Video and Story: Heart of Our City, Quarter century Red Cross volunteer

After immigrating from the Netherlands, Gerda Kouwenhoven dedicated her life to volunteering for the Red Cross.

After immigrating from the Netherlands and raising a family

After immigrating from the Netherlands and raising a family




The Netherlands still had the odd horse and buggy on the streets when she left her home in a city on the North Sea for a city on British Columbia’s North Coast where she heard there were many jobs to be had.

Gerda Kouwenhoven immigrated from The Hague, the bustling political centre of the Netherlands, for a community with a population 53 times smaller. But it’s the sense of community in Prince Rupert that has kept her here for 58 years and counting.

Those first few years were welcoming, despite a slight language barrier, and Kouwenhoven has made sure to give back to the community in any way she can. This summer, Kouwenhoven was recognized for her 25 years at the Red Cross health equipment loan facility with a certificate and a cake to be shared among friends and co-volunteers.

Her volunteer service began when Kouwenhoven saw an article in the paper in December 1990 about the Red Cross unit closing down in Prince Rupert.

“They said they couldn’t do it anymore so if no one came forward to take over then it will be pulled out of town — and once it’s gone it’s gone,” Kouwenhoven said.

She accepted the responsibility to give back to the community, which she said has been good to her family.

She took the operation on by herself and since then the Red Cross has grown to eight steady volunteers, all between the ages of 70 to 84 years. Kouwenhoven is the oldest member, and the one who saved the loan facility from disappearing from the region.

When she first took it over, she shared an office in the Skeena Health Unit, and they only had a cupboard for a few pieces of medical equipment to loan.  Since moving to the permanent space in the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, the organization has expanded to include 200 pieces of equipment that are loaned out to people in need for three months at a time.

She cannot quit the Red Cross because she said would miss the group.

“There’s usually three of us left (at the end of a shift), Gloria, Josie and I. We give each other a big hug and we go home. It’s not like we see each other every day. It’s just that you know that they’re there when you need them,” she said.

It took some time for Kouwenhoven to foster her sense of community when she moved to Prince Rupert. After she married William, they left the Netherlands on their honeymoon to find work in Canada, where her husband’s friend said there were lots of jobs.

They arrived in 1958, and her husband found a job as a beer-slinger right away. But after two nights he was let go when his employers found out he wasn’t in the union. After some time, he started working for Northern Agencies, a wholesale business that sold candies, books and newspapers.

Kouwenhoven found work cleaning homes. She said that her four years of school English didn’t give her the immediate confidence to search out for office work. The family then expanded with two daughters born four years apart.

Together they built a small business, a grocery store called “Stopover” on 7th Avenue East. They ran the store for five years, seven days a week, and in the meantime she delivered newspapers door-to-door. Then, they purchased Eddies News Stand and ran that business for another five years before selling it.

“It was a lot of work but it was well worth it. I liked what I did, working with people. Same customers day in and day out. It was nice,” she said.

She bounced around in different jobs in the city over the years, working at the Yarn Barn, then in a Chinese shop and helping her husband out at the store. In her late 50s she retired, and she travelled with her husband along the North American west coast from top to bottom.

While they were travelling they looked for better places to live — weather wise — “but  no where could we find a better place that we would like to live,” she said. No other place was as friendly or welcoming as Prince Rupert was to them.

She also volunteers at the Lester Centre of the Arts, with her friend Josie Mackey, selling coffee and tea during shows, and she volunteers at the Seniors’ Centre, where she joins a knitting and crocheting group on Tuesday mornings. She plays cards sometimes too but she doesn’t play BINGO. “That’s not my game.”

The Dutch, French, German and English speaker hasn’t been back to the Netherlands since 2001, when she had such a horrific time getting there.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York had happened three days before her flight, and she was stuck hanging around Vancouver, checking in every day to see if her plane was going to leave. She hasn’t returned since.

 

Just Posted

BC Ferries has announced the welcoming back onboard of recreational travellers on June 15 after the provincial travel restrictions were lifted. (Courtesy of BC Ferries)
BC Ferries welcomes back recreational passengers

The ferries corp will relax mask-wearing in outdoor spaces

Nic Pirillo received $1,000 Youth WORK Apprenticeship Award presented to him by Erik Brooke and Catlin Chandler of Broadwater Industries, in front of the boat Pirillo built in his free time using newly acquired skills. (Photo: supplied)
Learning and earning with apprenticeship

Nic Pirillo graduated in 2020 and was awarded the Youth WORK Trades award

According to the BC Centre of Disease Control epidemiology mapping from May 30 to June 5, there was an increase of one case in the Prince Rupert area after a three-week stability of no new cases. (Image: supplied BC CDC)
Prince Rupert second dose vaccination clinic to run from June 14 to July 9

Volunteers needed for P.R. immunization clinic, recipients must register and cases back up to one

Capt. Portugal was getting into the festive spirit out working for the City of Prince Rupert and celebrating Seafest 2021, on June 12. During regular business hours Capt. Portugal is known as David Costa. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Searching out fun in the sun for Seafest 44

Families and friends can participate in weekend COVID-19 friendly activities

Seafest is underway with a sunfest theme from June 11 to 13 in Prince Rupert. Alex Hoogendorn vice president of Prince Rupert Special Events is creating sunny times making feature for the decorating contest with his son Caleb Hoogendorn on June 4. (K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Seafest 44 plans a sunfest June 11 to 13 in Prince Rupert

All events in festival are COVID-19 safe, social distancing and health protocols approved by N.H.A.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Most Read