Peppermints in the Pews

Every time Henry Tjoelker walked through the doors of Third Reformed Church his pockets were full of peppermints. And not just any peppermints—skip the Altoids and Certs—Henry was a proud Dutchman and therefore, a peppermint purist. His go-to brands—Wilhelmina and King—hailed from his native country of the Netherlands. It was no surprise, then, to the family and friends gathered for Henry's memorial service on Monday, that there were bags of the mint candies waiting for them in every pew. These were the same pews that Henry and his wife Marjean have sat in on Sundays (always on the left side sixth row!) for the last forty years. 


Henry's granddaughter Tiffany encouraged the sanctuary packed full of loved ones—Henry's former neighbors, church and family friends, card-playing buddies from Holland Home, and so many more—to enjoy the sweet treat because she was certain Henry "would want them to." Both Tiffany and Henry's son Todd shared during the service about the life-changing impact their "Bapa" and father has had on their lives and the lives of countless others.

"To say that Bapa loved his grandchildren is the understatement of the year," said Tiffany, adding that Henry used to wait at the door of his house for them to arrive. "He'd beg us for a game of pool, which he would win, a game of cards, which he would also win, and a piece or two of dark chocolate (though he would always sneak at least three or four)." Henry was known for his sweet tooth; he loved donuts, homemade cheesecake, dark chocolate and licorice...Dutch licorice, of course. 

Tiffany recounted both funny and sweet memories of her beloved Bapa, "On behalf of every grandchild in this room today, we can say without one doubt that we won the lotto with our Bapa."


"My dad touched a lot of lives and he led an amazing life," Todd shared. "His legacy lives on in all of those who knew him." While it's difficult to sum up the impact of a life in a short speech, he added that his dad tried to keep things simple and lived by the 4-F Model—Faith, Family, Friends. These first three were printed on a plaque displayed at the church, but Henry "always had to add something extra and he put finance on the end there," Todd said. "And don't get that wrong. He grew up without a lot and always had a deep appreciation for people who did well but didn't show it. He taught us all the value of self discipline and saving, living within your means, planning for the future, and more importantly, balance."

Those gathered sang some of Henry's favorite hymns, "How Great Thou Art" and "It Is Well With My Soul," and listened to a message of hope and thanksgiving for Henry's life from his longtime friend Dick Welscott. "We are here to celebrate," Dick told the group. "We gather with different emotions...You may think of stories like the time you first met Henry or when he did something special or maybe when he did something stupid."

Family and friends met before the service to visit and check out the displays of some of Henry's favorite keepsakes—gummy bears, his harmonica, playing cards, bird identification books (He was a lifetime member of the National Audubon Society and even traveled across the country to birdwatch.), his favorite sweater, cigars, a Freesian flag (He was also proud of his Freesian bloodline.), a 140-page family history book that he authored, a Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa!) and peppermint, obviously.

All of these items tell a special part of an individual's life story; they are uniquely Henry and serve as connecting points to both him and his family.


"He really worked to carry on our Dutch heritage," said his daughter Lisa while looking through the mementos. "We've been celebrating Sinterklaas for forty years." Their family has even been in the newspaper for their unique cultural traditions.

Following the service, guests attended a lunch reception (complete with a delicious sampling of cake! Henry would have approved!). Later, the immediate family gathered at Fairplains Cemetery for a graveside service. Upon arriving, a young deer stood at a distance watching all the goings-on and put on quite a rare show running around the urban cemetery. "That was so perfect," said Lisa, explaining how their whole family loves to "go deering" up at their cottage. Marjean even keeps a count of how many deer family members have spotted over the summer.


The group circled around the casket holding hands and sang together while the kids played harmonicas in a final tribute to their grandpa. As they wrote their farewell messages in marker on Henry's casket, it was a most special occasion for a very special man.

You can read more about Henry's life and even share a memory of your own on his personal memory page.