|Birth: ||Mar. 23, 1911|
|Death: ||Dec. 13, 2002|
South Carolina, USA
Martha was the daughter of Leendert Hubregtse and Josina Meinderina Keersmaker. She married
Jan Kwist on July 25, 1933.
The Kwists: A Valentine's Day Love Story in Any Language
By: Barbara Hill
Originally published in "The Summerville Journal Scene", February 14. 1990
There is an old love song that goes—
You were meant for me, I was meant for you.
Nature patterned you and when she was done,
You were all the sweetings rolled into one.
I've never met a couple these words fit better than the Kwists, Jan and Martha. The Kwists' togetherness statistics are stunning. First, there are only five days difference in their ages. They began "going together" when they were three months old. Their families lived around the corner from each other and their mothers pushed their baby carriages side by side in Flushing, Holland.
They remained neighbors on and off during their childhood. Martha's daddy was a heavy smoker and for a time she was sent weekly to Jan's mother's cigar shop for a pound of tobacco. So they met often as children. A meeting a few years later when they were both 14 would meld forever their separate ways. By the time they were 19, they were engaged. They were married at 22, and in July will celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary.
The most incredible number that applies to them is zero. That's how many times they've quarreled in what is today 20, 644 days of marriage. Jan says that is because they were brought up in the tradition that the engagement was the time when you learned about each other, and worked out any differences before marriage. "That's just what we did," he said simply. Ah, but there's a lot more to tell.
Let's go back to when Jan and Martha were 14 and hadn't seen each other for several years. Martha was a shy girl, so shy she had no special friends or activities outside her home. Her father arranged for her to join a youth choir, and also arranged for some people to take her to the first rehearsal. Jan was already a member and was in his plac on the boy's side of the room singing when Martha arrived late.
"All of a sudden I looked up, and there was Martha coming in the door," began Jan. "I saw her and said to myself. Wheeee, look at that girl!"
"I'd never had a special eye for a girl before. Oh and I knew a lot about them and went with them to activities, but there was nothing special. But I could not keep my eye from that girl instead of looking at the director, the whole night I looked at her. Then, when practice was over, I went over to talk to her and then asked if I could walk her home."
"And so," Martha said, taking up the tale, "I went home and told my parents I liked the evening. My mother asked if I had come home by myself. I said No, I came home with Jan Kwist."
"My mother was very upset—I was so innocent. I didn't know there was any difference. But mother said ‘ forget that boy. You can find yourself a girlfriend, but no more boy!"
"The next week at choir practice I told Jan what my mother had said and regretted that I couldn't let him walk me home again."
"Well, I'm not going to take you home all the way," said the determined young man. "But just to the corner of the street and then we'll part."
"So I said fine," Martha remembers, beginning to laugh again.
"When I came in the house the first thing my mother asked me was ‘Did that boy bring you home?' I said No,' but I didn't tell her he brought me up to the corner."
Martha's eyes crinkle at the recollection, and she pats her husband's knee. Thus began a series of meetings that were finally sanctioned by her parents, but only under the strictest control Choir practice once a week, church on Sunday mornings, and a walk on Sunday afternoon. Outside that, they were not to meet. But they did, Jan was already well into the education that would lead him to becoming a music professor, but he worked part time in the cigar store.
When Martha was sent shopping by her mother, she would run as fast as she could to do the errand and spend the rest of the time visiting Jan. Gradually, the families became accustomed to the idea of their romance, and finally they became engaged They exchanged engraved gold bands and wore them on their left hands. These are transferred to the right hands during the marriage ceremony. In Holland it was common to wait as long as six years between the engagement and the wedding.
"Well, you had to save money," Jan said. "You couldn't buy on credit then. You had to have the cash."
The wedding was traditional for the time. The groom, family and close friends gathered at the bride's home and the bride made her appearance all dressed for the ceremony.
The bridal couple then got into a two-seater carriage and were driven to city hall by a coachman in a tall hat with flowers on his lapel. The family followed in a line of larger carriages. After the civil ceremony they all went to the church. Birde and groom entered arm in arm, followed by the family. The couple sat in front of the pulpit with the family seated in a crescent behind them. The Kwists had over 500 at the ceremony, and the whole congregation sang.
