“Just call me ‘Oma’”, she’d say, and everyone obliged. Not to entertain the wishes of a quaint Dutch woman, but from a genuine reverence and affection for a beautiful soul. By whatever name you knew her—mom, Oma, Yoka, or Johanna—she was, most likely, your favorite person.
On the twenty-seventh of February, 2021, Johanna Elizabeth Intgroen, 91, of Corvallis, Montana, passed painlessly, peacefully, and graciously into everlasting rest.
A voracious devourer of literature and a passionate storyteller, she lives on through stories. Brimming with wisdom, history, hope, and perseverance, she shared them with every soul she touched. Oma, this is your story:
She was born to Anton and Adrianna VanderKallen in Tilberg, Netherlands on the twenty-second of April, 1929. A gymnast in her youth, she was the national champion on the rings, a predominately men’s sport. Her childhood, however, was shaken when World War II came to the Netherlands in 1940.
Here, stories abound with witting and unwitting involvement with the resistance. Always fresh in her mind, the stories “arrive as if it was a day ago”. Delivering resistance newspapers, hiding neighbors under floorboards, falsifying passes for labor camp leave, providing arms to the underground resistance, aiding defectors to England, and children casually playing with unspent munitions, Oma’s stories were as incredible as she.
Conditions worsened during the Hunger Winter of 1944-45. Surviving on sugar beets and tulip bulbs, instead of apathy, she developed a passionate love of life. Following the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945, Oma and her schoolmates were given only forty years to live. Years of malnutrition, abuse, and stress had taken their toll. It was a heartbreakingly accurate prognosis for most—Oma, however, had too much living yet to do.
In the years following the war, Oma met Gerard Joseph Intgroen and, in 1949, they were married, as they say, “on paper”. However, her faith was a strong, driving force in her life. So, they were re-married a year later in what she affectionately called “the big church” in Leiden. In 1956, The Intgroen family immigrated to the United States and landed in Holland, Michigan. There, Oma was a proud mother, small business proprietor, and sponsor to numerous Dutch families immigrating to America through the Dutch Immigrant Society.
In 1969, the Intgroens moved to Coloma, Michigan and ran Intgroen’s Grocery & Cottages. In 1973, Gaylord, Michigan became home to the family and to her most memorable and proud business, her yarn shop, Thru the Needles Eye. While she was an avid craftswoman in needlepoint, crocheting, and knitting, to be gifted an “Oma blanket” was to be a member of an exclusive and venerated club.
In 1982, Oma found herself in Grand Rapids, Michigan then, in 1986, settled in Kalamazoo, Michigan—there, for twenty-seven years, was Oma’s house. Despite leaving the Netherlands, and no matter where she was, she remained wedded to her Dutch heritage. She passed that heritage on to her four children, and they to theirs. To Oma, there was an art to being Dutch.
“Gezellig” is difficult to define. It engenders thoughts of warmth, safety, comfort, and love. Oma had a knack for making everything gezellig.
Over the years, the most coveted family pilgrimage was to Oma’s house—especially during the holidays. Her home, ever ready for company, would be adorned with a pristine white Christmas tree, the aroma of almond cookies baking in the oven, Swedish meatballs that seemed to vanish, and a hint of White Linen perfume. Ever present were her cherished pets and crossword puzzle books completed in her unmistakable penmanship. Oma’s house was warmth, comfort, and, above all else, her house was love—it was gezellig.
In 2013, Oma moved to Caledonia, Michigan. There, she lived quietly and peacefully until she made Corvallis, Montana her home in 2018 where she spent her final years at the feet of snow- capped mountains. It was there that she delivered a message to her posterity that is quintessentially Oma: “the world is yours, I’m almost done with it.”
Throughout her life, Oma was a proud woman. Proud of her business endeavors, of her Dutch heritage, and her steadfast obedience to right and wrong. She was proud of her family for different reasons and applied no grading system to her love. Above all, however, she was proud of her four beloved children.
Oma’s passing leaves a family’s heart and soul hollow. But her unapologetic and infectious love of life will not allow it. Instead, her spirit calls us to celebrate life, not dwell on its passing. For her, we try.
Oma was preceded in death by her parents Anton and Adrianna VanderKallen (1989 and 1980, respectively); her husband, Gerard (1981); her son, Tedd (1987); and her brother, Bill (1986). As was her way, she made them wait.
She is survived by the two children and five grandchildren of her late son, Tedd Intgroen; son, Anthony and wife Laura Intgroen, two children and one grandchild; daughter, Desiree and husband Patrick Robinson, four children and ten grandchildren; and son, Hans and wife Rita Intgroen, two children and one grandchild with another on the way.
In our thoughts and deeds, we strive to do justice to Oma’s memory. But, when “I love you” is not enough and “goodbye” is too difficult, we have to settle for a humble “thank you”. Thank you for the memories. For your love. And for teaching us how to be strong. God speed you on your journey.
Oma was cremated on the first of March, 2021. A memorial service was held on the second of March, 2021, at the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Hamilton, Montana. Another memorial service will be held on the twenty- fourth of April, 2021 at 10AM at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Caledonia, Michigan. There will also be a celebration of life luau in Oma’s memory on the twenty-second of April, 2021 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She is to be buried at the side of her husband, Gerard, and son, Tedd, in the Mountain Home cemetery in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
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