Happy Independence Day
Watch for more immigration stories, participate in survey about what makes America great
By Emma Palova
Lowell, MI- In the beginning, leaving your homeland is like leaving a part of you behind; not to mention friends and family.
Owners of Arctic Heating & Cooling Catharine “Kitty” and Evert Bek left the Netherlands in 1977 to pursue their dream in the USA. However, their parents Anna and Gerard Sr. Schuivens left first for Grand Rapids and ended up in Lowell.
Catharina and Evert visited them in 1976 and fell in love with the USA.
“When we came to visit, we loved the openness, the opportunities of having your own business, the freedom and the acreage,” said Catharina.
The Beks lived close to Rotterdam, a big harbor city, in the Netherlands. Much like the rest of Europe, everything was crowded, tight and overpopulated.
For the first two years, the Beks lived in Kentwood and in Wyoming.
“We wanted some property and found five acres on 36th Street,” Catharina said. “We moved to a different house in Lowell in 1997.”
One of the biggest challenges of immigration is learning the language. Any immigrant can attest to that including Catharina.
At the time, Lowell Middle School was offering English classes.
“I also learned English from shopping and TV,” she said. “Evert had no problems; he learned English at work. He has always worked in the heating and cooling industry.”
Another challenge was finding a job.
Pictured above are Dutch treats: Dutch Rusks, oliebollen fritters. The wooden shoes are now used as decorations.
“I worked in an office since 16,” she said, “and I went to trade school.”
Here, she worked for an insurance company in Grand Rapids.
But, it was friends who got them through the first tough years.
“It’s hard to leave your friends, but we still have friends in the Netherlands,” Catharina said.
It took three to four years to adjust to the new life in America.
“Friends helped us settle best of all,” she said. “This is home for me now.”
Catharina said she managed to combine the good parts from the old country with the good parts from the new world.
However, everything became easier when daughter Kim was born in 1983 at the Metropolitan Hospital in Grand Rapids. Kim went through the entire Lowell Area Schools system.
“I met new people at the school,” Catharina said.
And then finally, the couple’s dream came true when they started their own business, Arctic Heating & Cooling in 1983 in Lowell.
Pictured above: licorice, Dutch pancakes and St. Nick.
Catharina works at the business as a bookkeeper.
“Having our own business and owning a home, was one of our many dreams,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder how we would end up if we hadn’t left the Netherlands.”
There are no regrets about immigration for either Catharina or Evert.
“I wouldn’t go back,” she said. “Evert feels the same way. “I love it here. We met good people and made great friends.”
They speak Dutch at home including their American-born daughter and grandson.
As far as traditions go, the Beks celebrate St. Nick on Dec. 5th.
Kitty cooks Dutch dishes like meat, potatoes and vegetables, pea soup and Dutch pancakes.
She goes shopping for spices for meatballs to VanderVeen’s Dutch store on 28th street.
“You have to have windmill cookies with coffee or tea,” she said.
A typical Dutch tradition for breakfast is a slice of white bread with chocolate sprinkles.
Other Dutch specialties include Gouda cheese, a Dutch Rusk with pink or blue sprinkles when a baby is born.
“Dutch people love licorice in all shapes and forms,” Catharina said.
On New Year’s Eve, she makes oliebollen. They are fat balls or fritters, deep fried with raisins and served with powdered sugar. A typical beer is Heineken and egg nog liquor Advocaat.
They became naturalized after five years.
On the theme of the recent immigration crisis, Catharina said she doesn’t agree with separation of families.
“I don’t agree with mothers being separated from kids,” she said.
Over the years, the Beks have built up their business with repeat customers.
“We’ve been lucky,” she said. “I feel that I do fit in and that I am a part of Lowell.”
Catharina also works part-time at the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.
Both Catharina and Evert are known for their community involvement.
Copyright (c) 2018. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.