Tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim visits many places of interest in U.S. and Canada

Die Grafschafter Reisegruppe mit The American Horse Skulptur..

The American Horse—after a design by Leonardo da Vinci (see this article). The giant sculpture stands in the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the foreground, the tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim.


From June 21 to July 8, 2019, a tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim visited a number of historically and culturally important places in North America—and enjoyed some fine summer weather while there.

Herbert Klinge and Hilde Legtenborg planned this trip extensively for more than a year. Since we planned and booked everything without using a travel agency, we were able to make the travel price relatively reasonable.

The impetus for the trip was the annual visit of a group of Calvin College students from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their visit in January of 2019 marked the 40th time that they’ve stayed for several days with families in Uelsen while on their trip through Germany. After several years, it was time to start a return visit.

That time finally came on June 21, 2019. Early in the morning, 41 travel enthusiasts from the Altreformierte congregations of Uelsen, Veldhausen, Nordhorn, and Bad Bentheim, including five from Reformed congregations in Grafschaft Bentheim, met to take an 18–day tour from Uelsen via Amsterdam to the North American continent.

Grafschafter Reisegruppe Follow-up Report

This article originally appeared in the Uelsen Altereformierte Church’s September, 2019 newsletter.

Grafschafter Reisegruppe im Bus nach Amsterdam.
Die Grafschafter Reisegruppe Bus

The travel enthusiasts began their journey by taking a tour bus from Ter Beek Travel to Schippol Airport in Amsterdam.

Touchdown in Washington, D.C.

Our first destination was Washington, D.C. After an extensive immigration check at Dulles Airport (almost reminiscent of the former East German border controls), we next drove to our first hotel in Arlington, Virginia.

From there, we explored the remarkable U.S. capital in small groups with two–day bus tickets (“hop on, hop off”). A night tour by bus and a boat trip on the Potomac River were also included. Those who wanted could also make a side tour to the huge Arlington National Cemetery.

In the later afternoon of the third day, we picked up our ten reserved minivans. The first drive took us over 250 km (155 miles) to Horsham, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia).

We were well–prepared. With these cars, we wanted to complete the entire 15–day, 3,500 km (2,175 miles) of travel as problem–free as possible. We were aided by NAVI apps, U.S. prepaid data sim cards, and on–the–go communication with the U.S. WhatsApp group.

Die Grafschafter Reisegruppe und das "White House" in Washington, DC.

The White House (looks much bigger on TV).

Die Grafschafter Reisegruppe und JFKs Grabanlage.

John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis gravesite at the Arlington National Cemetery: simple and impressive.

Die Grafschafter Reisegruppe und die Freiheitsstatue.

The Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, New York Harbor. The statue base is made of Bentheim sandstone.

Die Grafschafter Reisegruppe und Ground Zero.

Tour Group from Grafschaft Bentheim in New York City

From Horsham, Pennsylvania, our tour took us to Secaucus, New Jersey, near New York City. Soon after we arrived, our New York program began with a boat trip on the Hudson River from New Jersey to Ellis Island. There we visited the historic central collection point for immigrants in the U.S.A. It is a museum today.

Then the boat tour took us to the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. Incidentally, the base of the statue is made of Bentheim sandstone. We were able to climb up to the crown and had a nice view of New York from there.

We held our first group picnic in the evening at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. Rounding off this picnic was a fantastic view of the skyline, all lit up in the night.

The next day, we could then see a small part of this bustling city on a bus tour led by a German tour guide. Ground Zero, in particular, where the World Trade Center once stood before it was destroyed by a terrorist attack in 2001, is something one should definitely see.

Left: The 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero. Below: The evening Manhattan skyline as seen from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Die Grafschafter Reisegruppe und die Skyline von Manhattan.

The next stage of the journey took us 175 km (109 miles) further north. New York’s Letchworth State Park is also known as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Letchworth is really a beautiful long–drawn–out (24 km, 15 miles) park, with lots of forest, a river (the Genesee River) meandering through the gorge, and some waterfalls. We held our second group picnic in this beautiful environment. It does not get any better.

Our destination for the day was St. Catharines in Canada, not far from Niagara Falls. After crossing the U.S.–Canada border at Buffalo, we arrived there in the evening.

Die Grafschafter Reisegruppe besuchte Letchworth State Park in New York.

Herbert and Alberta Klinge in Letchworth State Park; a waterfall and railway bridge appear in the background.

