SYLVAIN VAN GOBES
Sylvain van Gobes, one of the founding members of the NAADV passed away on Jaunary 14, 2014. His impact and contibutions to this Dutch Club are vast and he will be very missed. We'd like to share memories, thoughts and photos of Sylvain on this web page. Please send your contributions to poes[a]aol.com.
Sylvain at the Rijsttafel, November 2013
Michele van Gobes:
Sylvain van Gobes, a resident of Germantown, passed away Tuesday, January 14th, after a lengthy battle with cancer. A native of Belgium, Sylvain was in training with the Belgian army in France, when the Nazis invaded, so he, his brother and his cousin made it to a refugee camp in southern France where they caught a ship to England. He served in the Dutch Merchant Marine, bringing lend lease supplies from Canada to England, until his ship was torpedoed. After rescue by a Canadian ship, Sylvain decided to immigrate to the U.S. and moved to Philadelphia where he lived with his uncle, Henry Elkan, violist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a music publisher. with Elkan Vogel. Later, he joined the American Army and trained in Anniston, Alabama, where he became a US citizen. After basic training, he was assigned to the 84th Infantry Railsplitters, The Abraham Lincoln Division. They were ultimately sent to England to join the Overlord Assault Team, and then to Omaha Beach as part of the 5th landing wave of the Normandy invasion to the 9th American Army. His assignment was to go out in advance of his unit, unarmed, carrying a 35lb SCR-610 radio, which had a 35 mile send/receive range. He carried the radio while his Lt. radioed the positions of the Germans so that other heavy, 81mm mortars could help the rifle companies advance. His unit fought in the Battle of the Bulge and liberated one of the worst concentration camps, a few miles west of Hanover. During the fighting at Hanover, Sylvain was hit by shrapnel from an 88 gun, which put him in Valley Forge Hospital for 3 1/2 years.
While recuperating at Valley Forge, he met his late wife, Anne. After graduating from Ursinus College, Sylvain, Anne and their daughter settled in Germantown, where he lived until the end of his life.. Sylvain was very active in the Germantown and Philadelphia communities. He worked for Philco, and then became a civilian Logistics Engineer with the US Marine Corps, until he retired. Through the Nationalities Service Center, he helped many newly arrived individuals and families find homes, employment, and become integrated into life in the US. Sylvain was an active member of Germantown Monthly Meeting of Friends, The Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, and countless other civic and humanitarian organizations. He was a co-founder of the Netherlands American Association, and received the one of the highest Dutch honors, membership in The Order of Orange, bestowed by Queen Beatrice of Holland for his liaison work with the Dutch, through the Dutch Consulate. He was fortunate to meet and marry Lee Pollock in 2010.
Reflecting on the life of Sylvain brings back memories that can be summarized by a sentence spoken by many in recent years "Where is Sylvain, is he coming?" Sylvain over the nine decades of his life during which each of us at some point got to know him, was loved and respected by all. And, as years passed and he could no longer attend each NAADV event as he had done for the past 50+ years, no event would go by without fellow members asking "Where is Sylvain, is he coming?" Sylvain has been a magnanimously, enriching influence and an integral part of our immigrant lives and we always looked forward to seeing him.
Sylvain, in what looks like his eternal role as NAADV secretary, was the rock standing tall in the storms, when budgets were tight or memberships low. He was the motivator for others to excel and produce great events; while always doing so with great humility and tenderness. When young, aspiring eager-beaver new board members were huffing and puffing and pontificating, Sylvain stayed calm and collect, remained our beacon and driving force year in, year out. If members would complain about an event, Sylvain would as always stay gracious and with a twinkle in his eye his response included something like "I know we can improve... thank you for joining the organizing committee to help us make this a better event."
The NAADV would not have been what it is without Sylvain and to memorialize his enormous contributions our association a few years ago created the Sylvain van Gobes Service Award: an award that recognizes others who made significant contributions to the NAADV.
"Where is Sylvain, is he coming?" We know Sylvain will not be coming to our next events....but each of us whose life he has enriched, shall remember Sylvain fondly and miss him.
Sylvain cutting the cake at the 50th Anniversary of the NAADV.
Sylvain was a cousin by marriage: his uncle, Henri Elkan, another of the co-founders of NAADV, and a violist and music publisher in Philadelphia (from whom I had taken viola and piano lessons) had married my grandfather' sister. After he retired, Sylvain worked with our Uncle Henri in the music publishing business...
