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Active family man Zylstra succumbs at age 106

One of Iowa’s oldest residents

Tags: Genealogy

SHELDON, Iowa - Keeping their family together was a compelling reason for Herman Zylstra and his wife Wiepkje to pull up stakes in Idsken-huizen in 1952 for a new life in the USA. A farmer in the Netherlands, Zylstra who then already was 54, took a job with a Sheldon carpenter but never became fluent in English. The Dutch American recently died at the age of 106, one of Iowa’s oldest residents.

A spry man, Zylstra with some assistance lived on his own till about three months before his death. He was injured in a fall which put him into a nursing home. Among the things he kept up till his hospitalization were reading, gardening and fishing with his family.

Zylstra and his Beetgum-born wife Wiepkje Hofstra sold their cows, and with the rest of the family joined two sons - veterans of the post-1946 war in the Dutch East Indies - who had plans to emigrate to the USA. The family’s oldest daughter Lucille already had gone earlier and helped arrange sponsorship, housing and jobs. Since their arrival, the senior Zylstras lived in the northwest Iowa town of Sheldon although their children later mostly settled in Minnesota.

The first eight years of his life, Zylstra lived on a canal barge. The family moved ashore after his father drowned. Zylstra’s mother eventually remarried a widower with eight children. By then, Zylstra’s older sister who had been living with an aunt and uncle, had emigrated with them to the USA in 1913.

Herman Zylstra had worked on farms since age 12, and eventually started his own. Survival in the De-pression years was not easy, in retrospect a primer for the WWII era when the Zylstra family swelled by ‘illegal guests’. The Jews on the isolated farm all came unharmed through the German occupation years.

Zylstra was preceded in death by his wife (in 1989), a son Peter, five grandchildren and a son-in-law, Bernie Koster. His sister was 99 was she died. He leaves behind two daughters, Lucille and Tina, and four sons, Meindert, Romke, Haye and Bernie, 27 grandchildren, 43 geat-grandchildren and 16 great-great-grandchildren.