We could visit the Niagara waterfalls during the day as well as when they were colorfully illuminated at night. Very imposing. Naturally, we couldn’t pass up a misty boat trip on the Niagara River along the thunderous waterfalls. From the 160 m (525 feet) high Skylon Tower we had a beautiful view of the surroundings of the U.S. and Canadian waterfalls. After visiting the Daredevil Museum of Niagara Falls, we went on an outing on the Niagara Parkway along the Niagara River to the beautiful town of Niagara–on–the–Lake, located by Lake Ontario.

We held another picnic in a dreamlike setting in Queen’s Royal Park, right on the shores of Lake Ontario. From there, we could see the silhouette of Toronto in the distance.

Photograph of Niagara Falls and a riverboat that the Grafschaft Bentheim tour group saw

Niagara Falls.

Photograph of tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim members at a picnic table

Picnicking in Queen’s Royal Park in Niagara–on–the–Lake, Canada.

The tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim enjoys a long drive

The longest daily drive came the next day—400 km (248 miles). Everything was taken care of, however, because of the scenic variety during the long journey. Thus, we first drove to Toronto to the CN Tower. One has a nice view over this city from 342 meters (1,122 feet) in the air.

For lunch, we found ourselves in the  The Old Spaghetti Factory  restaurant, which is close to the CN Tower. Very quaint and highly recommended.

In the evening, we finally reached Chatham, Ontario, our destination for the day.

Photograph of the sign outside The Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in Toronto, Canada where the tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim enjoyed a meal

We left Canada the next day. The 350 km (217 miles) journey took us across the international border at Detroit and back into the U.S. The border control went surprisingly fast for most of us.

We made a stop for an interesting museum visit in Dearborn, Michigan (near Detroit), where the automaker Ford has its headquarters. It also houses a large museum on its extensive grounds, the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, with many interesting exhibits from the founding era of the company and later years—for example, personal limousines, presidential limousines, steam engines, airplanes, and much more.

There’s also a large historic village on the grounds, Greenfield Village. Everything is well worth seeing.

Photograph of antique tractor at Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan

Grafschaft Bentheim tourists arrive in West Michigan

After another 245 km (152 miles), we reached the Prince Conference Center hotel on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan on the evening of Saturday, June 29. We were already expected there by Professors Corey Roberts, Herman de Vries, and Pennylyn Dijkstra–Pruim of the German Department, and we received a very warm welcome.

Right: Corey Roberts, Herman de Vries and Pennylyn Dijkstra–Pruim.

Photograph of two men and one woman greeting the tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim
Photograph of man preaching on a stage with large screen behind him in a church where the tour group from Grafschaft Benthim worshipped

Pastor Phil Kok of Graafschap Christian Reformed Church in Graafschap, Michigan.

Fun and Perplexity at Graafschap CRC

The next day (Sunday), we first attended a worship service at the Graafschap Christian Reformed Church in Graafschap (near Holland), Michigan. In addition, some Grafschafter emigrants had come to the service to greet their German relatives—partly in the Low German language.

First there were lessons for the children in the children’s worship service. Then we got the opportunity to make our greetings to the congregation. Harm Ten Kate made them in English for our tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim. After that, we were able to give our contribution in song, “May the Road…” (from LDH 53) to the best of our ability. It sounded really good. Afterwards, Pastor Kok asked the congregation: “Who understood the German song lyrics?” Not one hand moved.

Well, the Graafschaap Christian Reformed Church congregation has now heard the German language at least once.

There was a time for coffee with the congregation after the service. Some church members were very interested in talking with us Germans—as far as our English language skills would allow. Then, we had the opportunity to visit the Graafschap Heritage Center (Emigration Museum) in the church basement. Collected here are several exhibits, documents, and many pictures from when emigrants came and settled and the time when the church was founded—and with reference to Grafschaft Bentheim. They are very interesting. The collection is supervised by Bill Sytsma, the husband of Jennie Diekjakobs–Sytsma.

Photograph of museum exhibit of mannequin, photographs, and documents in a heritage museum that the tour group from Grafschaft Benthim visited

In the Graafschap Heritage Center.

Photograph of circular chapel at Calvin University, which the tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim saw on their tour of the campus

The chapel at Calvin University.

Photograph of 3 women with the tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim in Frederik Meijer Gardens

Johanne Aalderink with her two “kids,” Helga Scholte–Eekhoff and Hilde Legtenborg, in the park.

