The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “May, 2023”

Libraries Gained Libraries Lost

This article was written several years ago. Since then the islands have had to deal with a large number of powerful hurricanes. Hurricane Irma dealt a devastating blow to the Library on St. Maarten to the extent that while recognizing the fact that the Library was established 95 years ago in fact there is no library. A sad case. And I sincerely hope that an effort will be made to restore the library as soon as possible so that ninety five years of serving the island community will not be lost or have been in vain.

Libraries gained, Libraries lost?
By: Will Johnson
In the Catholic newspaper the ” Amigoe” of Monday, April 23rd, 1945, there is an article giving a description of the Libraries then existing in the Dutch Windward Islands and their histories.
This article was written by Dr. Johan Hartog who many years later also published a small booklet on the history of the libraries of the six Dutch Caribbean islands.
With the change in reading habits, based on all the new technologies such as the Internet, predictions are that traditional Libraries and even printed books will disappear. And so before these predictions come to pass, I thought that I should write something about how things were in the past.
There were always some private Libraries on plantations on St. Eustatius and St. Maarten starting in the seventeen hundreds. These were few and far between however and the number of books in these private Libraries was very limited. For that period a Library of 100 books would have been considered quite large. By comparison my private Library of over two thousand books would seem enormous by the standards of the time. One must also remember that, few people could read and write back then and the struggle for survival had every priority. On Saba in 1790 out of a population of some 1500 only 5 people could read and write. At the same time our closest neighbor the island of St. Eustatius had it’s own printed newspaper “the St. Eustatius Gazette”, so that there was a considerable reading public there compared to Saba. I must say though that in doing research on our Island Secretaries of the past, today only teachers like Mr. Frank Hassell and Mr. Franklin Wilsons handwriting can match the handwriting of the old Island Secretaries Mr. Charles Winfield or Mr. Hercules Hassell. The islands Commanders such as the old pirate Capt. Edward Beaks and his son-in-law Lt. Governor Moses Leverock also had excellent handwritings. In the case of Commander Beaks since the Dutch Government did not pay him a salary he assumed that he could use his schooner as a pirate ship in order to put bread on the family table. His nephew Capt. Hiram Beaks who coined the phrase ” Dead men tell no tales” took the old schooner all the way into the Mediterranean in search of loot to bring back home.
My love of books goes back to 1948 in the old library in Windward side in the upstairs of a building belonging to Mr. Stanley Johnson. Miss Marguerite Hassell was the Librarian. She ran the place like a field Marshall and was the special guardian of books not considered suitable to be read by a little boy like me. But despite her vigilance I did get to read all of Zane Grays books on the cowboys of the Western United States.Also, all of Edgar Rice Burroughs books on “Tarzan of the Apes” as well as the “Hardy Boys” by Franklin W. Dickson (a pen name used by various authors to write the series). My grandmother Agnes Simmons who could not write but who somehow had taught herself to read, loved “Nancy Drew” and “Grace Livingston Hill” romance stories. Since she believed that if anything was written in a book it had to be true, she was always heaping.
scorn on unfaithful women, and so through her I also learned a bit from the romance stories which Miss Marguerite deemed unfit for a little boy like me to be exposed to. I can still hear my grandmother referring to ” that good for nothing” or ” she got no shame” and knowing that it was not a neighbor but a character from one of her books. Too bad she died many years before “Facebook” as I would have liked to hear her take on some of the melee being posted there.
I am now reading a list of the 1001 books you should read before you die. I am amazed at how many of the recommended classical books I have already read. Today is the 200th celebration of the birth of Charles Dickens, and at a tender age I had read many of his books. Additionally, I have read many Dutch books and still do. Even when still a teenager (18) when I started working at the old Courthouse on St. Maarten in between the bull-fights and other partying I found time to read. I found a photograph of me in my room at Capt. Hodges Guesthouse reading a book with some books on a bookshelf above my bed.
In the 1945 article of Dr. Hartog he provides us with an insight into the libraries of the three islands which were established less than 100 years ago and by the way reading habits are changing may not even reach their 100th anniversary (2022).
