Wilhelmina Theodora Lucassen was born in the Netherlands in 1924 and grew up on a dairy farm near Kilder, one of 7 children. It was a close family, one that worked hard but also had time for fun, including playing practical jokes on each other. They were musical – her father and brothers were in bands, and Wilhelmina had a beautiful voice and sang in church choirs.
When young, Wilhelmina trained as a seamstress and loved sewing and designing clothes. Her first job was when she was 15 in Zeddam, sewing and working for a vet, mixing powders. She lived in, and talked about going out at night to warn young men of raids, “going down a crooked path in the dark with soldiers around.” She also told us about the veterinarian and his family being on the underground for getting Jewish people to safety.
Wilhelmina said Herman “swept her off her feet” at a dance during the war. There’s a story about the lights going out and a kiss at that dance too. They didn’t marry for a decade after they started walking out together, because of the war and the difficult economic times after Holland was liberated.
After the war, while Herman did hard physical labour on the polders (reclaiming land from the sea), Wilhelmina went into training as a social worker and home nurse. She worked in poor neighbourhoods and looked after young families, the ill and dying. But Herman wanted to be a farmer, and the only way he could do this was to emigrate. So Wilhelmina left town life and her job for a rural life in a new land.
They married on April 19, 1951, when they were both 26. They emigrated to Canada only three days later, as they were going to be needed quickly for the spring planting – however, it was such a wet spring it took a long time to get on the land. After one year working in Smiths Falls, near Dad’s brother Zhef who had emigrated earlier, they moved to the farm near Hallville (RR#4 Osgoode), which they later bought. They started off in a small house on the farm, with no plumbing or electricity. Their first child, John, was born in 1952, and eight other children followed.
Wilhelmina was a frugal and creative homemaker. She sewed everyone’s clothes for many years. She loved knitting and outfitted us all long after we left home with sweaters, hats, mittens and scarves. She also crocheted and did weaving, and won prizes at the local fair for her sewing and knitting, and made numerous items for fundraisers as well. She also loved to shop (when times became easier), and often bought Christmas presents in January. She enjoyed bargaining, whether in Kemptville or Ottawa or later in life on travels to Mexico and other countries. She ran a large garden and canned and later froze fruits and vegetables in great quantities to get us through the winter months. She volunteered as a 4-H teacher and frequently went on school outings with her children, was involved in the Catholic Women’s League and church activities (often bringing her famed Cherry Delight dessert as her contribution to receptions). She loved to go for walks, and urged whoever was walking with her to stop and pull in a big breath of fresh air and notice the trees. She loved nature, birds, flowers and trees. Country drives, visits to other Dutch families and trips to Kemptville Beach were part of enjoying life after the week of hard work.
Wilhelmina wrote copious letters to her parents and sisters and brothers over the years, and later to her children when they’d left home. She had a real way with words, and wrote poems to mark occasions, sometimes short and sweet, sometimes longer and very descriptive for big events. When life was less busy, she loved to read, everything from Alice Munro to Dostoevsky.
When the children were older, Wilhelmina and Herman began to travel. They had been back to Holland but now started travelling elsewhere, to Cuba, Florida and Mexico,across Canada and twice to Australia.They visited Gerald and his family in Berlin and later in Italy, and also visited Michael and Brenda in Zimbabwe – it still seems amazing that this immigrant couple from Holland saw Victoria Falls, went on safari, and went boating on the Zambezi River. They continued to go on bus trips in Canada and the US in later years.
Wilhelmina was very proud of her children and encouraged us all to make our own way in the world. She taught us to think always of people who are less fortunate. Education was a great value. She loved children, had a wonderful way with babies, and greatly enjoyed her grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s stories and drawings. She often talked of Anna, her beloved grand-daughter, who died when she was only nine.
Herman and Wilhelmina moved from the farm to Kemptville 15 years ago, and settled into a busy and productive retirement. They joined the Holy Cross Parish and, after decades of attending weekly mass, were happy to be able to go to church daily. When they chose their house in Kemptville, Wilhelmina was happy the church was so close, saying she could walk to it in high heels. She joined the Mary Magdalene Prayer Group and loved going to her Knitting Circle. At the church, Herman and Wilhelmina spent time in marriage classes, talking to young engaged couples about what it took to keep a relationship strong. (They would have been married for 62 years later this month.)
Always an independent, strong woman, Wilhelmina needed more support in the last few years and relied more and more on Herman. She moved to Bayfield Manor, where she was joined by Herman for many of the activities, from sugar bush outings to Bingo. She made new friends and was a favourite there. She never wanted to “be a bother” and after every setback worked hard to regain ground.
Wilhelmina received gentle and loving care at Bayfield Manor, during her stays at Kemptville District Hospital and, in her last days, at Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa.
After being hospitalized with pneumonia in early March, Wilhelmina seemed to be recovering well. She was participating in activities again, going home for Sunday dinners and was even on the exercise bike again, but then her health worsened. She died on April 4, in the morning. Herman and their eight children living in Canada were able to be with her in her last hours, and all nine were together, with their families, at Wilhelmina’s wake and her funeral mass on April 8.
Wilhelmina was a vibrant woman who lived through tough times and good times without losing her spirit, was very much her own person and, even when her energy and strength diminished, continued to embrace life and show us the way forward.