We reserved the morning of the next day for shopping in the large shopping malls in the area; at noon, we took an interesting tour of Calvin College’s campus with the professors.

In the afternoon, we visited the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids. This beautifully–landscaped park is very large—158 hectares (390 acres). Quite simply, the main attraction is The American Horse sculpture (see above).

Wally Bratt and Barbara Carvill, retired Calvin professors of German, were also invited to have dinner with us at the Prince Conference Center. Both Bratt and Carvill accompanied the Calvin College students who traveled to Grafschaft Bentheim in the early days and were able to tell us a few humorous stories.

Group photograph of the tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim and professors in front of a stone fireplace

Group photo with Professors Corey Roberts, Wally Bratt, and Herman de Vries (front left), and Barbara Carvill (front right, sitting) and Pennylyn Dijkstra–Pruim (right, standing).

Tuesday, our program consisted of a day trip to Shipshewana, Indiana, and the Amish community there. We first visited the Menno–Hof, an Amish/Mennonite museum. Among other offerings, here we could watch German–language films on the history and religious background of the Amish people.

We then had the opportunity to visit an Amish farm. However, we discovered that it does not work “that way” without technology.

Photograph of two members of the tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim trying out Amish headwear

Harm and Anneke Ten Kate in Amish attire.

After returning to Grand Rapids, we had a farewell dinner at Calvin College Tuesday evening. On behalf of the group, Herbert Klinge thanked the professors for the interesting program, as well as for the great care. We’re now able to look back on very beautiful and eventful days in Grand Rapids.

We again expect a group of Calvin students in Uelsen at the end of this year, led by Professor Corey Roberts. Finding accommodation for them should not be a problem.

Photograph of tourists at the farewell dinner at Calvin University

Farewell dinner in the DeVos Atrium.

Picture of Calvin University's logo

Incidentally, Calvin College became Calvin University on July 10, 2019.

From tourists to family members

On the next day of the tour, Wednesday, July 3, we began the private part of our trip. For three days, most of our group members stayed with host families in Holland, Graafschap, Muskegon, Hamilton, Hudsonville, and Zeeland. A few stayed with their relatives, who included Swenna Harger, Bernd Pastunink, and Jennie Diekjacobs–Sytsma. The daily programs were arranged individually with the host families.

Herb Kraker, whose Krake ancestry comes from Getelo, had prepared these three days for us and also arranged host family accommodation—which wasn’t so easy, given the Fourth of July national holiday. Thank you very much, Herb!

Besides the interesting sightseeing tours with the various host families, including informal gatherings while grilling, etc., we must mention two special events.

Photograph at the joint meeting of BIS-NA and BIS-D at Russ' Restaurant in Holland, Michigan

Lynn and Herb Kraker, Alberta and Herbert Klinge, and Helga and Jan–Hermann Brünink.

Fourth of July

On July 4 was the national holiday of the Fourth of July, “Independence Day.” There were celebrations everywhere—with and without music—as well as huge fireworks displays, which sometimes lasted over an hour.

This also happened in Overisel, Michigan, with the entrepreneurial Broekhuis family. They invited the entire population of the area to their fireworks display. Several thousand had come to enjoy the spectacle, with free admission and drinks.

Many members of our tour group and their host families were also present. We Germans were even given an extra greeting with an announcement on the loudspeaker!

Photograph of fireworks display

Photo by Le Kiet on Unsplash

Photograph of tourists from Grafschaft Bentheim and BIS members at a joint meeting in a restaurant

At Russ’ Restaurant. On the left is Jim Sytsma, Vice President of the Bentheimers International Society.

Photograph of a flag being presented to the Bentheimers International Society by tourists from Grafschaft Bentheim

On the right, Herbert Klinge of the German BIS presents Jim Sytsma and the Society with a flag of Grafschaft Bentheim.

Meeting the “Bentheimers”

On Thursday, July 5, the Bentheimers International Society (BIS) invited us to a brunch at a Russ’ Restaurant in Holland. This was, of course, a matter of honor for us. Incidentally, the Russ’ restaurant chain was founded by J. Russell Bouws, a descendant of a Grafschafter emigrant from Heesterkante.

We were warmly welcomed by BIS President John Bouws. There were a lot of conversations, many in English; one could partly speak with a few older BIS members, but also in Low German—for example, with Hindrik–Jan Meier, the brother of Eduard Meier.

During his acceptance speech, Herbert Klinge presented BIS with a flag of Grafschaft Bentheim on behalf of the tour group and others. It was a nice and rewarding event for everyone.

