This morning October 5,
2001 our father just quietly passed away. On Thursday in a gentle spirit
and quiet parch whisper he cried out to God. Friday morning Dad's prayers
He did not want to die
right now, but as usual; he prepared himself, his family, and his friends for
what had to be.
A man of action, he never sat still. He had a calm, strong, confidence in God, which left the speculation to the theologians. His faith moved him to action and wonderment. He served while others argued. He worked, built, and planned while others jockeyed for position and title. He did not care who got the credit. When he saw a need, he wanted to get the job done; and in many cases just took care of it himself. Tirelessly he pressed on and caused others to do so also. Dad was a very patriotic man.
Dad immigrated to the
United States of America because unlike his war torn homeland, the U.S.
represented opportunities and freedom. A strongly patriotic man, he always
believed that this is the land where you can be whatever it is that you wish to
be. It was hard for him to understand those who were here who did not see
this country for it’s greatness.
Growing up in a Nazi
occupied and war ravished Holland deeply impacted dad in ways I still do not
understand. He wondered how both sides could worship the same God.
Although these thoughts troubled him, he simply trusted that God had it all
Geert’s older brother
served in the Dutch Underground Resistance Forces and was hunted by Nazi's and
"Country men" alike, eventually he was captured and died. His
father also died as an indirect result of that war. These men and their
beliefs greatly influenced the man we call Dad. Dad is undoubtedly
enjoying their company right now,
Geert DeGraaf was born
December 3, 1931 in a small town in a very rural part of the Netherlands called
Oosterzee. “Zee?in Dutch, the language of the Netherlands, means lake
or bay. Geert lived in a small town on a lake. This town happened to
be a farming community.
The Netherlands is
predominantly land reclaimed from the Ocean. The Water has been pushed
back and held at bay through the use of dikes. The land is criss-crossed
with canals and other waterways.
For Geert, though it was
more than a lakeside farming community, it was a very closely knit, warm,
caring, predominantly Christian community. In the Netherlands, the basic
religions are, Christian Reformed (an outgrowth of Lutheranism ?the first
protestant religion), Reformed, and Catholicism, as well as those who do not
subscribe to a specific belief in a God. Most people in this community
were Christian Reformed.
Religion played a
singularly important role in Geert’s upbringing. He stated that, “most
of the community went to one church.?nbsp; “I went to Christian school.
I went to Bible study, and I went to Catechism. I went to clubs in the
church. My parents were Christian, and you can define that any way you
want to, but they were very morally straight and so was the whole family and so
was most of the community.?nbsp;
Geert was the youngest of
five children. He had three sisters and one brother. His mother was
a housewife and his father, Hendrik, became a barber. His father had a
great influence in shaping the man Geert became.
His father had a great
entrepreneurial spirit and after attempting many different ways of making a
living for his family, he decided to become the town barber. The town
already had a butcher, baker, banker, blacksmith, grocer, as well as businessmen
who catered to the needs of the community. They did not have a barber.
Hendrik started his business in the family living room, offering haircuts and
shaves on Saturday until his business grew into a full-time occupation. At
that point, a neighbor, who happened to be a contractor, offered to build
Hendrik a home with a barbershop underneath, so that he could expand his
business. The neighbor built, and then rented the house to the DeGraafs
and the business expanded. Geert worked with his dad on Saturdays, which
were traditionally the busiest day of the week, as farmers and businessmen came
in to prepare for Sunday. As the clients would come in, Geert would lather
them up, Hendrik would shave them, then Geert would clean them up and apply the
aftershave. It was only a small part of his contribution toward the family
chores. He describes his family as very fun and loving, but very strict.
Everyone was expected to pull his or her own weight. Geert feels very
strongly that his dad's work ethic contributed greatly to his own work ethic.
The other strong
contributor in his early years was the fact that his parents were always leaders
in the community and in the church. His parents believed that only through
a high level of involvement would the community ever survive. You get out
of life what you put into it.
It was on this foundation
that Geert’s life was built. His experience of being born into a family,
as well as a community, that revered God, supported moral ethical values, and
encouraged one another, shaped him. This became pivotal as Geert grew into
a young adolescent. Geert was nine at the onset of World War II (WWII).
