January 5, 1919 — November 6, 2019
“I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1.
In the early morning of November 6, 2019, in the small, still hours of the night, while in her sleep, our mother, Dorothy Rollema gladly entered into the house of the Lord at the age of 100 years, 10 months and 1 day. The world outside her window was shrouded in darkness, which soon gave way to day, and as the night's illusions faded away, it was clear that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” I John 1:6.
Dorothy was born Doetje Schuurmans, on January 5, 1919 to Tjeerd Schuurmans and Fopje Visser Schuurmans, in the Netherlands, in the province of Friesland, in the village of Koudum, hard by the shores of the Zuider Zee. She was the eldest of two children born to the marriage of her parents. She had a younger brother, an older maternal half-brother, and three older paternal half-sisters.
Her memories of a very far away time and place remained with her all her life. Though the sands of time had long since drifted away, she still recalled growing up in the 1920s and 1930s with simple pleasures such as long walks in the country, ice skating on the frozen canals and lakes, church services, school girl fun, youth groups and choirs. She could recall the excitement when electrification came in the 1920s, when everyone gathered around a radio to hear for the first time a live broadcast of Big Ben from London, which at the time seemed impossibly far away across the North Sea. In the winter of 1929, the Zuider Zee froze over so hard that it was possible to ice-skate or go on foot or by car far out onto the ice to islands normally accessible only by boat. In 1932, the Zuider Zee was closed off from the North Sea by a 20 mile long barrier dike, the “Afsluitdijk,” and it was a memorable event for Dorothy and her family to drive out to see the great waterworks. During the Depression, Dorothy learned the value of a guilder and people managed to make ends meet and life went on. However, life in peaceful Holland was about to change as the distant rumblings of war to the east grew ever nearer, for by the late 1930s, Europe had begun its descent into madness. Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939 commenced the catastrophe that was to be World War II.
The greatest historic calamity ever to befall the Netherlands came in 1940 with the invasion from Nazi Germany. Against the darkening shadows of warfare spreading across the face of Europe, Holland had tried desperately to remain neutral. On May 9, 1940, Hitler assured the Dutch government that he would “respect” the nation’s neutrality. This proved to be nothing more than a craven deceit woven from thin air, for that night, the invasion began and the people awakened the next morning to find Nazi paratroopers and Panzer divisions in the streets. Pentecost Sunday, May 12, 1940 was sorrowful and a day of mourning, as the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit was desecrated by the coming of the invasion. Because of greater than expected Dutch resistance, the Nazis bombed Rotterdam and within mere hours the center of the great port city was reduced to rubble. Fearing greater destruction, the government ended the resistance. On the evening of May 14, Dorothy, along with her family and rest of the nation, gathered around their radios and heard the government’s last official proclamation which announced the nation’s capitulation to the German invaders, and the most stunning, devastating news of all, that the people's deeply revered monarch, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, had narrowly escaped capture and death and had fled to England. The historic national anthem played at the end of the broadcast and was not to be heard publicly again for nearly five years. Everywhere the historic Dutch flag was furled for the last time. Never before in the history of the Netherlands had a more dramatic moment been shared among so many. The people were left utterly bereft without their monarch in their midst, as a family without their mother, and they wept in the streets. The enormous impact of these events quite simply cannot be overstated. An entire way of life came to an abrupt, helpless end. All the settled verities of the nation were instantly torn asunder; in Dorothy’s own words, “our country was turned on its head.” Serenely beautiful Holland, for centuries a beacon to all manner of refugees, was itself now held captive under the Nazi jackboot. The lament of the Psalmist became the lament of the people: “O Lord, how long?” Psalm 6:3.
Against the chaotic backdrop of the marching Nazi soldiers, tanks, gunfire, distant explosions and the quiet tears of the people, the softly budding springtide of the Pentecost season gave way to a five year winter of despair, destruction and death. Few could have guessed the full horror of what lay in store for them.
