Born in 1927, Hank grew up in the Netherlands – attending school there until the Nazi invasion in 1940. By grade 7, his formal education came to an end. At the age of 17, he was held in a work camp where he endured terrible circumstances and treatment. However, with his positive attitude, strong character and the assistance of a young girl living by the work camp who would throw food over the fence to those being held, Hank was able to persevere.
Once freed from the work camp, Hank was not about to let the lack of access to education stop him. He continued to passionately pursue information – reading extensively on a variety of subjects, especially on his greatest interest – astronomy.
In 1953, Hank and his wife, Margaret, moved from Holland to Canada. While Margaret raised their growing family, Hank went to work picking apples in a Westbank, BC orchard. In 1955, they relocated to Revelstoke where Hank utilized his natural intelligence and craftsman skills in building and dam construction. He is very proud of his work on the Revelstoke Dam and can still describe how many square feet of concrete was poured and what it was like to witness the first flow of water over the spillway.
Hank and Margaret were blessed with two groups of children. Their first four, two girls and two boys, were followed 11 years later by a surprise son. Figuring that son needed a playmate, eleven months later the baby of the family – a son named Jason – was born.
At the age of 70, Hank retired but never stopped passionately reading anything and everything he could get his hands on – from the local paper to autobiographies, books on World War II, and of course, astronomy.
In 2013, Hank’s son Jason and his wife Christia moved Hank and Margaret to Cranbrook so they could be closer and spend time with Jason and Christia’s three children. Sadly, they lost Margaret but Hank has continued to be an active member of the family – supporting his grandchildren’s interests in violin, piano, volleyball and hockey.
Through it all, Hank always had a passion for all things related to space. He once shared with Christia that the only thing he really hates about getting old is the fact that he can’t join NASA. Always one to support his dreams, Christia is currently looking into filling out an application to NASA for Hank anyway. Though actual space travel may not come to fruition, Hank says that he often dreams that he is in space.
Always looking for ways to support Hank’s interests, his family signed Hank up for the Astronomy class held at the College for the fall 2017 semester. His many family members transport him to the College every week where he sits in a special, comfortable chair – provided by the College’s Accessibility Services Coordinator and takes part in discussions about the wonders of space alongside his fellow students.
Jason, a College of the Rockies alum himself, is pleased to see his dad attending the very same school that he attended twenty-seven years earlier. Jason is often in our hallways again now as he is frequently the one to pick his dad up from classes.
Being in a class with younger students a bit odd for Hank but “they treat me very well,” he says.
Christia agrees: “It seems to me that the other students in the class enjoy Hank’s attendance,” she says. “Perhaps it is inspirational to them. Perhaps they like having someone around who has varied life experiences. I hope they get an opportunity to chat with him and ask him some questions about space – and the other parts of his interesting life.”
As someone who has the opportunity to visit with Hank on a very limited basis, I have to agree that he is a very special man who has a very special family. Hank proves that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. We’re sure glad that we are able to play a small part in his amazing life’s journey. Stories like his are what make us small college proud.