Dr. Hartog writes; “Our Kingdom knows many languages one of which is English of our Dutch Windward Islands.(In 1945, Indonesia and Surinam were still colonies of Holland.) All three islands have their own Libraries. The library on St. Maarten the “Jubilee Library” was the worst off in 1945. It had been established in 1923 on the 25th anniversary of the ascension of Her majesty Queen Wilhelmina to the Dutch throne. The library had vegetated for some time, but got a rebirth in 1936 under the energetic Adriaan van Meteren.The library was opened in the evenings on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and according to Dr. Hartog ” Miss Rosa de Weever must be admired for giving her free time to this exceptional cultural work of a library. The subsidy from government is fls.250. –(not per month but per year). The other income is from the 25 to 30 members who each pay 1 guilder per quarter. In 1957 the subsidy to the Library on St. Maarten was f. 800. — per year. In 1959 the library had around 1150 English novels, 100 Dutch novels and 250 general knowledge books for the most part very old. In 1959 there were fifty members, who together borrowed around 900 books (18 per member). Every few years the library had to move go a new location. Dr. Hartog claims that since 1945 he had found the library in a new location each time he visited.
On St. Eustatius there is the Gertrude Judson Library. This library in 1945 was located in a spacious upper room in a building owned by the Brouwer /Lampe family. The library was established in 1922 thanks to an initiative of the then Vice Lt. Governor Benjamin Irving Mussenden who later on became Inspector of Taxes on Curacao. In 1919 already when Mr. Mussenden had Mr. C. Grand Pierre as a guest, Mr. Mussenden told him that he was looking into the possibility of starting a library. Mr. Grand Pierre knew some gentlemen from the New York public library and they sent two boxes of books. He also knew the daughter of the President of the University of Chicago, Mrs. Gertrude Schachner -Judson who donated a substantial number of books and the library was named in her honor. In 1945 Mrs. Schachner was already deceased but it was recognized with her donation that the library on St. Eustatius was not only the first in the history of the Dutch Windward Islands, but also the best. Efforts by Prof. Dr. Josselin de Jong in May of 1903 to also get Dutch books for this splendid library remained without results. In 1945 the library was a well-respected establishment under the Chairmanship of Miss Ida Pandt. The librarian was Miss Ada Southern. The government subsidy was fls. 200.– per year and the contributions per member consisted of three classes, five of ten guilders, four of five guilders and sixteen of two guilders and fifty cents.
In 1959, Dr. Hartog wrote that when one entered the library in the evenings, with it lit up by paraffin lamps, and with a collection of mostly antique books one would believe they were walking into the previous century. At that time the library had 2900 books, of which 1750 were principally English popular novels, 900 popular scientific books and 200 children’s books. Additionally, a certain quantity of weekly illustrated magazines and some popular scientific magazines were available. In 1958 some 32 members had read 1100 books or 34 per member.
Saba with the lowest subsidy had two libraries in 1957. The Queen Wilhelmina library in The Bottom was situated downstairs in the government guesthouse and the library was started in 1923. The branch in Winward side was started in 1932. The library and her branch in 1944in Windward side and the main library in The Bottom only had 2 members. Vice Lt. Governor Mr. Charles E.W. Voges after his appointment in August 1948 actively promoted the use of the library and within short The Bottom had 25 members and on October 18th 1948 a new branch was opened in Windward Side.
In 1959 The Bottom library had 1300 books among which 1100 English novels and 100 Dutch novels. From 1953 to 1958 an average of 640 books per year were loaned out. The branch in Windward side had around 1800 books among which 1300 English Novels, 400 children’s books and 100 Dutch novels as well as popular science magazines. The 40 members read yearly 2400 books or an average of 60 books per member. The total population of Saba (about 1000 persons) in 1959 read 3040 books. This at the time was a record for the Netherlands Antilles. Based on statistics at the time Sabans read ten times as many books as Bonaireans. Of course, that had to do with the fact that Sabans spoke English as a mother tongue and there are so many books available to them because of that fact.
Over the years the libraries in the three islands have expanded with the enormous growth of the population. Besides the public libraries the Medical schools and other institutions of higher learning have their own, sometimes extensive libraries. However traditional libraries, newspapers, books and magazines are expected to go into a rapid decline because of the Internet. While Facebook may have its short comings, I am happy to see how many people now write and read on Facebook. While we are not looking forward to the demise of the traditional libraries, one cannot ignore what is taking place. It is left to be seen if in the year 2022, one hundred years after the first library was established on St. Eustatius if our libraries as we have known them up to now will still be around with people still borrowing paper books and carrying them home to read.