During the war years, members of Dorothy’s immediate family, including her future husband, served in the Dutch Resistance movement, also known as the Underground. The members of the Resistance quite simply were not willing to follow the Nazi playbook onto Hitler's stage, and believed it was their Christian duty to save their country and to save the nation’s Jews from deportation and death. Those who served in the Resistance did so at enormous risk to their own lives and the lives of their families. Dorothy and her family and others in Koudum witnessed first-hand the cold-blooded execution of their neighbor for the offense of possessing food rationing cards which were to be used to assist starving people. A cousin of her mother was publicly executed in the open streets. In early 1941, the workers in Amsterdam organized a general strike to protest a Nazi pogrom and the round up and deportation of Jews. The Nazi answer was a brutal suppression of the strike and the execution of the strike leaders. And the deportations continued. Things only got worse as the occupation dragged on.
In spite of the Nazi occupation, Dorothy was motivated during this time to demonstrate her own devotion to our Lord, Jesus Christ, and on Palm Sunday, April 6, 1941, at the Reformed Church in Koudum she made a public profession of her faith in the Risen Savior and became a full member of the Dutch Reformed Church.
What kept the people going in the face of manifest evil and the utter depravity of the enemy, were the light of Christ who illumined the hearts of His followers, the deep bond the people held with their monarch who worked tirelessly in their behalf and made radio broadcasts to them from London even though the Nazis made it a major crime to own and listen to a radio, and faith that somehow the Allies would defeat the enemy. The hope of the Psalmist became the hope of the people: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my help.” Psalm 122:1.
Holland was finally liberated on May 5, 1945, but the economic base of the country lay in ruins. The people wept again, this time for joy and in the words of Joseph James Shomon, in his wartime memoir, Crosses in the Wind, they stood “in bowed reverence” for the immense sacrifices made by their American and Canadian liberators. While the unsurpassed national trauma was finally over, the nation was reeling from the impact of the occupation and the appalling mass murder of many thousands of citizens, including over 100,000 Jews. Sadly, many of these Jewish victims had fled Germany in the 1930s to the refuge that Holland gave them, only to again become ensnared in Hitler's clutches after the invasion.
These historic wartime events have been recounted here because they had a lifelong effect on Dorothy and were intricately woven into the fabric of her being. The events, the people and places were indelibly inscribed upon her heart.
In the midst of all this, Dorothy found her calling to be the Dutch equivalent of a midwife/doula. Thus, against the horrors of the war which brought so much death, she affirmed life and assisted in the delivery of more than 300 babies.
On October 26, 1949, Dorothy married Peter Rollema in the Reformed Church at Koudum.
In the economic darkness of post-war Europe, there shined in the distance an ineffable light so bright and so compelling that it could not be ignored — the United States of America. Early in their marriage, Pete and Dorothy determined that they would emigrate to America. The decision to do so was not taken lightly. The backdrop against which it was made reveals the great magnitude of it. In the early 1950s, mobility in the Netherlands was not what it is today. There was instead a pervading, deeply held sense of rootedness. Daily life in the Netherlands had then and still has, a quality known as gezelligheid, which connotes a cozy sense of well-being. Successive generations of Dorothy's and Pete’s forbearers had lived on the same farms and in the same towns for centuries. The provincial genealogical registries went back hundreds of years. Extended families were well known amongst each other and were in close proximity. They could attend church on Sundays and walk past the centuries old resting places of their ancestors. They lived in an area steeped in both secular and religious history, with every path a parable and every stone a sermon. All of that was left behind. Although the departure was bittersweet, it turned out to be a decision that was never regretted.
On March 30, 1951, the family left their home and embarked on the long train trip to the docks of Rotterdam and sailed the Atlantic on the steamship, SS Veendam, to the Holland America Line pier at Hoboken, New Jersey. The intended destination was Minnesota. However, snow was still piled in four-foot drifts when they arrived in April, enough to persuade the irrepressible immigrants to go to California, where they settled in Artesia. They immediately began English classes. By 1955, Pete and Dorothy became charter members of the newly organized Reformed Church congregation of Chino, California. At the first available opportunity in 1956, they became naturalized citizens of the United States and anglicized their first names. That same year they purchased a chicken ranch which they operated for many years. By 1970, Oregon beckoned and the family purchased a dairy farm in Shedd, dairy farming having been in Pete's family in a continuous line since 1736. After Pete’s retirement in 1979, the couple moved to Lebanon.
