The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

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.

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