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Monday, May 2, 2016

Pella, Iowa: Where the Dutch settled in the USA And the Tulips and History live on today

Pella, Iowa, has a lot of what I think about to keep me going during a cold, long winter—Tulips! Their return each year in our yard symbolizes so much to me about faith, hope, God’s, love, and my Dutch heritage.

In route to celebrate a special occasion for my dad’s side of the family in Oskaloosa, Iowa, we had the good fortune to pass through Pella about a week or so after their annual Tulip Festival while rows upon rows of vibrant tulips still lined the streets and park. A relative living in Oskaloosa told me on a visit that they always assure that tulips will be at their peak during the festival no matter what it takes. We strolled through the park taking in the beautiful hues of the tulips on what I recall as a quiet and peaceful viewing. We also admired the charm of the downtown business district where all buildings had Dutch architecture.

I think it was after I had been to Pella, Iowa, that I realized that I had more family roots in this area on my mom’s side of the family. I had grown up believing that my Dutch line in America began when my great-grandmother whose maiden name was Eva Van Eperen came to American as a girl with her parents in 1888.

As an adult, I read a hardbound family history book that helped me piece together the fact that I had a skip in my direct line coming to America as my great- great-great grandparents did not make the voyage to America. However, I had great-great-great-great grandparents along with some of their children who immigrated to America. Well, I know that is a lot of greats and I sure hope I get them right! In reading the book, I found out that some of the relatives had settled and farmed in the Pella, Iowa, area. I feel drawn to this place where my relatives made their mark on the land and communities.

I have not made it to any of the 80 annual Tulip Time Festivals during the first full weekend in May, but I almost have a sense that the 81st festivities to be held May 5th, 6th, and 7th in 2016 have come to me.

Custom Costumes of Pella, Iowa
I have seen the 2016 Queen and her court pictures in both traditional Dutch Costumes and in formal gowns. Recently, I received a copy of “Dutch Costumes-A Look into the Past.”

Written by Jacki Craver & Phyllis Zylstra and photographed by Desha Bruxvoot. I am learning that there is so much more to traditional Dutch attire than the lace cap on the top of the head and the carved wooden shoes adorning the feet. I had no idea that there were so many styles of Dutch clothing and caps that varied from region to region and also changed over the four centuries represented in the book. I cherish the vibrant photos of people modeling Dutch attire against scenic Dutch backdrops. The book shows the intricacies of the clothing as well as the histories of the areas. Their handiwork with meticulous detail has been worn by the honorary Dutch courts during the annual Tulip Festival. One can see more of their work at their facebook page Custom Costumes, a local business in Pella, Iowa.

From my correspondence with Phyllis, I know that authenticity is very important to them as they sew period clothing. They have patterns available for those wanting to sew Dutch attire. At times, they have special limited edition items such as the 2016 Tulip Time Royalty Clutches that are handcrafted with fabrics bearing floral motifs.

Jaarsma, a Bakery in Pella, Iowa
Through a Dutch sampler that I ordered for my family from Jaarsma, a bakery in Pella, Iowa, we were able to taste Holland inspired goodness. They rush their shipments out so the items arrived bakery fresh. I will not itemize every highlight, but everything was beyond what I can adequately describe delicious. I do not speak the tongue of my Dutch ancestors, but I am thinking the double a’s in Jaarsma must stand for something like A+ amazing. My mother said of their almond butter cake that it was one of the best pastries that she ever had. Then, there were the Dutch Letters…. There is a reason why they are famous!
Duth Letters from Jaarsma Bakery.

Kristi Jaarsma Balk, the 4th generation to own the bakery, explains how her bakery and town are true to Dutch tradition. She explained to me:

“My great grandfather, Harmon Jaarsma started the bakery in 1898. He was an immigrant from the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. He brought with him many recipes from the Netherlands, which we still use today. We carry out the traditions he began over 100 years ago. All of our products are made from scratch as always. We specialize in traditionally Dutch pastries and have added some American favorites over the years. We love to travel to the Netherlands to look for new recipes to try here. Our most recent visit, inspired us to make stroopwafles, which are waffle cookies with a syrupy center. Our most popular Dutch pastries would include, Dutch Letters, Banket, Almond Filled Butter Cookie (gevulde koek), St. Nick cookies (speculaas) and Dutch Apple Bread. We are famous for our Dutch Letters.”

She expressed how there is a lot of Dutch pride in the Pella community. On her families visits to the Netherlands they feel like they are at home because according to her that Pella looks very Dutch.

Thistles, a Flower Shop in Pella, Iowa 
I have a place in my heart for neighborhood and small town florists and I communicated with Thistles located in Pella, Iowa to learn about their services. In the city that celebrates blooms, they give personal attention to their arrangements.

The owner, Lois Vermeer shared with me:

“Thistles proudly serves the Pella area. We are family-owned and operated. We are committed to offering only the finest floral arrangements and gifts, backed by service that is friendly and prompt. Because all of our customers are important, our professional staff is dedicated to making your experience a pleasant one. That is why we always go the extra mile to make your floral gift perfect.

The Thistles difference is our flower preparation so flowers look their best, unique designs, and desire to say it with flowers for our customers.”
Vermeer Mill courtesy of Pella Historical Society.
The shop has a wide array of flowers for every occasion. A recent caption on Thistles social media page begins Tis the Season and invites people to procure fresh and silk tulips for all their tulip time preparations. The tulips pictured were the lovely two-toned red and white variety.

After vicariously watching people on reality family history shows transformation as they sought to get in touch with their roots by visiting historical museums, I would love to visit the Pella Historical Society and Museum someday. Of course, it is not the same as an in person guided tour, but I did enjoy the information and pictures on the web site and social media of the town and historical village.

I learned how the Vermeer Mill, the tallest functional mill in the USA, has parts from the Netherlands and was assembled in Pella by Dutch craftsman. Wind power still grinds wheat into flower to this day.

A fun addition to the village that is aimed for children of all ages is the Doll Exhibit and Puppet Theater. There are toy exhibits, coloring pages, puppets, and costumes.

I am intrigued by the miniature display of Dutch architecture, clothing, and daily life as I have collected miniatures for years.

From my correspondence with the Pella Historical Society, I know that they are dedicated to preserving and honoring the past. For those with Pella roots, they will do research for a fee. This society is instrumental at Tulip Time and activities throughout the year celebrating Dutch life.

By the time the tulip festival takes place, many of tulips that we awaited and enjoyed their short season will have lost all their petals. As mine were blooming, Pella’s were budding and will be at their Zenith when the community comes together for their fun-filled event.

-population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2016 population-we, LLC 
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