News Articles

Talk of unfulfilled dreams followed by Harley ride of a lifetime

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

WILMINGTON, North Carolina – About a year ago, it all started with a casual conversation about what could be called ‘unfulfilled dreams’ between girlfriends at a local retirement community. Franeker, the Netherlands-born Bessie Vanderwal-Tancrelle thought she would still like to ride a Harley someday, while another woman chimed in that she would still like to drive an 18-wheeler.

The idea from then on had legs of its own, when Bessie’s family, friends and members of the local Harley owners group centered around the city’s Harley-Davidson dealership and rallied together to realize the senior’s dream. Tancrelle, who already had a reputation for being a spunky and adventurous woman, also got her younger sister Clara Vanderwal-Sternberger with whom she lived, involved in what many thought was a rather wild plan.

Nothing has been written about the realization of the dream to drive an 18-wheeler, but various media throughout the U.S. reported on her 5-mile Harley ride around a Wilmington park. Bessie Tancrelle rode on the back of the motor cycle while Clara Sternberger ‘manned’ the vehicle’s side car, followed by other Harley riders and plenty of onlookers.


Why this ride attracted and merited so much attention? Even the fact that the ride was a birthday gift could hardly classify the story as a news item, nor the fact that the two former Franeker girls had a bit of some fun one day.

What makes the ride unique and newsworthy, perhaps even a first, is that it took place on Bessie’s 102nd birthday, a full 97 after she, her sister and her parents Sytze and Tetje van der Wal emigrated to the U.S.

A widow since 1984, when her husband Louis passed away, Bessie Tancrelle has lived with her widowed sister Clara since that year. Bessie’s only child, a son, died last year. On March 17, less then two months short of her 103rd birthday, Bessie Tancrelle passed away, leaving behind her 98-year old sister Clara, her daughter-in-law Ann and two grandchildren.