Local family offered queen of Netherlands sanctuary in 1940
By Dennis Hill
Published in News on May 4, 2012 1:46 PM
It was the spring of 1940 and world war loomed.
Germany had conquered Poland the year before and had just taken over The Netherlands.
And a Wayne County couple who had left Holland only a few decades earlier let it be known that they would welcome the dethroned queen of The Netherlands to come and stay with them, at least until the war was over.
The couple was Jan and Willemina van Roekel. In a story on the front page of the May 16, 1940 edition of The News-Argus, the van Roekels, who operated a flower farm in southern Wayne, said they would be happy to offer sanctuary to the deposed queen, who also was named Wilhemina.
"We would like to have the Queen come and live with us," the couple told The News-Argus. "We would like to offer her a home with us here."
The queen did not take them up on their offer but the fact that the doughty immigrants were willing to make the public declaration was a testament to the grit that had brought the van Roekels to America soon after the turn of the century.
On Saturday, the descendants of Jan and Willemina van Roekel will meet at the Shrine Hall near Dudley to celebrate the lives of two of Wayne County's pioneering citizens.
The Van Roekels came from Holland in the early 20th century as part of a small colony of immigrants chosen by Dr. Fredric van Eeden to start an agricultural community in eastern North Carolina. They settled in southeastern North Carolina, eventually moving to southern Wayne County. Van Roekel was the first in the county to use artificial refrigeration to preserve his milk. Later, after getting out of the dairy business, Van Roekel began growing flowers in the area and shipping them by train to New York for sale.
He founded Van Roekel Florist, which is still in operation and operated by his son, John.