30 juni 1940 – 27 juni 2022
Doer, Helper, Nature Lover
When my mother called me to say that Dad had suffered a stroke, I could hardly believe it. My father would at least live to be a hundred, I had always been convinced of that. So strong and vital, so much life energy, so much entrepreneurial spirit, that was hard to beat! But life thought otherwise.
Over the past few days, we’ve been reminiscing together – with my mother, my brother Arnout and my husband Steven – and from that, I have tried to characterize Mannes in several different roles.
Mannes the Doer
First, there was Mannes the Doer. Let me start with a characteristic anecdote from my own life. I still remember the time when we just bought our first house. I had a baby on my arm and a toddler on my hand, and we were overwhelmed with all the jobs that had to be done.
And there my father arrived at eight o’clock in the morning. He put on his work clothes, picked up the paint roller, climbed some stairs, started at the top left at the ceiling, and worked quietly, stroke by stroke, around the room until he arrived at the bottom right four hours later. Mind you: without taking a single break!
He then ate a stack of sandwiches he had brought and drank two cups of coffee while we chatted. An hour later, he stepped again on the steps where he had started in the morning – where the paint had dried – and painted around the room once more. At the end of the day, the whole room was whitewashed, without a moment of stress or nagging. That was Mannes the Doer.
Papa was born and raised in a farming family in Beerze. He was born at a time when horses were still plowing and sleeping in box beds. You did him no greater pleasure than to ask him how the farm used to be. He could talk about it endlessly. And he also said that he had learned to deal with it there. Do not rush, because then you burn out, but calmly and persistently at the same time. That was a great lesson for us – children from different times.
Incidentally, ‘doing’ sometimes also includes ‘not doing’, just waiting, and Mannes could do that too. For example, a very nice girl regularly visited that farm, a friend of Mannes’ younger sister Diny. But this cute girl was six years younger and still a little too young for a boyfriend. But Mannes saw her and thought to himself, “She’s for me. I will wait!’. And he did. The rest is history.
By the way, it had become clear to Mannes that succeeding his father on the farm might not have been his way after all. But his work did not get that far from tackling the farm: initially at the Betuwse Tuinbouw Coöperatie in Nederhemert and later at the municipality of Zwolle, where he was manager of the employees of the green areas. In the meantime, he also attended the evening athenaeum. Talk about tackling!
But even outside his work, Mannes remained someone who wanted to do all kinds of things. At a time when a holiday in Germany was already a big deal, he thought it would be nice to go to the south of France with his family. And when windsurfing was just getting started, Mannes immediately bought the family a sailboard. To ski? Yes, he thought that would be fun too, so in February we were suddenly in a caravan between the meters high snow drinking our cup of chocolate milk, tired but very satisfied about another day on the slopes. And traveling with a camper through Greece, Morocco, and Turkey, which seemed like something to him later on. My parents have traveled around endlessly with their motorhome, and they have had so much fun with it.
During our summer holidays in France, he usually sneaked out of the caravan at six in the morning and went for a long walk. Then he would come home at nine o’clock in the morning with the baguette under his arm. When we crawled out of the caravan for our breakfast, he had already had quite an adventure.
And then, of course, later in life came the great walking tours. At the age of sixty-eight, he made his first long walk of about 2,700 kilometers, from his front door in Epe, to Santiago de Compostela. Small detail: he did that in 73 days, with an average speed of 37 kilometers per day. At night he camped in his tent, in a pilgrim’s inn, but also in a haystack or just at the edge of the road or in the woods. And very often he was invited to people’s homes.
The journey to Santiago was such a poignant experience that he made two more pilgrimages to Santiago. One from Seville in southern Spain through the scorching interior, and one from Saint Pied de Port in the Pyrenees – via the ancient Camino del Norte along the Atlantic coast.
At a certain point, the long-distance walks were done – his knees hurt too much – but with his walking buddies in Epe he still made many kilometers until the very last.
Even when his grandchildren Hebe and Leander came to stay for the weekend – and they did so often and with great pleasure – he always enjoyed doing something with them: going to harvest potatoes in the garden together, cycling to the deer park, or just take a walk in the woods nearby. Our kids have always enjoyed the sleepovers with Grandma and Grandpa – because there was always something going on.
In addition to Mannes de Doener, there was also…
Mannes the Helper
In the Nijboer family in Beerze, service, and charity were self-evident concepts. During the war, for example, there were people hiding on the farm. His involvement in the resistance cost his uncle, who also lived on the farm, his life just before the liberation. He was carried into the farm on a ladder. That was something our father referred to on several occasions, it had made such an impression on his young five-year life.
My father was also a real helper later on. Did you have to trim a hedge, muck out a barn, paint a church or bring a batch of relief supplies to Romania? My father was there.
He did this on the one hand because he liked social contact. Our father was very careful and faithful in his friendships. He was a good listener, and many people told him their entire life stories. Many of his friendships date back to his very early years, even primary school. People who met our parents on vacations became good friends, and they continued to visit each other.
He also enjoyed the company of the tennis club, the choirs in which he sang, the walking club, the church, the food garden, and much more. Then when someone had a job to do, he was at the front to render his services.
But Mannes the Helper also had a very idealistic side. Even before they got married, he and my mother made plans to go abroad, to do development work. But then the children were born, he got a job in Nederhemert, and other things became more important. That’s how things go. But what my father once had in his head didn’t just go out. After his retirement, both my parents left for Ghana, where they committed themselves to a development project. There they rode together on the motorbike, with my mother on the back, along the various villages in the desert. And recently he said to my mother – when they were talking about the war in Ukraine – ‘I would like to go there after that war, to help rebuild that country.
Mannes the Nature Lover
And then there was Mannes the Nature Man. Dad could enjoy nature! From an early age, we were taken into nature as children. I still remember well that he took us to the Rode Kolk, a beautiful piece of nature on the Vecht near his parental home, where he pointed out the beauty of everything that grows and blooms. He was always the first – even from the car – to see a hare running or a bird of prey soaring over the field.
He found peace in nature. There existence came to its essence for a moment; simply ‘being’ in that greater whole of nature. He didn’t need anything more to be happy. For example, it was quite difficult to buy a birthday present for him. He would then say, “I don’t need anything. Give me a ball of twine.”
On his hikes to Santiago, his backpack gradually became lighter. First, the shaver was sent back home. Then his primus was given away, his notepad put away until he carried only the bare essentials with him. When he returned home, we asked him if he had come to any deeper insights during this pilgrimage. His answer: ‘I have come to realize more and more how little a person really needs.’
Both my parents grew up in the Reformed tradition. In our home, the stories were told about the salt of the earth, the other cheek, the prodigal son, the mustard seed, the lost coin, and the true vine. My parents are certainly not people who know everything for sure and they certainly don’t show their faith, but as my mother said recently, “Jesus was our example.”
My parents naturally understood and felt the words of Jesus, which they had been spoon-fed – and those words became the foundation on which they built their lives.
Mannes the Doer, Mannes the Helper, and Mannes the Nature Lover: three faces of our daddy, all three of which are carried by Love.
Love for mom, Arnout, and me.
Love for my husband Steven and his grandchildren Hebe and Leander.
Love for his family, his friends, his neighbors, and his acquaintances.
We will miss him incredibly.
Below, you can download the small booklet in Dutch:
Here are some more pictures of my father.
It’s a slideshow, so you can click through them.