JANET BOGART WOLBRINK
Interviewed 9/02/08 and Video Recorded 9/12/08
by John & Charlaine Shack
met Janet in the parking lot of Singapore Condominium from where she ushered us
into her home. She began sharing her
memories with us almost immediately. Her stories were as rich and colorful in
description and emotion. When we learned
about her work as an oil and watercolor painter, we realized her personal stories
were word paintings created with broad background strokes and clusters of
focused detail to create a coherent image.
Bogart Wolbrink’s Saugatuck-Douglas area story begins when she chose to leave
her home in New York’s Long Island for Hope College
in Holland, Michigan.
She reports that her choice of college was influenced by her father’s
wartime service connection to a Dutch Reformed clergyman on St.
Thomas, Virgin Islands, that led to joining a Reformed Church of
America in Long Island and, thus, the fortuitous Hope College
recommendation. Janet had already shown
a strong interest in the visual arts and was considering the Rhode Island
School of Design after high school. Her
practical father, however, strongly urged her to major in business in college
so she wouldn’t “starve to death”.
Hope College students in the late 1940s, on average, were more
religiously conservative than her, Janet commented, allowing that she “had more
freedom and fun” than many of her classmates.
While at Hope she had a job in the City Hall. One March day a young man asked her for
directions to the Municipal Court department where he needed to pay a parking
fine. She recognized Bob Wolbrink, to
whom she gave directions, and subsequently they struck up a dating relationship.
By June they were married.
Wolbrink was born in Ganges where his grandfather,
Orin Wolbrink, had settled and purchased the general store and adjoining home
in 1906 from Benjamin Eddy (see Eddy bio
link). Bob graduated from Holland High School and served in the U.S. Army
Air Corps during WWII. As a bomber pilot
he was shot down over Japan
and interred in Russia
until the end of the war.
maternal grandfather and uncle were physicians in Ganges, living in a huge
house east of the Ganges general store. Janet related how this father and son medical
team would travel many miles in horse-drawn wagons to deliver babies and care
for sick patients, often being gone for days.
She recalled the Douglas
Hospital in the Kirby
House, remembering the maternity labor
room to be in the basement and the delivery room upstairs. She also described the Burns family IGA in
Douglas (where Terry Burns grew up) on the north side of Center past Washington. Down
the street, Janet recalls, a rear building which housed a husband and wife
barber team. The old St. Peter’s Church
Hall and convent were on the corner of Main
and Center. Just west of Every Day People’s Café (where its bar is now located)
was a fresh produce store run by Peter and Arlene. Janet youngest son, Jimmy, picked wild
berries and brought them to Arlene to trade.
father, Orin, who had experience in insurance, began the Wolbrink insurance
business first as a desk inside of the store along with the U.S. Post Office. He later moved the office to Holland and it expanded significantly
through the years. Bob Wolbrink followed
his father into the Wolbrink Insurance Services. After their marriage, he and Janet moved into
a series of homes in Holland’s
near south central area as their family grew to five children. Beginning with
Mary then Robert Jr., Allen, Nancy
and, eventually, James.
was always interested in land near water and one day purchased a property on Lake Michigan where he and Janet had a cottage designed
and constructed for their summer escapes.
Again, as their family grew, so did the cottage and their good summer
memories on the lake.
day Bob surprised Janet with his purchase of a 100 acre parcel of land several
miles up the Kalamazoo
River from Saugatuck
between 63rd and 64th streets just west of what is now
Peach Tree Creek. The family moved from
a large comfortable house in Holland
to a smaller country cottage for which it was difficult to find well water. For awhile, the dioxin coming down stream from
the Plainwell paper plant had to be tolerated, but the river views more than
couple began work on a home of their own design that would provide comfortable
space of everyone, have the cedar shingle exterior that Janet wanted to blend
with the woods, and a pole barn that Bob needed to house his collection of tractors
and other machines and Nancy’s
horses. It took many months before the
house was complete enough to move into, but the family eventually enjoyed over
30 years at their house and country estate.
became a “gentleman farmer” and tried his hand at raising fruit crops. Be asked
several farmer friends to walk his land and they concurred that his soil was
good to grow blueberries, which he did. Bob
Crane of the Crane farm in Fennville helped him graft some of his small fruit
trees. His interests, however, were not
in serious farming so he kept his day job as an insurance broker.
and fishing was a large source of recreation for the family during these years,
giving Janet ample time to observe and note the development along the river.
She recalls that when the bridge for I96 was constructed, many back roads that
accessed the river disappeared. During one of the family’s annual trips to Mackinaw Island they saw an early boat lift for
bringing small craft out of the water. They purchased what may have been one of
the first mechanical boat lifts to use on the river. Janet also recalls a boat house out in the
river near the former Kalamazoo Lake West Marine operation (now just south of
her condominium) where her children could fish and practice rowing boats. She related a story about her children rowing
out to a sunken barge with a long rope tied to their rowboat, for hours of
Wolbrink Insurance Company had thrived for three generations since 1917 in Holland when Bob Sr.
retired in 1986. At that point son, Bob
Jr. and daughter, Nancy, purchased the business and continued it for several
more years before it was purchased by Robert Frieling when Bob, Jr. moved on to
an engineering career. Subsequently the
agency joined the Lighthouse Insurance Group in 2004.
the children grew up and married, Bob and Janet began many adventures together on
their cabin cruiser, including navigating trips to and from Florida
using the Intercoastal Waterway, Hudson River,
and Trent-Severn canal to and from their homeport of Saugatuck. Bob, Sr. passed on August 15, 1996 survived
by Janet, their five children and six grandchildren. As of this date, Janet seasonally resides in the
Singapore Condominiums, which provide her with beautiful views of her Beloved River. Janet paints area scenes in oil and now mostly
watercolor, a hobby she actively and skillfully pursues. She winters in Stuart, Florida
where she’s made many good friends in addition to those she retains here.
(See video recording of Janet Wolbrink
completed during this interview)