It’s a human-interest story that spans nearly 25 years and has at its epicenter the small Dutch city of Woerden, which beyond its city proper is a land of mostly meadows and farms on the banks of the Old Rhine River in central Netherlands. Woerden boasts a population of some 50,000 people, most of whom ride bikes, eat poffertjes (tiny sweet pancakes with butter and sugared icing), and commute by train to jobs in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. Woerden has a windmill (“De Windhond”) in the city center and its own castle (the Castle of Woerden, built in 1410 by Duke John the Pitiless). The city has a long and rich history of cheesemaking and trading, with an established international market for its Gouda. In fact, not far from De Windhond in the city center, cheesemakers still sell product in the marketplace, where they have done so since 1885.
Not so longstanding is Woerden’s connection to Gold Arrow Camp. Over the last two-plus decades, the city has been the source of several top-notch counselors—nine, to be exact—cementing its place in camp history as a Gold Arrow “sister city” and trusted pipeline for hard-working, friendly, and reliable staff.
The Woerden Legacy starts with Wendy “Dutchie” Kuiters, who came to Gold Arrow in the summer of 1993 after responding to a flier left in her college mail slot. Dutchie recalls having to write a letter about herself then stapling a picture to it before sending it to a recruiter. Back then, her packet circulated via U.S. Mail to camp directors seeking international staff. Thankfully, Gold Arrow nabbed her first, hiring the flying Dutchwoman to teach windsurfing at Huntington Lake where she became a mainstay on the Gold Arrow waterfront in the 1990s.
At home in Woerden, Dutchie had started a career in education. She became a master teacher, mentoring other young educators, always keeping an eye out for those who would be a good fit for camp. “I was very selective about who I recommended,” she said. “I felt responsible for whoever I brought.” In 2002, she met Sjaak Vermeulen, a young Dutchman who’d been placed in her classroom. His connection with the children was instant, and Dutchie knew he would be great at Gold Arrow. On her recommendation, Vermeulen applied.
The two came to Gold Arrow together in 2003. Dutchie was the Shaver Island Director and Vermeulen, who’d taken the nickname “Link,” worked with the “Bears”—Gold Arrow’s youngest campers. Link’s legacy to Gold Arrow, besides helping bring seven more Woerdeners to camp, was his founding of “Bears Adventure,” a one-night, low-impact hike and campout designed to help young campers transition to longer backpacking trips.
In hindsight, Link had named himself appropriately. In 2007, he brought his younger brother Joris (“Orange”) to Gold Arrow, and since 2008, six more have followed: Sabrina “Juice” Boere, Anne “Apple” Bouter, Jeroen “Joker” Lamboo, Elvira “Elf” Lok, and new to the staff in 2016, Iris “Bloom” Bos and the Vermeulens’ cousin, Bas “Ajax” Eberwijn.
In the fall of 2014, Steve “Monkey” and Audrey “Sunshine” Monke visited Woerden so they could see first-hand where all these fine folks called home. Like other locals, they climbed aboard bicycles and pedaled the bucolic countryside, even partaking in a rousing game of Farmersgolf (“Boerengolf” in Dutch), a game invented in the Netherlands in response to costly greens fees there. The game, played with a special club (the club head is in the shape of a wooden shoe) and an oversized (20-cm diameter) ball, requires players to navigate strategic hazards on an otherwise unaltered farm. Live cows and ditches are par for the course as players attempt to hole their ball in a buried bucket with a flagpole beside it. At one point in their lives, Link, Orange, Bloom, and Ajax were all employed by De Boerinn, Woerden’s Farmersgolf club.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2016, and it’s a Dutch reunion of sorts, as Orange, Bloom, Ajax, and Dutchie are all at Gold Arrow Camp, session 3. Orange, Bloom, and Ajax have been here all summer, with Dutchie spending her second summer as a two-week camp mom. The woman who started it all has returned with yet another Woerdener, her 4-year-old daughter Kiki, who one day will be a Gold Arrow camper and perhaps follow in her mother’s (and several others’) footsteps to join the camp staff.
The future of the Gold Arrow/Woerden alliance is bright, indeed.