what people learned was through oral history. Stories told by family elders around the fire at night or songs, like today’s chapter, that were sung during seasonal festivals.

Psalm 78 mostly recounts the story of the Hebrew people’s exodus out of slavery in Egypt, the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and the covenant relationship between God and the Hebrew people. Asaph, one of David’s temple choir directors, ends the poem alluding to the civil war between the Hebrew tribes, the fall of the northern tribes to the Assyrians, and God’s blessing of David and the southern kingdom of Judah.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating my love of history on both a large scale as well as the more intimate history of both my paternal and maternal families. I have come to realize that most people don’t care for such things, but it’s through the warts-and-all history of both family and humanity that Wisdom has taught me so much. The shame of my grandparents’ generation led them to keep the past hidden like the little remnants of their lives stuffed on the guest room shelves. I observe the shame of the emerging generation leading to the tearing down of history. I watch history being burned and buried. I imagine both of these extreme approaches to the past have existed throughout the Great Story. They wax and wane with the times.

Nevertheless, my soul aches in both cases. Asaph states quite clearly in Psalm 78 that he wants future generations to learn from the Hebrew past. As I read the chapter, I find that he wrote the epic complete with recollections of the glories and tragedies, the failures and successes, and both victories and defeats. I have met Wisdom in every one of those stories. She is present in every instance. Through each, she helps me see my current stretch of life’s road with more clarity and perspective.

I pray that I pass a little of that Wisdom along, one blog post at a time.

What Goes Around Comes Around

My parents bought this property at the lake back in 1998. It looked a lot different then. The lawn was cluttered with trees. There was a single-wide 1972 trailer home with three tiny bedrooms, dark wood paneling, orange shag carpet, and a metal roof that was deafening when it rained. Each summer we made regular pilgrimages and made eternal memories with grandpa and grandma and each other.

There’s always a deep sense of joy I experience when the folks come back to the lake. It’s a reciprocal thing. They shared this place with me and my family, and now we get to give it back to them for their en-joy-ment. And, it is a joy.

My sister and her kids spent last week at the lake with our parents. My brother Tim and his girlfriend joined them this past weekend. Wendy and I arrived Sunday evening. We spent a couple of nights with Jody and the folks before they departed on Tuesday morning. It was a fun couple of days together sipping coffee on the deck, grabbing breakfast at the local greasy spoon, sitting on the dock, chatting, and going for an evening boat ride.

Dean Vander Well Turns 80!

We had a lot of fun yesterday as my siblings gathered to host an open house for our dad who celebrates his 80th birthday this coming Tuesday. Dad’s brother, Bud, traveled to Des Moines with his entire brood. Friends past and present joined us in the community room at the folk’s apartment to enjoy a bite of cake and share in celebrating our dad. Thanks to everyone for coming out and making it a special day.

When the open house was over the family headed to Noah’s Ark Restaurant, an old family favorite, to share some time together. Happy Birthday, Deano.


Christmas 2015

Wendy and I have been excited to celebrate Christmas for the first time here on Utrecht Laan. Wendy got to work early getting Christmas decorations up this year, which inspired a desire for changes and additions next year. Let the after-Christmas sale shopping begin!!

Having said that, Christmas itself was a reminder of the transitional phase of life we are in. Suzanna has been home working on Christmas break, but she headed to Ankeny on Christmas Eve day to spend the weekend with Mom and Dad Hall. So we opened gifts with her before she left.

Wendy is so cute to individually wrap all of the various knick-knacks in the girls’ stockings. She is right that it feels a little bit more like Christmas gifts when you have to unwrap the roll of Scotch tape, but the girls all seem to love it. Suzanna decided to identify each item before unwrapping it like the Carnac the Magnificent (here’s a video for those of you too young to know who that is). I think she batted a thousand.

That left the house relatively empty for Christmas Eve as Taylor was in Des Moines with family. So, Wendy and I attended the 4:30 pm. Christmas Eve service at Third. It was a really nice service. I don’t think I made it through a Christmas carol without tearing up. It is said that Jesus “takes away your heart of stone, and gives you a heart of flesh.” The older I get, the softer and softer I find my heart becoming. As I stood there during O Holy Night with tears streaming down my cheeks unable to get the words out, I thought to myself that if this keeps up, by 65 you’ll be able to find me simply by looking for the perpetually blubbering old guy in the corner of the room! We ran into Cyndi and Megan in Fellowship Hall after the service and got to chat with them for a bit.

Knowing that we were going to be home alone on Christmas Eve, Wendy and I planned a special meal just the two of us. We have a recipe for Filet Mignon in a red wine sauce that we pull out for special occasions. I took care of the steak and Wendy maee her sweet potatoes. We opened our very last bottle of 2009 Warburn Estates Barossa Shiraz, an Australian favorite of ours that is no longer available in the States. It was a wonderful meal.