Henry Stanley Johnson’s building. Born on St. Eustatius he moved to Saba where his father hailed from and built this place. Upstairs on the left where the branch library in the Windward Side was located and Miss Marguerite Hassell was the Librarian.
Library started in 1923. One hundred years ago. It was located in the former office of the Lt. Governor.
Some of the books in the Library in 1923. I wonder where they all came from and what became of them?
Mr. W.F.M. Lampe in his offfice which became the Library in 1923

My Friend Louise van Putten

At my age when you look back on life you must admit that there have been many special people in your life. Having lived on several islands and travelled from Trinidad to Cuba and back with few islands which I have not seen. Being in politics which placed me in several important functions in the former Netherlands Antilles, added to my list of friends and acquaintances.

I was privileged to have had friends like Elmer Linzey, Kenneth van Putten, Ralph Berkel, Lassell Rouse and so many others with whom I enjoyed friendship with, better than the relationship even than that which I enjoyed with my brothers.

Since the advent of Social Media and with my enthusiasm for sharing knowledge through personal experiences and memories, as well as old photos.a number of old friends and co-workers are still in close contact with me.

Here I am visiting Louise and Kenneth. Over the years many times I have spent time there with them. Once when I was on Statia with my first two boys Teddy and Chris, and with Lynne of course, Kenneth had a bar b que dinner for us. While the bar b que was going on a lady walked off the street, grabbed a chicken leg and left telling Kenneth: ” You think you going to feed your Saba people and leave we Statia people hungry etc.” Of course, it was all done in good fun. Senator Millicent de Weever told me that once she was trying to get Kenneth on the phone. After a long set of rings someone sounding out of breath answered and said “But nobody home.” So she asked him “But what are you doing there?” And he said: ” I was passing in the street and heard the phone ringing and came in to answer it as it might be something important.” That was the kind of open house style of living these two dear friends had.

One family which I enjoyed a special relationship with was the Van Putten family on Sint Eustatius. In the persons of Senator Kenneth Van Putten and his sister teacher Louise as well as Margarite. We were closer than family. Margarite was handicapped but once Kenneth called me and said that Margarite had told him I had called. And he said “Guess what she told me. She said that your family from Saba called while you were out. And Kenneth told me he said to her: But who told you me and Will are family? ” She told him: “Machie told me once that we are related to the Johnson’s of Saba.” We both had a good laugh about that.

When Kenneth passed away I did the eulogy for him in the Methodist Church on Sint Eustatius. Right across from that church is the Old English church yard and cemetery in which some of my ancestors the Richard Horton and his mother-in-law Joanna Dinzey are buried.

In that eulogy I covered the friendship which he and I carried from when I first met him in 1956 in the schoolyard of Mgsr. Zwijzen college on Curacao where we were both going to the MULO. He was five years older than me but later on our lives crossed in the political world and we shared many years together travelling and attending meetings all over the world so that he gave me a bucket full of good memories and jokes that I share every now and then with friends. When my wife Lynne was expecting our youngest son Peter, I told Kenneth that if its a boy I will have to add Albert to his name. And so it became Peter Charles Albert Johnson. And many times, Peter has reminded me “Now don’t forget the Albert.”

Louise on the other hand became a close friend because she had been friends with my brother Freddie the teacher. Back in the nineteen forties the Nuns started a teacher training course for the three Windward Islands and a number of the students were from Saba and St. Eustatius. Some of them were even on a sloop when a hurricane caught up with them and they were nearly lost. I believe that Louise was one of those on board as well as my brother Freddie. I have written about that before.

Many of those students who did not become teachers went on in their own way to become famous. nevertheless . One of them was the famous Leo Chance who later in life became the longest serving Minister of Government of the Netherlands Antilles. My brother Freddie told me that Leo must have been eighteen years of age when he went down to the square and made a rousing speech in support of the Democratic Party. The Nuns as reverend as they might have been were not amused. They were in support of the National Party which was favoured by the Catholic church and so Mr. Chance moved on to Aruba and made his fame from that island.

Louise and I became close in 1961. Then Lt. Governor of the three Windward Islands J.J.Beaujon (Japa) decided to give Statia some publicity by calling for a celebration of the 185th celebration of the recognition of the flag of the new Republic called the United States. An event which had triggered the invasion of the island by Admiral George Rodney of England. The Post office on Statia asked for a volunteer to come over and help them with the amount of work which had to be done because of the issuance of a memorial postal stamp to highlight that event. My colleague Laurel Eybrechts/Peterson would have gone as she and Louise were good friends and she was assured of a place to stay. Laurel lives on Curacao and we are still in contact and she was the first person I contacted after Dave Levenstone informed me of Louise’s passing. It would be two months and I volunteered and was accepted. So the month of October and November of 1961 I spent on Statia. I stayed at the Government Guesthouse and my room was the now Vincent Lopes meeting room of the Island Council. I often tease the Honorable Clyde van Putten a cousin of Louise “Now have some respect when y,all quarreling there as that was once my bedroom.”

This was my view of the “Kerkstraat” from the balcony of where I stayed for the months of October and November 1961 and many times after when I used to be running for public office. The building on the right is the former Lampe residence, and on the right that building is owned by Louise and further down the street the two story building on the right and the following one belonged to Kenneth. He inherited it from one of his aunts who inherited it from the teacher and historian Arthur Valk who was well-known in his day for his knowledge of history in general and that of Sint Eustatius in particular.

