Wednesday, November 16, 2011

your Dutch uncle

When our “baby girl” (who just turned 32) went off to college, she attended Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Although she ultimately moved back to the Chicago area, and graduated from Loyola University, her years in Michigan gave us a chance to experience some of the charms of central Michigan, among them Saugatuck (close to the home of Tabor Hill Winery), and a delightful little town called Holland.

In 2006, Money magazine named Holland as one of the top five places to retire in the United States. Although Sharon and I briefly considered the city as our retirement home, we eventually focused on the #1 and #2 cities on the list, which were Walla Walla, Washington and Prescott, Arizona. We nearly moved to Prescott, but settled instead on nearby Flagstaff because of Kelly’s decision to pursue her advanced degree at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff.

Holland, Michigan was first settled in 1847 by Dutch Calvinist separatists, who moved there from their native Holland to avoid religious persecution in their native Holland. It was incorporated as a city in March of 1867, but nearly burned to the ground on the same day as the fires in Chicago, Illinois and Peshtigo,Wisconsin.

Even today, Holland is a fairly small city, roughly 33,000 people, but it has 170 churches, so it’s not hard to guess where most of the city is going to be on a Sunday morning.

Although the Netherlands today is a fairly small country (about 16,000,000 people, not much larger than the State of Illinois) it was at one time a major colonial power. The first Dutch trading expedition to the Far East was in 1595, and the empire gradually spread around the world. As recently as 2010, the Netherlands Antilles were considered part of the Dutch Empire, but today only Aruba and a few other small islands still have a connection to “the homeland”.

The “homeland”, by the way, would have been a lot smaller if it weren’t for the actions of a man named Arie Evegroen, who used his grain barge in 1953 to plug a major dike break, much as the fictional Hans Brinker did over 100 years ago.

Due to the size of the Dutch empire, it’s not hard to find reminders of Dutch culture throughout the world, as well as numerous places in the United States. If you live in the Chicago area, Holland (Michigan) is roughly a three hour drive from “the Loop”, so it makes for a nice place to go for a weekend away from “the city”, especially if you make a stop along the way in Saugatuck.

Now that we live in Arizona, it’s a trip that’s no longer practical for us, but nearly every state in America (including Arizona) has a location or two that can provide a sample of what “your Dutch uncle” enjoys back in the Netherlands.

Hebben een goede dag

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