Tribute to Henk Hoitink (1914-2000)

A hundred years ago today, a boy was born in Winterswijk, Gelderland. His parents, Gerrit Jan Hoitink and Willemina Berendina van Nijkerken, had just been married the year before. They named their son Hendrik, after Gerrit Jan’s father, as was the local tradition. Informally, they called him Henk. Henk Hoitink was my grandfather.

Henk in a dress

Henk in a dress

Couple standing in front of a house

Henk’s parents in front of their house.

Henk grew up in the village of Winterswijk, where his father worked for the railroad as a shunter. Winterswijk was an important railroad hub in those days, with multiple stations owned by different railroad companies. From Winterswijk, you could take the train to Zutphen, Arnhem or even Germany. The family lived first at the Berkenstraat but later at the Vredenseweg 97, at the eastern edge of the village. Unusually for that time and place, Henk remained an only child. He went to school O, where he joined the bowling club.

Bowling club at school O

Bowling club at school O. Henk is sitting on the bottom row, second from the right.

 

School O. Henk is the third from the left in the back row.

School O. Henk is the third from the left in the back row.

He met Wilhelmina (Mien) Woordes, a farmer’s daughter from the neighborhood of Woold. Her parents’ farm was just outside the village. It was unusual for a village boy to marry a farmer’s daughter. But Mien had a brother who had a radio store, “Radio Woordes,” which he started at his parents’ farm and then moved into the village. Henk was keenly interested in all things electric and was training to be an electrician. He probably met Mien through her brother.

Henk (second man from the left) at Radio Woordes

Henk (second man from the left) at Radio Woordes

Henk and Mien started dating around 1934. Grandpa told me that that was also the year he got his driver’s license. He told me how he had to go to Groenlo to take his driving exam, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Winterswijk. When he arrived, the examiner asked him how he had got there. “I drove,” replied grandpa. “How did that go?” “Pretty well.” “Good enough for me, here you go,” and the examiner gave him his license.  I did not ask whose car he was driving, as his parents would have been too poor to have one. Perhaps it was his employer’s car.

First, Henk had to serve in the military. He served in a radio company at Camp Zeist. The photos of his service time show they did not just practice fighting, but had some fun too.

Henk in the military

Henk in the military

In 1938, Henk and Mien got engaged. Back then, it was customary to be engaged for a couple of years so they could save some money and the girl could work on her trousseau. Then World War II broke out and disrupted their plans. I’ve been told that Henk went into hiding on Mien’s parents’ farm, so he would not have to go to Germany as a forced laborer.

Engagement picture

Engagement picture

Then, in 1942, tragedy struck. At the railway depot, Henk’s father Gerrit Jan Hoitink was run over by a train, cutting off both his legs. He was taken to the hospital but it was too late. He died the same day.

Henk was now the sole caretaker of his widowed mother, which probably made him exempt from having to work in Germany. He married Mien six months later, as soon as the mourning period was over. Mien moved in with her husband and mother-in-law.

Henk and Mien on the steps of Winterswijk town hall

Henk and Mien on the steps of Winterswijk town hall

In 1944 and 1946, two sons joined the family. Henk worked as an electrician in a textile factory. Cheap cotton from India was flooding the market and the textile industry in Winterswijk was in decline. They decided to try their luck in Almelo, Overijssel, where the Nijverdal Ten Kate textile factory was still going strong. Henk got a job there as an electrician and also joined the corporate fire brigade. He would work there until his retirement in 1979.

Corporate fire brigade at Nijverdal Ten Kate

Corporate fire brigade at Nijverdal Ten Kate

In Almelo, their third son, Dinant, was born in 1955. Unfortunately, it was a complicated birth and Dinant was deprived of oxygen. He was severely mentally handicapped and suffered from epilepsy. His mental faculties never developed beyond the stage of a one-year-old. He was able to walk but not able to talk. When you put a plate in front of him and gave him a spoon, he would mechanically feed himself, but for most other things he was dependent on the care of others.

Taking care of Dinant became the center of my grandparents’ lives. First, they kept Dinant at home but as he got older and the seizures got more severe, they could no longer manage, so Dinant had to live in a mental institution. No suitable facility was available nearby so he had to live in Assen, Drenthe, 90 kilometers (55 miles) away. That must have been devastating for them. I have read a letter by Mien’s mother, saying she would gladly pitch in so they could buy a car to visit Dinant. In time, my grandparents were able to find Dinant a home closer to Almelo, in Enschede.

Dinant Hoitink

Dinant Hoitink

In the meanwhile, their two eldest sons were growing up, leaving the house and raising their own families. In time, three grandchildren were born, of whom I am the eldest. To me, grandpa Hoitink was always “opa Dada” [grandpa bye-bye] since he would always walk up to the window to say bye-bye one last time before he left. One of the earliest memories I have of him is of a bowling party, thrown at his retirement from Nijverdal Ten Kate. I must have been three years old. I bet all the practice that he got at School O came in handy, although I distinctly remember that I won :-)

My grandparents’ house in Almelo had a very large garden which was opa’s pride and joy. The first part was a flower garden, the rest was a vegetable garden. I loved going there in the summer, picking and eating the fresh berries and digging up my own carrots. As I am writing this story, I can still remember how they tasted; they were the best carrots I’ve ever had. Opa was always making jokes with me, ‘stealing’ my nose and then finding it between his fingers (he would insert his thumb so it looked like a nose).

Henk and Mien in their garden

Henk and Mien in their garden, 1997

In 1992, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I had just started doing genealogy and created a book about their ancestors. They were very surprised at how much I was able to find (and to find out they were distant cousins, like most people from Winterswijk!). Researching our family gave me something to talk to my grandparents about when I visited them. I have fond memories of sitting next to opa, going through his photos and writing with a pencil on the back. Some of the captions in this article are the result of that. I also scanned most of the pictures, for which I am very grateful since most of them have since been lost.