Louise at the time was involved with the running of the Post Office and Mr. Carl Buncamper “Uncle Carl” who in later years was so helpful to me with books I was writing was at the time the Administrator of the island. We spent pleasant evenings together planning how to deal with an expected influx of requests from world wide stamp collectors. There was a special stamp issued for the occasion and the event was a big success with a Dutch, a US and a British war ship in attendance and the necessary fanfare. At the time I was introduced to a quality of life and cultured people which I had never realized existed on Statia. That period came in handy for me in 1969 when I ran with the party the URA for Senator of the Windward Islands. Of the 503 votes cast on Statia in that election I pulled 232 personal votes on Statia.

Through the years and also because of Kenneth and I being Senators for our respective islands I remained in contact with Louise. She told mutual friends that she always loved when I called, and we would have long conversations on current events and times gone by.

Louise was the backbone of the Methodist church there. She was a Sunday School teacher and one of the principal organizers of Methodist church events. And there seemed to always be something going on like a new Pastor coming in and collecting funds to sponsor church related events.

I once had to explain my wife Lynne who the little people were that were always to be found at her and Kennth’s residence. Louise was an entrepreneur and had acquired several houses of her own, but she and “Sefa” who she had raised joined Kenneth on the “Kerkstraat” where he lived, and she remained there and later moved back to her own home after he passed away.

I told her that part of our West Indian culture was that someone would drop off a child at your home for you to raise and perhaps before that child became a grandparent they would come and take a look see if the child was still alive.

I remember one night when I was visiting the little girl pictured here with Louise (I think it was her), was having a discussion. Not an argument mind you. Kenneth liked to tease and at a certain point in the back and forth she put her hands on her hips and said: Now let me inform you Mr. van Putten, I have other options you know. Just tell me and I will pack my suitcase and be gone.” Kenneth said: “Oh yeah and where to?” Se said “Well I happen to know Mr. Johnson and his wife would love to have a young girl like me in their home to lighten up their life.” And you know she would have been welcome but I knew that Kenneth was making a joke .

Time flies by so fast but the last time I went to see Louise was in 2019 and her cousin Ishmael Berkel called me to tell me she was in hospital and not well. I went up right away and stayed at the Golden Era hotel and Ishmael hosted me and carried me all around while I was there. She was so happy so see me when I was there. At a certain point in my visit a large group of relatives and friends came into the room and I sort of disappeared in the crowd. In a panicked voice she called out ” But where is Will? “and the crowd parted in a fashion like the Red Sea so that she was assured that I was still there.

The following morning before going to the airport I went to visit her and to my great surprise she was sitting there in the waiting room and looking so much better and we had a good chat. With the pandemic and as a result of an infection which affected my hearing and caused me to get Vertigo I was restricted in my travels to Statia. Since the ferry came into service Lynne often suggested that we go to Statia to see Louise. But Ishmael told me that because of the pandemic there were restrictions on visitors to the residents of the Home on Statia.

And so even now because of several factors which handicap me I will not be present when she is laid to rest in the vault which has been prepared for her and where her beloved brother Kenneth is interred.

On one of my visits Louise took me to see the vault where Kenneth is buried. I do not recall if Margriet is buried there. Only certain families are privileged to be buried in the cemetery of the Dutch Reformed church. Kenneth and Louise were always proud of their mixed heritage and via Maatchie they were descended from the Groebe family and others.

Louise’s mother had four children,.Louise,Margriet, Noel and Kenneth. Noel lived in Holand and had four children. For whatever reasons the first two children were taken away by the State and with the condition that he and his wife could have no contact with them. The second two weighed heavy on Louise’s heart and one of her cousins was in contact with the niece. Apparently, Louise did not make a last will and testament. I find that strange as Kenneth had one and Louise had property from her mother which she would have wanted me to remind everyone that Noel’s children are also heirs to.

I want to thank God for blessing me with the ability to put pen on paper and combine my tributes with the necessary photos to give a proper send off to lifelong friends like Louise. God bless her memory and may she rest in strength and peace.

This is one of Noels daughters with whom Louise had contact. I could be mistaken but I am not sure if she made it to Statia or if Louise on one of her trips to Holland got to meet her but this photo was with a number of others which she had in her house.

My Brother Eric

Eric was always a hard worker. Here he is milking his cow. He kept cattle, pigs, goats and everything else. He was a model of how to survive off the land on an isolated small island like Saba.


    My brother Thomas Eric Johnson was born on Saba on September 20th, 1934 and died on April 13th, 2011.

   Ever since he was a boy Eric was known as a hard worker. He was born and grew up in a small village above the Sulphur Mine, known as “Behind-The-Ridge.” As a young boy going through the hardships and scarcity imposed on the island by World War II, he must have been influenced to the extent that he hardly ever took a rest. He was driven by a passion and a belief that his children and the people of Saba should not have to live the hard life which he had experienced as a boy. In the family he projected himself from early on as the boss, not only of the younger siblings but he would even boss his older brother Freddie around. He felt that everyone in the family should work as hard as he did.