After a honeymoon in the mountainous area of the Netherlands, the couple came home. Martha worked in the cigar store, helped by her husband, who was still in school. This was 1933, In 10 years they had 5 children and were living in the midst of World War II with German occupation and frequent bombing of their country.
They spent time huddling on their second floor during floods, and in a closet under the stairs when the bombs fell. Their town was bombed 225 times, and at the end only two houses were undamaged in a city of 25,000 people. The house next door suffered a direct hit, and the whole family was killed.
Even before the war, Jan dreamed of coming to America. During the war he had no music practice to speak of, and after the war, few people had instruments that were not ruined, much less money for lessons. So Jan began, secretly, exploring the possibility of coming to the United States. He was not only a pianist and organist, as well as a technician on those instruments, but a professional carillon player.
While giving a concert on these bells, he was heard by a member of Harry Van Bergen's family. Harry helped him get more concert exposure and when he found Jan wanted to come to America, helped him get a sponsor. Jim Self, a textile magnate from Greenwood, South Carolina, who had installed a bell tower with a carillon in honor of his mother. He needed a carillon player. At last Jan got a confirmation letter about his job. It was only then that he told Martha.
"I told Martha to sit down in a good sturdy chair because I had something to say."
"Forget it. I don't want to go," Martha said when she heard. "We don't know that country. My parents are here, and our friends and I'm not going."
"Well, "said Jan, "if you don't want to go, then let me go."
"That was tricky," said Martha, laughing again. "He knew that if he was going, I was going."
They both wanted a good future for their children. It took a while for Martha to get used to the idea. It took even longer to bring off the move.
Jan's job offer came in 1951. He had to register at the American Consulate and found he was number 12,000 on a list which allowed a quota of 3,100 Dutch people to come to the United States annually. The Kwists landed in New York with five children in hand and $3.75 in their pockets. None of the seven Kwists could speak English. With the help of their sponsor, they took the train to South Carolina. In Green wood they were given a fully furnished four bedroom home, a stocked refrigerator, and over $700, all donations from the townspeople.
Jan was also given the post of organist and choir director in the local Presbyterian church, and within two weeks was taking private students. The Kwists lived in Greenwood until their youngest graduated from high school. Jan had been professionally disappointed in the noisy location of the carillon and his opportunities to play it. He decided to drive to Charleston and investigate the bells in that area. That was another fateful decision. He took the wrong road coming from Orangeburg and ended up on Summerville's Richardson Avenue. It happened to be in April 1962 at the height of the azalea season. Martha saw a beautiful and empty green house, and suggested they move to Summerville.
This time it was Jan who said no. He had started all over again by coming to America and didn't want to make another change. But Martha did. This time, he came with her.
Seven years ago, after Martha broke a hip and couldn't negotiate the stairs, they moved to a smaller place. Jan still takes students. Martha does what she has for 57 years, takes care of her home and her husband.
I heard an undercover report that the Kwists, even after all these years, still hold hands in public and have even been known to hug and kiss right out in front of people. They spoke of their deep feelings in words underscored with their accents, and frequently punctuated with the Dutch affirmation, "Ja, Ja."
Martha said that above all the Kwists live with the Lord. "He has guided and directed us, and I know he loves us, and we love him."
Jan said, "I tell you, if I had to start over and look all over South Carolina, I would never find a better woman than she is. She is the most ideal woman I could ever know."
"And may I say the same thing about him," Martha said. He is so wonderful and so patient with me. We live in complete harmony. I love my husband. He is so very dear to me."
I think I've discovered their secret.
Every morning Jan brings his wife breakfast in bed—her favorite cup of tea and a slice of toast. Every morning Martha greets her husband's thoughtfulness with delight and gratitude. Every day is a renewal for them, another chance to share their excitement with life and their affection for each other. The shine is still on their love.
To the Kwists and to the readers who are touched by their very special love story, Happy Valentines Day!
Summerville Cemetery & Mausoleum
South Carolina, USA
Maintained by: tkwist
Originally Created by: Juanda Owens B.
Record added: Mar 27, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 25571828
With love to our distant cousins. God bless you.|
Added: Oct. 23, 2008