Idaho lawmaker has unique family history

John Vander Woude's roots are in Holland and his relatives experienced hard times in WWII.


John Vander Woude

In May of 1940, three days after German soldiers invaded France and the Low Countries, a British destroyer quietly evacuated Dutch Queen Wilhelmina and her family.

Rather than collaborate with the Nazi regime, the 59-year-old monarch formed a government-in-exile and remained in London for the duration of the war.

The prime minister of her wartime cabinet was Pieter Sjoerds Gerbrandy — the great-uncle of Idaho House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude.

With his farming background, conservative views and friendly demeanor, Vander Woude could easily pass for a fifth-generation Idahoan, but he's actually a California transplant and first-generation American.

"I was the second kid in our family to be born over here," said the Nampa Republican. "The four oldest were all born in Holland."

His parents both came from Friesland, a northern province famous for the quality of its dairies and the stubbornness of its farmers. They emigrated to Southern California after the war.

"At that time, there was a big group of Dutch farmers in the area," Vander Woude said.

Gerbrandy was his mother's uncle. He was a member of parliament for the Anti-Revolutionaire Partij, which had roots in the Dutch Reformed Church, and later served as minister of justice before becoming prime minister.

"My mom didn't talk about him much, or about the war," Vander Woude said. "There was a lot of starvation and fighting. She had a brother come back from the concentration camps. He died shortly after the war ended."

Although the southern half of Holland was liberated by the fall of 1944, the northern half remained under Nazi rule when the Operation Market Garden paratrooper landings failed to capture the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem.

The Germans subsequently blocked food shipments to the northern half of the country, resulting in the "Hunger Winter," with strict food rationing for 4.5 million people. More than 18,000 starved to death.

After they emigrated, Vander Woude's parents continued to speak Frisian - a language distinct from the Dutch spoken in the rest of the Netherlands.

"My dad prayed in Fries until I was in high school," he said. "After I moved to Idaho, I'd go back and visit them, and they'd still be talking Fries. I'd reply in English, but when I came back here I'd be thinking in Fries for a few days."

Vander Woude's wife, Judy, is from Dutch stock. Her parents also emigrated to Southern California after the war. She's the youngest of nine kids and the only one born in America.

After they married, the Vander Woudes ran a dairy in San Diego. It was on leased ground, though, and they wanted their own place — somewhere with enough room so their kids could live nearby. While visiting a relative in Idaho in 1980, they made a down-payment on land near Nampa.

"We took $100 out of our vacation cash, and that was our earnest money," Vander Woude said. "Six weeks later, we moved the cows and furniture and everything. And it worked out the way we wanted: I have one son living across the road, and a daughter and another son within three-quarters of a mile."

Other than his great-uncle, he said, no one else in his family has played a role in politics. And while Gerbrandy may have dealt with vastly different problems and concerns, his nephew did learn one important lesson from him.

"What he tried to do wasn't about him," Vander Woude said. "He was effective at getting aid to Holland during the war, but he stepped aside after the war ended. He didn't need to take credit for things."

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