The Library at the University is named after my brother Freddie, and my brother Eric was very instrumental in getting the University to Saba. After Saba was not allowed to issue drivers licenses which could be used in Holland, we turned to our own resources to find a solution for the economy we have enjoyed since.

   After he finished elementary school he started working for the Public Works on the construction of the road. There was a severe flood caused by the “ALICE” hurricane in January of 1955 and he worked on the reconstruction of the road leading from Fort Bay to the Bottom. In that same year he and my brother Guy with the help of friends, took down our house at Behind-The-Ridge and brought it on their heads and rebuilt it in the English Quarter where it still stands today. While working on the construction of the road Eric had been preparing himself for an eventual upgrade by taking typing lessons. So when the call went out that there was a vacancy in the office he applied and because of the typing efficiency which he had, Mr. Walter Buncamper who was Administrator at the time hired him. The salary was fls.90.—a month of which fls.30.—went to pay for transportation to the job. Eric was so happy to get the job that he did not remind the Administrator until nearly two years later, in a moment of anger that he had not been paid as yet. Mr. Buncamper could not believe that it had taken so long to regulate Eric’s salary. Eric was such a dedicated and hard worker at the office that each and every Administrator before leaving the island would always recommend Eric for a raise in salary. He had a number of positions besides his regular job over the years. He was “Kings Attorney”, “Conservator of Mortgages”, you name it and he did it. He was compensated for these important positions, in most cases between fls. 10.—and fls. 25.—per month whereas his basic salary remained at fls. 90.—per month for many years. Eric had a strong passion to see Saba develop, and in 1971 he started the Saba Development Foundation through which the Dutch Government channeled millions of guilders in social and infrastructural projects. Eric was up late at night, working on sending in projects to get financing for the island. For this he was never compensated. If a project was approved he would supervise it until finished, he kept the books and the Dutch Government was so pleased with his work and honesty that rather than channeling projects through the Government they would channel them through the Saba Development Foundation. He bought the land in The Level to start a garden where young people could learn to love agriculture like he did. With help later on the Cuban Government over a period of years sent three experts in urban agriculture to make it the success it is today.

   Eric, together with Doctor de Braauw was also responsible for introducing the Saba School of Medicine to the island back in the nineteen eighties. Members of this Foundation and the Senator at the time got all the necessary permits from the World Health Organization. He never received any financial compensation for doing everything to make the school a success. He had a passion for Saba to develop and for people of today to enjoy a better livelihood than to suffer the hardships he had suffered as a boy. In both referendums in 1994 and in 2004 he voted for the Independence option. In his view Independence would give the people the real choice of “either you fish or you cut bait”, and that in essence if everyone took on the challenge of hard work, that Saba could survive even as an independent island.

Daniel Johnson’s house at English Quarters Aug 1964 Administrator Reinier Van Delden was living there so it was the official Governors Residence at the time. Next to it is the home of my brother Eric, his wife Wilda. In between the two is the private family cemetery. The house is now owned by Eric’s daughter Cerissa Steel/Johnson who lives with her husband and two sons in England.+

    When it came to his job, Eric would be at the office as early as 7.30 AM and would leave after five to go home and take care of his cattle and do other farming activities. He was always busy. Once when he was building a cistern his wife Wilda heard him at 3AM outside the house mixing cement. Turns out he had mistaken the clock, thinking it was 5AM and he wanted to do some work on the cistern before going to his job. Well, he concluded that since he had the cement already mixed that he would continue working on the cistern until it was time to go to the office.

    He served as an early Board member of the Saba Comprehensive School. I have received condolences from the Kadaster on St. Maarten and the Notary as well as  Mr. Kenneth Lai,from the Development  Bank reminding me of how dedicated he was in carrying out his duties on boards which he served.I had just finished speaking to Clark Gomez Casseres who sent his sympathy and to thank Eric for serving on the Small Business Promotion Fund of Saba and Statia, when his brother Ron Gomez Casseres former  President of the Maduro & Curiels Bank phoned to give his sympathy and to remind me that Eric had served for many years as the Representative of the Windward Islands Bank on Saba.

The four brothers Walter Frederick Martinus, Thomas Eric, Samuel Guy and William Stanley Johnson.

   Eric also liked to give his opinion. When the Saba Herald was started in 1968, Eric would write half of the paper until 25 years later when I had to put a stop to the paper. He was very vocal on things which he felt were not right. The same he carried on in the Daily herald for many years until he got too ill to write. He was not appreciated by some for his candid views on many issues, and some people would have like to wish him away with his many opinions on a variety of subjects. However he was persistent in writing his “Thoughts from Saba” regardless as to who liked his views or not.