After the brunch, we could form small groups for the rest of the day, either by ourselves or with our host families.

Photograph of BIS members and tourist group from Grafschaft Bentheim at a group meeting in a restaurant
Graphic with the following text: "BIS's task is to collect and preserve the stories of emigrants. They publish a quarterly newsletter and a website, Society members meet regularly, and also there is contact between both sides of the Atlantic. An offshoot of the Bentheimers International Society also exists in Grafschaft Bentheim. You can become a member for ten Euro per year. For more information, contact Gerrit-Jan Beuker or Wilhelm Beuker (vice president). In September of next year, a group of BIS members will be making a tour of Germany, including Prague and Vienna; they will have a brief stop in Grafschaft Bentheim."

Download a PDF of the September 2020 Tour Information, or learn about the emigrants from Grafschaft Bentheim!

Photograph of tourists from Grafschaft Bentheim on the boardwalk in Grand Haven, Michigan

On the boardwalk in Grand Haven: to the right is the mouth of the Grand River where it enters Lake Michigan.

Photograph of tourists from Grafschaft Bentheim on the beach at Holland, Michigan

At the beach in Holland: relaxing on the sun–drenched sand and cooling off in Lake Michigan.

Leaving Michigan for Illinois; our journey is winding down

After these three beautiful and relaxing days, it was time to say goodbye to the host families on Saturday morning, July 7. After re–grouping at Graafschap CRC, we drove 250 km (155 miles) to our next destination, Chicago on Lake Michigan.

Photograph of the tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim on a bike tour of Chicago

Visiting Chicago’s noteworthy attractions. Chicago is very bike–friendly.

Photograph of Willow Creek Community Church's stage, where the tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim worshipped.

Willow Creek Community Church’s main campus is located in South Barrington, Illinois. It has eight locations.

The next highlight came immediately after we arrived in Chicago: It was announced that we were going on a three–hour bike tour through the large city. We divided into two equal groups. And this was a super experience—we could not have imagined that. Chicago is a city very worth seeing—and bike friendly.

In the evening, we drove on to our last overnight stay, Schaumburg, Illinois.

Our journey was coming to an end. However, the organizers had a final highlight planned for our return day on Sunday. We attended the worship service of a mega–church, Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington.

You should have seen that. It took an escalator ride of several meters going up before you could even enter the worship hall. Seven thousand people can fit on three levels in the semicircular sanctuary. Huge screens on the left and right of the stage allow you to follow the action from further away. The lighting and loudspeaker technology is the finest.

A lot of music was on the program on this Sunday morning. Before the sermon on “appreciation” began, it was announced that there would first be a half–hour Christian rock concert—conducted mostly by the congregation.

After the service, there was a small but, for us—a tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim—an especially interesting tour of the huge building complex. Among other things, it has an extra children’s worship room, restaurant, and food pantry for the needy, as well as a large auto repair shop.

Concluding thoughts

Around noon, it was time for our last minivan ride to the Chicago O’Hare departure airport. We returned our rental cars without any problem and, in the afternoon, started our direct flight back to Europe on a KLM Boeing 747. We arrived safe and sound in Amsterdam in the morning of July 8 and then took a bus to Uelsen. By noon, everyone was back home safely.

It was an exciting journey. We have seen and experienced a lot, and the community that our tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim formed was outstanding. The program that we planned ourselves could be put into action nearly 1:1, almost perfectly.

The best thing was that we had no serious mishaps to complain about—accidents, illnesses, etc.—and that’s something you really can’t count on. The two trip organizers were fully determined that the program could work out this way. We can be very grateful for this.

And how did it go for the tour group members? Everyone was thoroughly enthusiastic. What more could we want?

On September 27, the group met again for a barbecue on the Blekker–Hof in Uelsen.

Photograph of the tourist group from Grafschaft Bentheim with their fleet of ten rented minivans

Our fleet of vehicles in front of the Prince Conference Center in Grand Rapids.

Were you a member of this tour group to North America? Or, did you meet the German visitors during their trip? Leave a comment below and share your memories!

1 thought on “Tour group from Grafschaft Bentheim 2019”

  1. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Harm & Anneke Ten Kate and Georg & Tini Ekelhoff and having them stay at our home in Zeeland, MI. Seeing the fantastic 4 th of July firework display was great fun together. We enjoyed our new friends. All are welcomed back if they ever would like to visit the Holland area again.


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