While Dorothy deeply loved her chosen country, the United States, Friesland was never forgotten. A series of return visits were made, beginning in 1960, when the family drove their 1957 Chevy from California all the way to New York and took that car along on the steamship for an extended stay so Dorothy's mother could meet her two American- born grandsons. All of the family remember what a novelty that car was on the cobbled streets of Holland. This was followed by more visits over the years.
After Pete’s death in 2001, Dorothy remained busy with her family, her knitting for the prayer shawl ministry of Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, and her daily Bible readings. Dorothy was expert at embroidery, knitting and crocheting, having learned these skills in 1925 from her mother when she was six years old! Dorothy deeply loved her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They in turn loved her as their “Beppe,” the Frisian word for grandmother. She taught them many things, including (of course) how to knit, embroider and crochet. Speaking three languages, she was the family's go-to person for all things Dutch and Frisian. Dorothy especially enjoyed watching broadcasts of Dutch church music events, to experience a reminder of the days of her youth when she sang in choirs and to hear again the singing of the great Dutch Psalms and hymns she grew up with and knew so well. Dorothy was a member of the Sunnyslope Christian Reformed Church in Salem for over 48 years. At the time of her death, she held the distinction of being the oldest living member in her church’s history.
School children in Holland of Dorothy's generation learned of the great figures of Dutch history who could be held up as examples for them to follow. One such is William I, Prince of Orange, who is considered the founder of what would become the modern Dutch state. As he lay dying of an assassin's bullet in 1584, his sister asked him the single most important question of his life: “Do you die reconciled with your Savior, Jesus Christ?” And he replied with the single most important answer of his life: “Yes.” And that single most important answer of her life for Dorothy would be the same resounding “Yes.” She often expressed in recent years her deep gratefulness to her parents for having brought her up at the feet of Jesus. In turn, her own children owe a debt of everlasting gratitude to both their parents for having done likewise.
In addition to her husband, Dorothy was preceded in death by her parents; all her siblings; a premature infant son in 1954 whom she never forgot; grandson-in-law, John Thomas in 2009; great-granddaughter, Makena Clapp in 2013; and son-in-law, Gerald Hilchey in 2017. She was the last survivor of a family grouping comprised of herself and Pete, Pete's mother, his four siblings and their spouses who all came to these shores in the late 1940s and early 1950s and reinvented themselves as Americans.
Dorothy is survived by her children, Florence Hilchey, Melvin Rollema and Bonnie, David Rollema and Joni; and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and nieces and nephews across the United States and in the Netherlands.
Late in her life, as Dorothy reflected on her wartime experiences, her message to us was clear: learn the lessons taught by history, and never forget the Holocaust.
Length of years is a gift most greatly to be prized, but it often comes at a cost. Dorothy was a 34 year survivor of breast cancer but in the midst of her one hundred first year she succumbed to the ravages of her final diagnosis, aortic stenosis, which was as if she had an unrelenting vise-grip placed on her heart. She suffered greatly from the effects of this affliction, but remained steadfast in her faith till the very end. She called on the name of the Lord: The last words she spoke were “Och Heare" — Oh Lord — her final prayer. Dorothy's greatest hope throughout her life and especially in her final days was the defeat of death through the power of our Lord’s resurrection. That hope was not in the sense of a mere wish or desire as in modern usage, but rather in the older meaning of the word, that of having an assurance, an absolute certainty of the things to come. Dorothy's entry through the gates of Heaven into Eternal Life is cause for joy, but her departure from our midst is cause for sorrow and she will be deeply mourned and will be greatly, sorely missed by those who loved her.
Dorothy's memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on November 23, in the chapel of Huston Jost Funeral Home in Lebanon.
Condolences may be left on the funeral home's website.
Remembrances may be made in Dorothy's honor to the Sunnyslope Christian Reformed Church of Salem, Oregon.
Ljeafste Mem: Wy wachstje op de Weropstanning.
Lieve Moeder: Wij blijven in afwachting van de Wederopstanding.
Sweet Mother: We await the Resurrection.