Good Afternoon. My name is Margaret Elizabeth Gerritsen Knodl and I had the honor of having Hendrik Arnt Gerritsen as a father and friend. I’m sure my dad is very happy you are all here. I know he’s got me where he wants me. Chrissy Wingenroth reminded me this week of the travel log with slide show I gave at age eight for about 50 children from Shorewood Forest. My dad put flyers in Shorewood mailboxes. Blissfully, there were popsicles served and I’m hoping my reputation was spared.
My early memories of my dad were riding on his shoulders and skipping as high as we could jump. My dad and my opa built my parents’ house in 1976, the year I was one. My father reported that it was one of the best years of his life. My mother felt it was one of the most challenging for her. My mother made many things possible for my dad. She endured carrying a lot of luggage through Europe, many slideshows, and facilitated a lot of operating sessions on his model railroad. Throughout my childhood, I loved witnessing my parents host parties, cross-country ski, and sail.
Dad taught me how to sing and count in Dutch and told me stories about sailing adventures and train rides. The Macatawa Bay boatyard in Holland, Michigan was our second home. Smelling the Heinz pickles brewing in the air, I remember driving in our white Ford Fiesta on my mom’s lap because the car was brimming over with supplies, our dinghy tied to the roof. I loved digging with the miniature cranes around the boatyard playground while my dad painting the hull of our boat, the Windekind blue.
When I was eight, my dad dubbed us travel buddies and together we took on Holland, Germany, and Switzerland for three weeks. He taught me the value of a good mocha torte and chocolate hail on bread. We admired Rembrandt’s Night Watch as though it was a family portrait.
My father was a natural artist teaching me to sketch and paint. His home office held two drafting tables where he toiled over vellum with special pens. When my elementary school cut art classes, he came in once a week and taught how to draw things with perspective like train tracks and power lines. I’d sit under his tracing table while we listened to his breathy recordings of train specifications. He’d ask me for a second opinion about how many bolts were on the panel of an engine. We would go to PTGR , an engineering firm in Valpo to make blueprints. I’d endure the queasy ammonia smells for the pay off of an ice cream cone.
Arnt could start a conversation with anyone. My mother says this bears repeating, Arnt could start a conversation with anyone. If he heard someone speaking Dutch or German, he didn’t hesitate to interject. He loved exchange students most of all. We spent weekends driving students from Denmark, Holland, Spain, Belgium, Japan, France, and Germany to exotic locales like Bean Blossom, Louisville, Decatur, and New Castle. Exchange students held such high regard that they had the place of honor sitting shotgun in the car. My mom and I knew the standard exchange student tour of Chicago very well. No matter how windy, hot or cold it was or how much our feet hurt, we never got to hail a cab.
My dad was a frugal guy. When we traveled between European countries (before the Euro), he was so resistant to change money if we weren’t spending the night that he’d insist we eat and use the bathroom before crossing a border. Otherwise I might have to approach a kind stranger for money to get into an automated toilet. He felt that automatic transmissions and power steering were extravagances. (Power windows were pointless anyway.) A car wasn’t spent until it approached 300,000 miles. He never let us get cable (we did give to public television after all) or an answering machine. People might call long distance. And if we weren’t there, they might leave a message. And we’d have to call them. And the charges would be long distance. But he helped me get an undergraduate and a master’s degree from his beloved alma mater, Indiana University without debt.
Besides traveling in trains, and the model trains my dad designed, there was the basement. He built his house with extra high ceilings in the basement and filled it with two major layouts. He liked to rib me about only showing an interest when I wanted to bring a boy to the house. In 1998, I attended a National Model Railroad Association Convention in Kansas City with my dad. Never before was being Arnt Gerritsen’s daughter such a mark of distinction; I felt like the princess of model railroading.
In college, my dad loved coming to visit me on campus. He felt that my experience at Indiana University would be just like his years thirty years before. We did share one professor- the guy who wrote our Dutch textbook. We both loved the Indiana Memorial Union. There were rumors among my Union Board friends that I was conceived in the IMU (which was also home to the sailing club office).
As many of you know, we were regulars- my mom, dad, and me at the Mayo Clinic and St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. My dad held court on the seventh floor of the Joseph wing of the hospital. The nurses even made him an employee badge. It was an orthopedic floor and most of the hip and knee replacement patients weren’t return customers. Dad kept coming back. My dad loved doctors and nurses and Minnesotans. He always touted their kindness. It is no wonder I ended up in Minneapolis.
On a final note, I feel fortunate that my dad got to know my husband Kevin. When they met on Christmas Day of 2009, and Kevin expressed his intention to marry me. He asked, “How long have you been thinking about marrying my daughter?” “About a month, sir.” “Well,” he said tilting back in his chair, “I’ll need that much time to give you an answer.”