“I see death standing at the door, but God will take care of the baby.”
These were the last words Anna Runia Van Dyk spoke to her husband, Meindert.
Anna and Meindert were Dutch immigrants. The couple arrived in the United States in 1921 on the ship Rotterdam along with their three young children in hopes of opportunity and freedom. Sidney, the 3 year old middle son had cerebral palsy. They carried him off the ship onto Ellis Island covered in a blanket, hoping that no one would look at him too closely. John and Anna feared that he would not be allowed into the United States. They were relieved when he made it through immigration without being noticed.
The family settled in Sully, Iowa so they could live near Anna’s twin sister. A few years later, Anna was expecting their fourth child, but there were complications. Anna had toxemia of pregnancy. Baby Josephine was delivered on April 30, 1924 weighing less than five pounds. Sadly, Anna died on her 35th birthday, two days after giving birth. Meindert was left alone with a premature baby in the hospital, children at home and a job working on a farm.
Twin sisters, Josie and Anna Runia. This picture was taken in the Netherlands before they came to the United States of America.
Meanwhile, Dick and Jennie VanSant had been married for ten years and were managing their farm in Oskaloosa, a couple of hours away. They had prayed for years that God would bless them with children of their own, but now they were in their thirties and hope was fading. They heard through their church about a tiny baby who would require careful attention.
Dick and Jennie hurried to make preparations. When they arrived at the hospital the doctor warned them not to get too attached, because the baby was very small. There were not intensive care units for premature babies in 1924. Her survival was uncertain.
Jennie took Josephine in her arms, the smallest baby she had ever seen. The doctor’s advice (not to get attached) was ignored. Josephine was dearly treasured by Dick and Jennie. She was so tiny that she could not suck from a bottle. For weeks Jennie fed her cow’s milk from a glass dropper, every hour around the clock. A month after her birth, she weighed just over five pounds.
God took care of the baby, just as Anna Runia Van Dyk said He would. Josephine survived.
Josephine being held by Dick VanSant.
Within a couple of years, Meindert was making plans to remarry, but this also meant he would be moving hundreds of miles away to Kalamazoo, Michigan. He had a difficult time leaving Josephine behind. Before he left, there were two things he wanted to tell the VanSants:
- You may keep Josephine and raise her as you see fit, but you may not adopt her. Her last name will still be Van Dyk
- I promise I will never take her away from you.
Josephine was my grandmother. She lived to the age of 82, having been married fifty-nine years with five children, nineteen grandchildren, and (at that time) thirty great-grandchildren.
Josephine and Karen in 2005.
For more pictures and information on Josephine’s birth family, go here.
Further genealogical information and related links:
- Toxemia of pregnancy is now called pre-eclampsia.
- Anna Runia VanDyk death record information. The record says she died at Mercy Hospital, but family members were told by Josephine that she was born at the hospital in Oskaloosa.
- Josie Vander Weerdt (twin sister of Anna Runia VanDyk) death record information. She lived to be 90 years old. That’s how I realized Anna must have died on her own birthday and what age she was. Anna’s death record only gives an (incorrect) estimated birth year.
- Sidney VanDyk, the brother of Josephine who had cerebral palsy resided at the Christian Psychiatric Hospital in Cutlerville, Michigan (now called Pine Rest) after Meindert moved to Michigan to remarry. He died in 1950 at the age of 33.
- The ministers that may have been involved in placing Josephine with the VanSants would have been Rev. Ralph Bolt of Sully Christian Reformed Church and Rev. Charles Spoelhof of First Christian Reformed Church based on where their charges in 1924. Source: Christian Reformed Church Ministers Database
- The Statue of Liberty- Ellis Island Passenger Search provided information about the ship and year that Meindert VanDyk arrived in the United States.
- Josephine Balkema’s obituary.
- Previously on this blog I wrote about Edith Stek. She was the sister of Jennie (VanSant) Sjaardema.
- Also wrote a little story about Henry and Josephine here.
- A blog post about my many unique connections to Oskaloosa, Iowa over the years.
Stay tuned! In the future I hope to share more stories about my grandma’s remarkable life, including how she reacted when her dad, Meindert came to visit her when she was a young girl and how she met my grandpa.
Special thanks to Josephine’s daughters (Mary, Esther and Joanne) and Jean VanDyk (daughter-in-law of Meindert), who helped with several details of this story.