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Longtime resident enjoys sharing Oak Harbor’s Dutch heritage
By Kathy Reed
Executive director, Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce
Oak Harbor resident Jan Ellis has spent more than half her life helping to plan the annual Holland Happening festival.
Now in its 44th year, the traditional celebration of Oak Harbor’s Dutch heritage will take place downtown Saturday and Sunday, April 27 and 28. Ellis, 80, will be the grand marshal of this year’s parade. A resident of Oak Harbor since 1958, she said she loved the idea right from the start.
“I guess the Irish can make the claim they were here first,” she said with a broad grin, “but it was when the Dutch came that the town began to develop.”
From the start, the first planning committee was made up of people of various backgrounds, who felt the Dutch celebration was a great way to bring people to town. Ellis’ Dutch roots and musical ability earned her an instant spot in the community band.
“When the parade started, the community band director asked if I could join and teach them some Dutch numbers,” she said. “I jumped right in playing Dutch ditties.”
When the community’s Dutch heritage led to having the city’s two windmills built, it just added to the charm of the city and Holland Happening, said Ellis.
“The Boonstras built the windmill at Holland Gardens Park,” she said. “And then the city built the windmill at City Beach (Windjammer Park) as a storage shed. Having those windmills built was a great thing.”
Ellis said there was even a push to get building owners downtown to remodel their storefronts to look like a Dutch village, but members of the planning committee were never able to get that idea off the ground. There are other traditions that help keep the Dutch magic alive, such as the Town Crier, the street sweepers and the costumes.
“I’ll be wearing a traditional Zeeland Province costume,” she said. “My sister, Suzie Ross, will be riding with me and she’ll be wearing a Frisian costume from Friesland Province, where my family is from.”
Though the celebration has changed over the years, Holland Happening is still going strong and according to Ellis, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
“The kids love the carnival and there are people everywhere looking at the arts and crafts and trying the food,” she said. “The music is probably my favorite part – it’s a great vehicle for me to play my accordion.”
Even though Ellis has stepped back from helping to coordinate things this year, she is still a sponsor of the International Stage and her Oompah Band is scheduled to play a few numbers each day of the festival. Her involvement in this longtime tradition will never wane, if she has her way.
“I’m a strong proponent of Holland Happening continuing,” she said. “It’s just a stellar event.”
Anyone with questions regarding the upcoming event may contact the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce at 360-675-3755.