Geert’s brother, Foppe
was the oldest child. When the Germans invaded The Netherlands, Foppe did
not report for duty, as he should have. Geert experienced middle of the
night awakenings, facing a loaded rifle, aimed by German soldiers seeking his
brother. What must be noted here, is that his whole family was involved in
doing what they thought was the right thing. The resistance forces were
comprised of those individuals who disagreed with Hitler’s platform and
refused to join the German effort at winning WWII. Part of their efforts
were aimed at keeping other young men out of the hands of the Germans; part of
their effort was aimed at hiding and moving Jews and other “undesireables?
out of the country; and, of course, part of their effort was geared toward
causing the German forces as much trouble as was humanly possible.
As a family they harbored
other couples and families who were in hiding. They filtered through their
home rifles and other supplies smuggled from England on planes that landed at
night on the lake. Geert was rarely privy to any details, including his
brother’s whereabouts, in order to protect him.
Foppe died at the very end
of the war. He and his comrades were captured. His comrades were
executed, but because he was sick and contagious, the German soldiers simply
left him to die. Geert’s father also died as a indirect result of that war.
The war left the
Netherlands devastated and in a position of having to rebuild with minimal
resources. At that time, Geert was a young man looking toward his future.
He had a very bad case of eczema that would disappear in the summer but would
torment him in the winter, often putting him in the hospital. He needed a
different climate. He knew he wanted to move to the United States; it was
the land of opportunity. However, that decision was temporarily postponed.
Geert described it this way: “I was going to go already when I was
seventeen, but the Korean War was going at that time. I would have been
arriving here and thrown into the service and shipped off to Korea most likely.
I did not want to come to California just to get killed in Korea. So then
I stayed in Holland.?nbsp;
For a while Geert tried
trade school, however, the Netherlands has long cold winters, and working as a
contractor’s apprentice in the winter was cold, dirty work. He noticed
an inspector who never had to work in the cold, drove a nice heated car, and
generally had an “easy?life. He realized that the only difference
between that inspector and him was an education. He had however, opted for
trade school not college. He knew he did not want to continue doing what
he was doing, so he stopped, and was drafted and ended up in the Dutch Service.
He opted for a college service contract and served his contract out.
Geert’s contract consisted of an agreement that included approximately three
years of education and the same number of years served in the Army utilizing
that education. That is also where he learned to speak English.
While in the military, he met his wife. His one main criterion before
marrying her was to be sure that she too would be willing to move to the United
State she was willing, so they married. They had what he called a
“weekend?marriage. He only saw her on weekends, and because of the
acute housing shortages, she lived either with her parents or with his mother.
One month after he left the service he and his wife were flying to California.
All the papers were already in place.
He arrived in California in
1957, with a young wife, a one-year-old son, and another child on the way.
He had $30.00 in his pocket and no savings. Temporarily, they lived with
his sister and her husband in Southern California. He found a job at
Stanford University and started his life in the United States. He followed
the path established by his father. He created a strong Christian basis
for his family life, worked hard to provide for them, and involved himself in
the community in ways that positively affected his personal life.
Geert’s third child was
born with Down’s Syndrome. At that time it was common practice to
institutionalize such children. The doctors did not bring the baby from
the nursery because they did not want the parents to bond with her.
Geert's words poignantly describe his feelings at the time. “You always
expect a child to be born healthy and normal. Then you are faced with the
fact that she is not a normal child. Here again from a Christian point of view
you look at it and say, well that’s the way it is. The doctors wanted to
take her away and put her into an institution. The nurses would not even
bring her to Mom. They did not want there to be any bonding. Then we
got together, Mom and I, well we just decided to get the baby and get out of
there. Just get out of the hospital. So we walked right out of
the hospital. We just took the baby and said, ‘time to go home??nbsp;
Together Geert and his wife
worked to establish a school for special children (CAR, Palo Alto Ca.).
Together they fought for services, and together they raised their daughter, and
her four siblings. They also worked together in church, Scouting, and
anywhere else they saw a need. Geert says that the reason they did this
was “to give back.?nbsp;
January 8th 1999 Geert was
diagnosed with Bronchoalveolar Adenocarcinoma (a very fast acting lung cancer).
He was told he had 3 weeks to live. 2?years later, he died. During
those 2?years, Geert was busy, as usual; he prepared himself, his family, and
his friends for what had to be.
Geert is survived in the USA by his wife, Barendina (Dix) DeGraaf, his sister Griet (Grace) Nydam, his children Peter and his wife Karen, Thea (Rudesal) and her husband Arthur, Jeanette, Henk and his wife Ana, and Anita (Jackson) and her husband David. He is also survived by 13 Grandchildren. In The Netherlands, he is survived by his sister Eda Bischop and her husband Tjitse. And many many friends.
Written by Thea DeGraaf - Compiled on Oct. 6, 2001
Updated January 23, 2004