It’s not always easy to have a conversation over the whir of machinery in the woodshop at Vernon’s Regency Parkwood Retirement Resort, but that suits Hank Beerstra and Bert Hoogland just fine; the less chatter while making intricate saw cuts, the better.
And even though they’re “both going deaf” in their later years, as Hoogland jokes, they’ve managed to become good friends while continuing their decades-long hobby side by side.
The shop, among many amenities at Parkwood is equipped with all the tools and machinery needed to make almost anything out of wood, and the two Dutch-born friends are in the shop for hours most days doing just that.
Beerstra, 90, has been in Canada since 1951.
“I had an interesting young life,” he said in good humour before recounting life events from his childhood in northern Holland during the war period that would seem harrowing to most.
“My dad was for five years in a concentration camp,” he said. “I had four sisters and no brothers, so I was a loner in the family because I had nobody to go to.”
Without a father for many of his formative years, Beerstra would watch and learn from his grandfather, who had a carpentry shop “before the 1930s.” Beerstra was about seven or eight at the time.
“I helped them a lot,” he said.
Living in a town that was directly in the flight path between England and Germany during the Second World War, he was recruited into the Dutch resistance as a “tall, mean son of a b——” at just 11 years old.
In Canada, he was a truck driver for years and a family man. He’s since made about 20 large cedar chests — which he calls ‘hope chests’ — for his many children and grandchildren.
“I had a hard life but I had a good life too,” he said smiling. “I have no complaints.”
Beerstra finds people are often surprised to hear he’s in his 90s. He said he’s only been in hospital once in his life, for a heart attack in 2005. “They fixed me up and I never looked back,” he said.
He quickly amended that: “Well, I’ve been in the hospital for cutting fingers on saws,” he laughed.
Beerstra could speak for hours about the old days. Meanwhile, Hoogland doesn’t have to think too far back to reflect on his latest major life event. He and fellow resident Dorothy Krueger, 81, got married earlier this year on the day before Valentine’s Day.
The two residents met at Parkwood in the summer of 2020.
“He’d brought a (wooden) zebra into the dining room to show us and all of a sudden I thought, my granddaughter likes zebras, and I asked if he’d make me one,” she said.
Half a year later, the two were married.
“They treated us like royalty here,” Dorothy said of Parkwook on their wedding day.
On a ledge outside the door to their residence, their names are carved into a wooden plaque, which Beerstra made for them.
They aren’t your typical newly-wedded couple, with over 100 years of marriage experience between them — “So, you know, we don’t need a honeymoon,” Bert said.
Hoogland says plainly that if it wasn’t for the woodshop, he wouldn’t have moved into a retirement residence.
“I don’t know where I would have gone,” he said.
If you or your loved one is looking for independent retirement living, call Marcy at 250-558-0232 for a tour of the woodshop and the rest of the Parkwood Retirement Resort.