Community column: Warm Hearth founders’ vision honored today
Many of us hope to establish a legacy in our lifetime. We imagine our work within the community may leave it a better place. We support causes that are bigger than ourselves — through volunteerism or financial donations. We pray our children lead healthy, productive lives and contribute in their own ways.
But rare is the occasion when two people methodically plan and organize for years toward a bold gesture of gratitude. I first learned about Wybe and Marietje Kroontje (pronounced croon-cha) through a quick perusal of the Warm Hearth website (www.retire.org) after word of the Third Annual Founders Day at the facility hit my desk. I wondered what type of people would merit a daylong celebration where surely many voices contributed to a development of such considerable scale. What I learned made me want to declare Founders Week or Month for this dynamic, forward-thinking couple.
After emigrating from the Netherlands to the United States in 1948, the Kroontjes focused on two goals for their lives: begin a career by earning a college education and find a way to contribute to the well-being of the American people. The first was clearly practical. The second was motivated by appreciation for rescue from five years of Nazi occupation.
Eight years later, Wybe Kroontje had completed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in agronomy from the University of Nebraska. He and Marietje came to Blacksburg when he was offered an associate professorship at Virginia Tech. But it would take 13 more years to identify their specific thank-you to their new homeland.
They had visited Marietje’s mother at an elder care facility in Rotterdam. This sparked the idea for a retirement community where seniors could live surrounded by natural beauty and every resident would receive the respect and dignity that a long life and the wisdom that comes with it deserve. My Sunday school classes made an annual trek to the local senior centers in my hometown around the holidays each year. The memories are depressing enough to recognize how the Kroontjes’ concept was much-needed and, indeed, bold in approach.
The Kroontjes also believed in providing equal opportunity for those without the financial means to possibly make the most of the new facility. The nonprofit component of Warm Hearth regularly raises funds to ensure that all interested seniors may join.
The village with its many and diverse settings is based on a 100-year plan, substantiated by Dr. Kroontje’s own research and supported by a generous group of collaborators. As each new phase of Warm Hearth Village emerges, we can easily imagine it to be the culmination of another part of the Kroontjes’ dream.
Founders Day at Warm Hearth celebrates this extraordinary story of two extraordinary people. According to Tambra D. Meredith, director of marketing and development, “Founders Day was landed upon by a group of staff who were fortunate enough to know Dr. and Mrs. Kroontje. We are dedicated to keeping their mission and incredible story in front of anyone and everyone who will hear it and seek new ways to get the entire community out to see what we’re all about.”
Part of the Kroontjes’ vision involved a robust league of volunteers, people of all ages, engaged with Warm Hearth residents. Planners of Founders Day hope to educate as well as entertain.
Folk in traditional Dutch dress will kick off the day, which will also feature a Taste of the Netherlands where you can sample traditional Dutch cuisine, have your name translated into Dutch, and enjoy various giveaways including tulip bulbs to plant before the snow flies. In this way, organizers continue to honor their founders through a lasting reminder of the Kroontjes and this remarkable gift to our community, and our country.
The Third Annual Founders Day at Warm Hearth Village is today from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
By Catherine Van Noy
Special to The Burgs | 639-3330
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