    In his personal life he suffered a great tragedy in 1968 when he lost his first three young children in a swimming accident, something which haunted him for the rest of his life. Even though he and Wilda had four more children, the eldest his daughter Anna Marie who was born the very same week of the tragedy. Eric became even more concentrated in his work to forget the pain of his great loss. There were those who did not appreciate him, as he thought that everyone should work as hard and dedicated as he did.

    He also served on the board of Windward Islands Airways N.V. Hardly anyone can recall him ever calling in sick for the many years he worked for the government of Saba. He was adamant that he wanted no recognition for his work, and so the Government respected his wishes and never recommended him for any kind of Royal Distinction, which in his case would have certainly been merited.

   Eric did not permit himself many luxuries. Even vacations were mostly spent on St.Maarten where he would go to the same Chinese restaurant, and sit at the same table as the time before and then take a drive to the French side to take photos of the cattle in those lush green pastures. Eric was so concentrated on his farming and cattle raising that I remember once his uncle in law Aldrick quarreling that Eric had gone to Curacao leaving his wife and a cow both sick and had called from Curacao to find out how the cow was doing. But that is how he grew up.

    The last years of his life he suffered much and was in and out of hospitals. However in between he would still try and do what he could and when you passed his house in English Quarter you would see him at night behind his computer doing what he thought he had to do, still sending out his views to the Daily Herald. He also represented the Windward Islands Bank and you could go to his home and apply for a loan and make payments to the bank.

Family photo taken by Freddie. In back a friend from Aruba Lucy Hassell/Croes daughter of “Fan Fan” Croes who owned the Victoria Hotel on Aruba. Next to her is my sister Sadie Beatrix Van Delden born Johnson. In front me just about ready to go to the Boys Town on Curacao, then my brother Thomas Eric Johnson, our mother Alma Blanche Johnson born Simmons and then Samuel Guy Johnson.

   He leaves to mourn his wife Wilda who he married in 1960, his daughters Anna Marie Obermaier who lives in Germany, his daughter Cerissa, and his sons Dan and Nicky. His children have followed in his footsteps when it comes to hard work.

   In ending let me just say, that no matter how old or how ill the person is death still comes as a shock. I would also like to thank the staff of the hospital who took such good care of him in his last months. I went straight from the airport to the hospital to see him. When the nurses were finished preparing him for the long journey before him, I looked at him lying there so composed with both arms stretched out. His fingers which had typed out so many requests for projects which had helped our people looked better than the hands of any King and not like the hands of a man who had been both farmer and King in his lifetime and I said my last farewell to my brother in silence. I would like to quote from Psalm 139 in ending this eulogy and to wish my brother who lost much and who suffered much, to have a safe passage to his eternal rest: “Wither shall I go from thy spirit? Or wither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” Farewell, Eric may you rest in peace and may the hand of the great Almighty be at the gates of paradise to lead you in.

* * *

My brother Eric loved the land. He was always planting up in the Mountain and close to his home at the Spout. This is the Rendez Vous when it was planted out. He later owned a sizeable tract of this land in the Center. I do not remember him planting there but it is passed down to his grandchildren on the Obermaier part of the family.

My niece Anna Marie Obermaier born Johnson

                                    E U L O G Y

    My niece Anna Marie Obermaier born Johnson was born on April 26th, 1967. On April 26th, 2011 on her 44th birthday she was struck down by a massive heart attack at her home in Germany. After every effort to save her, she was pronounced dead the following day.

 Anna Marie’s birth preceded a family tragedy of such a magnitude that even today 44 years later it could still grab major headline news in a much bigger country. These devastating events could have left a permanent mark for the worst on her outlook on life. But still somehow she went through life with a naturally positive view on life. She wasn’t too much for letting obstacles wear her down and could systematically and quite stubbornly remove these from her path. This was very much in contrast to her very soft spoken and quiet way that she had about her. Behind that sweet voice and soft mannerism Anna Marie also had much strength of character.

    I believe that from really early on she must have been aware that something devastating beyond words had taken place in her father Eric and her mother Wilda’s lives and from very small she was always trying to compensate for their loss by being very responsible, trying never to disappoint or do something that could cause them to worry. As she got older, this attitude influenced her academically and in all other aspects of life.

    When Anna Marie left Saba at the age of 12 she first lived in Aruba and attended the VWO. At that time there were a good many students from Saba attending school in Aruba. My niece Carolyn who contributed a great deal to this eulogy remembers that she and Anna Marie lived with the same family on Aruba together with Gary Dean and Mark and my niece Anastacia Solagnier born Van Delden, daughter of my deceased sister Sadie, as well as with Diana van Delden. They lived next to the ambulance station in Oranjestad and across from the old hospital. Many nights they would be woken up at least twice or so when the ambulance lights reflected in their rooms and the sirens would start as they left on emergency calls. Carolyn remembers that the house was a good size but it was filled to the brim with people as their caretaker had three daughters and two sons of her own living there, a few little nephews and occasional family visitors from Venezuela. They later took in a student from Bonaire who did not last very long as the situation was too overwhelming for her.