I pulled the guitar out after dinner. I haven’t played in a long time, and serenaded Wendy as we relaxed. Taylor arrived home later in the evening and we received a visit from her friend, Andrew, who is home from California. The four of us enjoyed a drink in the pub downstairs before the two of them headed off to midnight mass.

Madison is flying over the holidays. She had to arrange her schedule as a flight attendant so that she could be off most of the first half of December to study for, and finish, her finals. That left her putting in a lot of hours over the holidays.

Thus, it was just Wendy, Taylor, and me on Christmas morning. Wendy made her traditional Christmas breakfast. We had French Toast this year made with her homemade bread along with eggs, bacon, sausage and the typical fare. Delicious and delightful as always. There had been just a dusting of snow on Christmas Eve so as to make the landscape outside the dining room windows frosty. We stoked the fireplace and enjoyed ourselves.

We opened gifts after breakfast. Madison joined us by FaceTime and we got to watch her unwrap the AA batteries in her stocking before she headed out to take care of passengers in the friendly skies.

While the girls cleaned up I took one of Wendy’s Dutch Letter Cheesecakes over to the church. Our church does a big community meal for anyone and everyone every Christmas and Wendy donated one of her cheesecakes. When I took it in and revealed it to the volunteers in the kitchen you should have heard the “oooohs” and “aaahs.” It was really sweet.

We cleaned up and headed to Des Moines around noon. My parents moved into a retirement community earlier this year. They live independently, but the facility provides them with great community, a meal day, and proximity to the help they need when they need it. Dad’s chemo has done its job, keeping Multiple Myeloma at bay. The treatment is on-going, however, and takes its toll on dad’s body in other ways. We’re still very thankful that he’s doing so well. Mom’s Alzheimer’s is still in the early stages and continues to progress (she hadn’t forgotten how to beat us all at cards!).

Dad reserved the community room in their building for the afternoon on Christmas Day. Everyone brought goodies to share, though it was a rather small gathering this year. My brother Tim and his girlfriend, Kumi, were up from Texas. Jody and Emma joined us from the Keithley clan along with Wendy, Taylor and me. It was a quiet afternoon. We ate, chatted, and exchanged gifts before settling in for playing a few card games together. The three of us headed back to Pella around 6:00.

Christmas with the Vander Hart clan was at our house this year. It took place on Sunday afternoon. Wendy, Taylor and I went to the 11:00 service at church. Wendy was mobbed by multiple people telling her that her Dutch Letter Cheesecake had been a huge hit at Christmas dinner. She was thrilled. After church we high-tailed it back to the house in time for the VH brood to arrive. They were, as usual, almost all early.  More and more goodies (ugh! Sugar overdose!) and conversation flowed. We were so excited to see Becky, Court, and our darling little niece, Lydia. It had been way too long.

Christmas 2015 - 36 Christmas 2015 - 37

On Wednesday night we headed to Ankeny to celebrate Christmas with the Hall clan. Luke’s fiancé, Brooke, joined us for Christmas for the first time. It was a fairly small gathering, however. Beck, Court, and Lydia were there with us and Lydia was the center of attention (though I’m not sure she was thrilled with all the attention!). We had lasagna and soup along with the requisite spritz cookies for dessert. We opened gifts after supper and then enjoyed spirited conversation about the presidential race along with the family enjoying reminiscing about their memories of living in Albia and Norwalk.

TBT: Grandma’s Photography

Vander Well family in front of Grandpa (Herman) and Grandma (Everdina) Vander Well's house in LeMars, IA. Photo processed June 1974
Vander Well family in front of Grandpa and Grandma Vander Well’s house in LeMars, IA. Photo processed June 1974

I’ve been slowly taking up the task of scanning my family’s archive of old photos. I came across this little gem from 1974 of my family standing in front of my grandparents’ house. There were two things that this photo brought to mind:

  1. Grandma insisting we must take a family photo before we would be allowed to leave for home (notice our shared excitement).
  2. Grandma, bless her, couldn’t frame a photo to save her life.

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.

Throw Back Thursday: This One’s for Mom

Jeanne Hendrickson Vander WellMy dad was fishing the boundary waters of Minnesota with his brother this week, so yesterday I had the joy of taking mom out on a lunch date. We had a bite of Mexican and then she took me over to show me the apartment at Woodlands Creek they will be moving into in the coming weeks. So, for Throw Back Thursday, I thought I’d post a photo of the beautiful and lovely Jeanne Hendrickson Vander Well in younger days.

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.