Amazing tale of friendship spanning 80 years

By Lin Ferguson -
1 comment
School mates in Holland, Willem Robbertsen (left) and Jan Van Loo, reconnected in Waihi several years ago. PHOTO/LIN FERGUSON
School mates in Holland, Willem Robbertsen (left) and Jan Van Loo, reconnected in Waihi several years ago. PHOTO/LIN FERGUSON

Willem Robbertsen and Jan Van Loo are staunch mates, and they have been for more than 80 years. It's a friendship that has lasted across two countries.

They both grew up in Putten, in the south of Holland.

As small boys they knew each other and each other's families, and went to the same school, but both left Holland separately when they were older. They did not keep in contact.

Willem, 88, emigrated to New Zealand in his 20s, first landing in New Plymouth and then working all over New Zealand as a builder and engineer.

These days he lives in Westport and says the West Coast is by far the friendliest place in the country.

But 20 years ago he was living in Waihi when his elderly mum from Holland came to visit.

"She always said that if she didn't come to me she would die without seeing me again.

Well, she came out, then died three weeks later. It was as though she had it planned."

And 84-year-old Jan, who lives in Marton and had immigrated 30 years before, saw the death notice. He immediately left Wellington where he was living and went to Waihi for the funeral, he said.

Their reunion was "something to behold", Willem said.

"The owner of the pub where they went after the funeral gave up and went to bed at midnight. Lucky he lived next door."

Since then the two men have kept in close contact.

Once they both retired, Willem made sure he built up a travelling fund so they could have a trip together each year.

"I would put all my gold coins into a big jar and when it was full I'd ring Jan and say, 'Right, we're off.'" They have travelled around most of New Zealand now.

"Jan does the driving, because I don't see very well these days," Willem said.
"And I'm a better driver," said Jan.

Recently they spent a month travelling around Mt Taranaki and over to the Central Plateau.

"We have wonderful trips and it helps that we are very good friends," Jan said.

"Yes, we both have very good humour," Willem said.

They have been on the road since September and Willem is now on his way home to Buller.

Next year they plan to go to Queenstown and Wanaka, then in to Central Otago. "Our years might be getting on, but we're not ready to be giving up yet. The trips are good for us so we will keep going," said Willem.

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