    It was not always easy for Anna Marie, being the youngest of the students from Saba. She and Carolyn moved twice more with the same caretaker to overcrowded homes in various parts of Aruba before they finally left. Anna Marie moved to St.Maarten where she lived once more with students from Saba until she left for the United States to attend Hofstra University. Anna Marie really enjoyed her College Years at Hofstra and met a collection of new friends from all over the world. She studied Business Administration and graduated in 1989.

   It was here that Anna Marie would meet her future husband and father of her three children. Ernie visited Saba for the first time in 1990. He was an only child from such a different country. What kind of impression would Saba make on him; too much family living on too small and island? As it turned out Ernie was the type of person who was open to all kinds of unfamiliar people and experiences. Decades after that first visit he was still returning to Saba with Anna Marie, now his wife. I remember one night in the lobby of the Mariott Hotel on Curacao I was surrounded by a group of people. One of them was the agent for the BMW. He said he was waiting on the big man from the company in Germany. When Ernie approached us I said to myself “I know this man from somewhere”. Then he said;”Uncle Will, surprised to see you here.”  They all thought it quite cool that I was the uncle of a big shot from the BMW Company. The next night we travelled together to St. Maarten. He said he wanted me to carry a suitcase to Wilda. While waiting on him in the lobby, Mr. David Vlaun said to me that he was waiting on the big man from the BMW Company. I did not say anything to him. When Ernie came with the suitcase greeting me as “Uncle Will” I thought Vlaun would have fainted.

   Upon returning from College, Anna Marie lived on St. Maarten and worked for the Windward Islands Bank. Carolyn, Gary, Mark, Anastacia and Eva were already living and working there and her brother Dan with whom she lived when he was attending school there. She later decided together with Ernie that they would move to Germany. After moving there she not only got to travel quite a bit but she also lived in different places giving her a rich and full life experience for her age. She loved the time they lived in Mexico and they both had a passion for Mexican food. Years after leaving Mexico they still enjoyed cooking Mexican food for friends and family both in Germany and on their visits to Saba. On December 6th, 1996 Anna Marie and Ernie had a quiet wedding in Germany. Her cousins remember that he had proposed to her on a previous visit to Saba on the Well’s Bay.

    When their first child Alexander was born in 2000 Anna Marie set about motherhood with the same seriousness and dedication that was her custom. Ernie and Anna Marie vacationed in New York City to take part in the famed millennium celebrations that were held and televised around the world, and they called Alexander their millennium baby. Not to be outdone by the significance of Alexander’s birth year, Laura and Sarah took everyone by complete surprise when they announced themselves as not one but two babies and were born in 2003.

    Even though Anna Marie made her life so far away from Saba she was devoutly proud of her Saban heritage and tried to instill this in her children. Their family vacations on Saba were always filled with hiking and stories about Saba and Saban heritage.

    Anna Marie has been a very energetic and devoted mother. Always very conscious of the health of herself and her family she was uncompromising in that she tried to only serve her family with the freshest and healthiest of foods. She made sure that her children’s life experiences have been full and meaningful, trying always to give them balance in school and play. Throughout the years she has carefully chronicled their lives in pictures. Their home in Windach is a sanctuary full of testimony that the children were the focus of Anna Marie and Ernie’s lives. The very day before she died, On Easter Monday, they spent time making many family photos. Hopefully these along with the many other photo’s and wonderful memories will be of some small consolation to Ernie and the children in the difficult days and years ahead, helping them to always cherish great memories of a most wonderful wife and mother.

    Anna Marie was a very professional woman in her own right. She was fluent in seven languages and worked for several international companies. She even studied Mandarin Chinese at one time. If I remember correctly one of the companies she worked for was the Michelin Tire Company. She lived besides Mexico and Germany, also In Italy when she worked for the tire company. She was well known in the town of Windach where she lived for doing so much for the children there and the community in general.

   This latest tragedy in the family of my recently deceased brother Eric and his wife Wilda, is one which shocked the community and one which we cannot easily comprehend. Life it seems doles out to some people much harsher blows than others.