Henk going over the family book

Henk going over the family book

Even as they got older, my grandparents would visit Dinant every week: not just to see him but also to do his laundry, buy him new clothes and take him out for drives around the countryside. The 30-kilometer (20 mile) drive from Almelo to Enschede was becoming increasingly difficult for them. They tried to move to a sheltered living accommodation nearby, but were refused. At 80 years old, they were still considered ‘too vital’ for that living arrangement, which amused my grandfather to no end even though he was sorry they couldn’t move. A couple of years later, they did qualify so they moved to Enschede, just a few hundred meters (half a mile) from the institute where Dinant was living.

Dinant died in 2000, as a result of a tragic accident when his epilepsy monitor failed. Grandpa and grandma told me they were sad but relieved too, as they had worried what would happen to him after they were gone. I had promised to keep watching out for him and they were very grateful for that, but we all knew that nobody could take care of him like his own parents. Opa did not long outlive Dinant and passed away later that year, after a fall from his bike. He broke his hip and needed surgery to replace it. The surgery was a great success and he was walking and able to go home the next week. But the morning after he got home, my grandmother found him in the bathroom. He had died.

Grandpa and grandma are buried in a joint grave at the cemetery in Winterswijk. They opted out of the plot that was waiting for them, in a row with grandma’s parents and siblings, so they could lie next to Dinant. Here they rest side by side.

Graves of Henk and Mien Hoitink and their son Dinant

Graves of Henk and Mien Hoitink and their son Dinant

I am so grateful that my genealogy hobby allowed me to spend time with my grandfather as I would never have done otherwise. He was a joy to be with, always kind to everybody he met and willing to lend a helping hand. His sense of humor made him see the upside of things. I am just sorry that he never got to meet his great-grandson. I would love to hear him say “da-da” one more time.

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for 20 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

Comments

  1. What a great tribute to your grandfather! So nice to read a little more about every day life over there as well!

  2. Dave Simmer says:

    Beautiful tribute and story. I must also say “well written”

  3. Sally Petro says:

    What a great relationship you had with your Grandfather! You gave those of us who do not live in the Netherlands a small glimpse into the lives of your ancestors. Very nice tribute!

  4. Kurt Kooyer says:

    A great tribute, Yvette! Grandparents are special and a precious resource, indeed. You reminded me of the fondness my own Grandpa Hoekstra had for stealing MY nose. In fact, you could count on having your nose stolen when grandpa came to visit– and it would hurt sometimes! Which I suppose was to add to the realism. A couple of comments: 1. You look like your Grandmother Hoitink!, 2. Your grandpa bowled in wooden shoes!, 3. I wonder if being a shunter in the railroad yard was a particularly hazardous occupation. Your great grandfather would have been used to the train traffic and well-aware of the dangers. Perhaps the noise, commotion and proximity to the trains created a special hazard to getting knocked down– or maybe his accident occurred as a result of a slip between the cars as he was hitching a ride. Tragic. 4. My final comment regards Sweet Dinant. How many families are faced with the prospect of lovingly caring for a handicapped child, confronted with the reality that if they outlive their child, no one else, and certainly no institution, could substitute. The smile on his face showed his happiness and your grandparents devotion showed the depth of their love– surely a story of triumph over tragedy. Thank you for sharing all of it!

    • Hi Kurt,
      1: I’ve heard that before! Apparently, I even sound like her :-)
      2: Of course! They didn’t have anything else. When my mother came to live in Winterswijk as a six-year-old, she was the only one in her class not to wear wooden shoes and they kept calling her ‘city girl.’
      3: I’m sure it was a very dangerous occupation. Since the accident took place in WWII, I also wondered if it may have been something else (the underground forces often took out people that sympathized with the Germans and vice versa) but the police report was very clear.
      4: You’re welcome!

  5. Henk Hoitink jr. says:

    Hi Yvette. I got the tribute link from Cecile. Thank you, nice story!

    Some corrections and additions.
    The story about the drivers license is correct, however the person was not my father but his bother-in-law Gerrit (Radio Woordes). My father got his driver license in the early seventies.
    I was born in grandmothers house. We moved to Almelo, I think around 1948. The textile factory Nijverdal-Ten Cate (correction) was a large spinning- and weaving mill, in the seventies as far I remember with around 6000 employees in Almelo. I own still the bellows for the steam engine of the old electrical private power plant of Ten Cate (build in 1890) which was saved by my father from destruction.

    In 1953 we moved to a new apartment in Almelo. Indeed with the birth of Dinant 1955 our lives changed dramatically. Dinant could never be left alone. But after a few years this apartment was unsuitable for Dinant. We moved to a bigger house with a garden in the same street. On the ground floor was an extra room for Dinant. He liked to play in the garden.
    My grandma moved in a few years after the birth of Dinant in order to support my mother in the household and the care for Dinant. Sadly she died after a short illness in 1961 at the age of 70 years.

    ‘The house with the large garden’ is not the house what I mentioned here before. Around 1974 my parents moved to a nicer house at another part of the city.
    After some years they start to search for accommodation close to Dinant’s home in Enschede what you describe.

    From ancient times to the WW2 have I some objects of the farmers house at the badweg in Winterswijk. The ceramic waterfilter and copper extinguisher.
    During the war the Germans confiscate a lot of things and metals. These objects were hidden in the haystack. After the war the extinguisher came out black and green. No one from the family wanted to clean it, my father did the job. The extinguisher is shiny still!

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