History of the Club
The Netherlands Club of Chicago has a long history. Many changes have taken place over the years but we are thankful that Mieps van Bosse, one of the original members and still a current member, has taken the time to summarize the beginnings of the Club:
1955: Kick Off
In 1955, one of the Dutch immigrants who entered the U. S. A. under the “Refugee Relief Act” in 1955, Ted Sijsling, paid a visit to the Consulate-General of the Netherlands in Chicago and asked me among other things where he could get in contact with Dutch people. I told him that unfortunately there was not a Dutch club as far as we at the Consulate-General knew, but that one could be started. At that time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague only allowed me to work on it behind the scenes as long as Ted was willing to get a board together once the Constitution and Bylaws were formulated.
The First Name
John Ligtenberg, the lawyer who worked with the Consulate-General at that time, told me that there had once been a Dutch Club which had been quite active after the second world war in sending packages to people in the Netherlands. It was called “The Knickerbocker Society”. This name was derived from Harm Jansen Knickerbocker, one of the first influential Dutch immigrants entering New York, then called “Nieuw Amsterdam”, in 1674.
The Constitution and First Meeting
John Ligtenberg, Ted Sijsling and I – with the emphasis on John – wrote the Constitution and Bylaws. To honor the previous club and its members (some were still living, like John himself) who did so much for the people in war torn Holland, we decided to call the new Dutch organization “The Knickerbocker Society of Chicago”. Getting a board together was extremely difficult. I recall that it took until 1959 to have the first meeting. Ted Sijsling was the president and the only other board member I can recall was Gerard Godfroy, the father of Ron and Humphrey, who are still members. Turnout was meager and for several subsequent years interest remained poor. Unfortunately, The Knickerbocker Society of Chicago’s files were destroyed in a basement flood between 1972 and 1977 and I have only my memory to rely on for the remainder of this information.
The First Years
The first years were rough! It was not an easy task to get and keep Dutch people together. I joined the board in 1959 after resigning from the Consulate following the birth of my first daughter, Jacqueline. At that time I also had to produce the monthly newsletter and had to send it out. No help from a computer in those years, but my Olympia typewriter 1955 did the job of not only typing the newsletter but also all the envelopes! The newsletter was in the Dutch language and was sent to a little over 400 “interested” Dutch people of whom only about 80 eventually paid the $5.00 membership dues. We later decided that the newsletter had to be in Dutch followed by exactly the same text in English!! After some years Nel van Alphen (later Hendriks) joined the board as treasurer and I was very happy to hand over the financial business to her!
Break Through Events
The Oranjebal and rijsttafels were break through events for us in those years. Jacques Koek had the brilliant idea of having an “Oranjebal” every year for Queen’s birthday and they were a major success. For years I ordered the first “rijsttafels” from an Indonesian restaurant in Pasadena, CA. They would send the side dishes by air and Bill Hoppe would pick them up at O’Hare airport. I ordered rice at a Chinese restaurant and warm everything up on an old stove in the basement of a Roman Catholic school where our, member Kees Kok was a janitor. For years to come we enjoyed our “rijsttafels” from Pasadena at that school. Life got much easier when Jean and Ati Kuhr appeared on the horizon and took over preparing the “rijsttafel” in their own kitchen and bringing it to the school!
The Club has changed significantly in its demographics. We have many expatriate members as well as permanent U.S. residents. In many ways though, the Club is still the same. We organize a variety of events that appeal both to young and old, have an active internet presence and organize frequent events such as monthly borrels, soccer (“voetbal”), New Years reception and dinner, Annual BBQ, King's Day event and a variety of other events. The loyal and active membership of the Dutch Club of Chicago is vibrant both socially and in business.