    When I hear the rendition of a beautiful hymn I like to find out who wrote the hymn and under which circumstances. The same day when Anna Marie was struck down I came across the history of the hymn:”It is well with my soul;” The Chicago lawyer Horatio G. Spafford invested heavily in the real estate business along the shores of Lake Michigan. In the Chicago fire of 1871 he lost nearly all of his fortune. Later on his only son died. Then in 1873 he arranged for his family to go to Europe. At the last minute due to his legal activities he could not go along and promised to follow in a couple of weeks. On November 22nd, 1873 the “Ville du Havre” the ship on which his family was travelling was struck by an English iron hulled ship the “Lockhearn”. Within a short time she sunk and of the 273 people on board only 47 survived. His four daughters were lost. Later his wife was found clinging to some wreckage. When she reached the shore she sent him a telegram: “Saved alone, what shall I do?” Grief stricken he rushed to Europe. On the way there the Captain of the ship pointed out to him the spot where his daughters had been lost. He rushed to his cabin and wrote a note to himself: “It is well, the will of God be done.” He later composed the hymn: It is well with my soul” based on the note he had written. This hymn has brought much consolation to those who believe in God and in an afterlife. Despite their tragedies he and his wife went to live in Jerusalem and helped both Muslims and Jews while they lived there.

   I only tell this story as a consolation message, that sometimes tragedies like these instead of bringing us down elevate us to a higher plain in life. No matter how hard life is we must always strive to rise above these tragedies and to carry on for those who are still around and depend on us for support and guidance. The hymn “It is well with my soul” came about under similar circumstances as those which have been experienced by my brother Eric, his wife Wilda, and their children.

   Today we remember the life of Anna Marie who despite many obstacles was able to always move forward, never looking backward, and in doing so she will be remembered with love and gratitude foremost by her husband and children and by her extended family.

    Anna Marie on this sad occasion we commend your soul to God Almighty and I am certain that you have already reached that special place in paradise which through your life and dedication to your family has been reserved for you.

     May you rest in peace.

Thomas Eric Johnson here with his daughter Anna Marie Obermaier born Johnson



Governor Moses Leverock and family 1870?




Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Today is a proud moment for our beloved Saba and for the Saba Day celebrations which were established in 1975 on the proposal of then Commissioner Will Johnson.

   Over the years Saba Day and the Saba flag have become beloved symbols of our identity as a small island in the West Indies, even though we are part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands.

    This year especially our people have shown their maturity and their pride in the fact that WE are proving that small is beautiful and also sustainable. With two major hurricanes hitting our island our people worked hard to bring the island back as much as possible after each hurricane. The Dutch marines who were sent here to help were amazed to see how our local people pitched in from the first hours after the winds abated to do what had to be done. This has not been from this year alone but with all the natural disasters which have afflicted us in the years past.

  To quote from Renan a French philosopher: “ To have common glories in the past, a common will in the present; to have done great things together; to wish to do greater; these are the essential conditions which make up a people…. And as small as Saba is we are a distinct people, with a glorious history and a unique culture. SABA PROUD was and is the slogan among the people.

    Saba has been highly praised over the years not only for its natural beauty, but for the way in which our people have kept the island clean and our buildings well maintained.

   All the way back in 1702 when the French pirate priest Father Labat visited Saba he reported how well kept the houses were and were all well painted. He described a way of life which still exists today where for example when an animal is to be butchered shares are sold in the animal for the distribution of the meat after it is slaughtered.

     The island for most of its history of pirates and slaves has been governed by local people. Governor Thomas Dinzey back two hundred years ago was not only Governor during Dutch rule but was asked to stay on and govern during both French and British occupation. There are those on Saba who still can claim descent from Governor Dinzey.

   Even today Saba enjoys being governed by its own people.

    Saba has a good reputation of balancing its books and managing its resources. A local historian claims that it is passed down from the days of piracy. The money stolen from the Spanish and other victims when brought home had to be carefully managed as there might not be another opportunity. When the Bank of the Netherlands Antilles was established Saba was the only island which turned in a horde of golden doubloons to be converted into guilders. And so it is with Dutch funds given to us in holy trust. Sabans realize that these funds have to be managed carefully as they could come to an end.

   Today Saba is extremely proud to have with us for the first time on Saba Day our beloved King and Queen. While praising our English language heritage it would be remiss of us if we did not express our enormous gratitude for the past and present help given to us by the people of Holland. We do have our differences of course in a relationship where we do not have equal rights to social benefits and we constantly remind Dutch politicians that they should do something to help those who have to live off their old age pension. But that and other matters are for local politicians to settle with the politicians on the far away continent of Europe.

    Let us all celebrate this Saba Day with a special sense of history and pride. Let us enjoy the fact that we have our beloved King and Queen in our midst. His mother, grandmother and other members of the House of Orange have always been beloved by our people. I can think of many Sabans of the past generation who would have been so proud to be here today to witness and be a part of our own island celebrations and remembrance of things past. We wish all of those present and our people at large, but especially our King and Queen a Happy Saba Day and May God continue to bless you and the rest of the Royal family.

     Thanks again for being here with us, and HAPPY SABA DAY TO ALL.

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