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“And their apricot Weertervlaai is delicious!”


“There’s only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.” —Michael Caine’s character Nigel Powers in “Goldmember”



Ethnicity in Agincourt’s story has played a minimal role—to date. In naming its Roman Catholic parish, for example, I had avoided several saints’ names because so many of them have nationalistic overtones, as patrons of specific countries; that’s where Ahab came to my aid (as he will to yours, if you’re a pirate or suffer from OCD).

Native Americans (or the happier “First Nation” umbrella used by Canada) figured in the earliest history of the place, used as it was as a seasonal campground for the Sac & Fox people. A burial mound from pre-European settlement interrupted the path of Third Street SE, near the Martin Richard Elementary school. And, of course, our first fifty years were closely connected with the life of Cissy Beddowes, wife of Indian Agent Amos Beddowes and herself a medicine woman of the Sac & Fox. As the friend of Maud Adams and Belle Miller—it’s difficult to think of those two women even being on speaking terms—their triumvirate changed the lives of many 19th century women in the community.

On the first block of North Broad there is Hansa House, home of the old German-American Insurance Co., now less parochially part of the Farm Bureau. Its pedimented front was intended to evoke the narrow slabs of Hanseatic League cities such as Lübeck or Gdansk. A social hall for the Germanic population in this region once occupied the fourth floor, which has since become an apartment (though the aroma of kraut and bier may still permeate the walls and floors). But by and large, Agincourt has been a Yankee town until after the Second World War, with the arrival of ethnicities and races unimagined by the Founders.

Oh, wait, then there’s Vandervort’s Bakery, delicious tip of the Dutch iceberg in these parts.

The Dutch in Iowa

The largest number of Dutch settlers in 19th century Iowa came to Pella in central Iowa and Orange City not far from Agincourt in the northwest. Both were founded by Dutch Protestants seeking religious freedom, which they apparently could not enjoy in The Netherlands. Strange, since I had always thought of the Dutch as among the most tolerant of Europeans: socially conservative, but accepting of other beliefs and behaviors. But the Low Countries in the 19th century were in turmoil. Both Belgium and The Netherlands were culturally bifurcated by religion and politics—Catholic and Protestant, urban and rural, Socialist and its socio-economic antithesis. So it was enticing to imagine some of these folks within the confines of Fennimore county. Which brings us to evidence of Nederlanders hereabouts.

Most recently, of course, Howard has written about Dr Henry Cuijpers, but he came in the early 20th century and there were arrivals long before then.

Vandervort’s Bakery has been at 114 North Broad Street since the 1880s. Family-owned for two or three generations, it operates today under different management, but the recipes are original and still treasured by generations of patrons. I’m told by my friend Howard that the apricot Weertervlaai* is delicious. I’ll ask him to write something up for us and perhaps identify the family’s arrival and from whence they had come. I have a postcard view of the building somewhere.

Several miles northeast of Agincourt, near the county’s northeast corner, in fact, is the village of Grou, a name with connections to Friesland in the Dutch north. That province has its own language, Frisian, which I am told is the European language closest to English in grammar and vocabulary. [Not sure whether that would make it easier or harder to learn. Our son Tjipke Okkema was a Frieslander.] The history of an entire community is more complex and may take more time (and mental gymnastics) to flesh out, given some of the things I’ve said about Grou already (and may have to retract or rationalize).

I enjoy having my cage rattled now and then and being nudged to expand the story in new directions.

*Vlaai is a generic Dutch reference to pie; Weertervlaai, by extension, is a regional variant connected with the town of Weert in Limburg, most Catholic of the Dutch provinces. How that comes to play with the Vandervorts is unexplored territory.

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