We enjoyed Sylvain' company at many family occasions, and it was he who inspired me to study Dutch: I was working on my degree in Germanic Languages at the University of Pennsylvania. Although German was a foreign language for the purposes of Penn's graduate school, of course it wasn't in the German Department. Their requirement was two languages in addition to German (and English). As I remember, it was preferred that those languages be modern, spoken ones. Swedish and Dutch (taught at the time by former NAADV member Gertie Reichenbach) were offered. Having passed the examination in French, and as I knew no one who spoke Swedish, the obvious choice was Dutch. And there was Sylvain - a willing language lab! I quickly joined what Sylvain usually called "The Dutch Club". Soon, he gently twisted my arm and I became editor of De Brug -- for eight years. That was in the days before computers. When I had De Brug ready for publication, Sylvain would have it photocopied, and we'd spend a jolly evening trotting around the big kitchen table at Germantown Friends' Meeting collating and stapling it.
I am sad to report that Germantown lost one of its greatest ambassadors: Sylvain van Gobes succumbed to a long illness and died in a hospice center on Wissahickon Avenue Tuesday, January 14.
Sylvain, who was a native of the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, lived in the 6100 block of McCallum Street for some fifty years. As a youth he served in the Merchant Marine in World War II where he survived several ships sinking and the loss of at least one brother and part of one hand. His wounds anded him in a veterans hospital then located at Valley Forge where he slowly recovered, gaining first the affection and then the love of his nurse, Anne Gannett, a young woman from South Carolina whom he later married and started a family with in their house on McCallum.
You may remember the house: it always had a pair of Dutch wooden shoes on the front porch, a Dutch tradition of hospitality and welcome. If you rang his and Anne's bell, they would always invite you in for a glass of Stella Artois, a Belgian beer.
For a number of years, Sylvain monitored ship traffic in the Delaware, watching for ships coming up the Delaware from the Netherlands. He would then go down to the docks and become "The Official Welcomer of a Dutch Ship to the City of Philadelphia." In this self-appointed role, he would greet the sailors in his and their native Dutch language and then either invite them to a nearby bar that served Stella Artois or bring the entire crew home for dinner.
Several years ago, Anne became too ill to remain at home and moved to Stapley where she later died. Sylvain - by then using a walker himself - remarried and then also moved to Stapley, having met Lee Pollock, a resident of Stapeley whom he had gotten to know while helping take care of Anne. For many neighbors, his and Lee's wedding, held at GFS Meeting House, was a uniquely joyous ceremony, both bride and groom being in their eighties - she close to blind, and he guiding her with his walker.
Now as Belgian ships continue to navigate the Delaware, I would not be surprised if some look for "the Ambassador" himself to be standing at the dock. You see, shortly before Sylvain's move to Stapley, a group of architecture students from Holland who had come to study Maxwell and other houses on Tulpehocken, were stopping pedestrians and asking: "This is Germantlown, yes?" They were told that was correct. One then asked me if I knew "the man from Holland who lives in Germantown." They said they had heard of such a man back in Holland. I took a chance and escorted them over to McCallum Street where they rang Sylvain's bell. The shoes were auspicious: there was a long full discussion in what I believe was Dutch followed by Sylvan opening the door and inviting them all in.
What a champ he was. I will miss his bright smiling eyes and how he always rose to the best in any occasion, never wasting an opportunity to be friendly or enjoy a joke.
A great friend will be missed! Sylvain started the Dutch Club in Philadelphia with a couple of friends. He loved the Dutch people and was grateful to the Dutch people because of their many brave attempts to save the Jewish people during the second World War.
Sylvain had a great sense of humor and always saw the positive side to things. He had an incredible curiosity for intellectual pursuits and music. With his uncle he had a classical music company in Philadelphia, called Elkan Vogel, where I visited him many times. Sylvain was a great cook and also loved to eat good meals in good restaurants. He was a true connaisseur of the good things of life.
In retirement Sylvain was for many years Secretary of the NAADV. He had an office in The Germantown Friends Meetinghouse where he assisted Dutch people, knew of their whereabouts and was always willing to help.
Sylvain to me was some kind of saint....The only thing he did wrong was his driving....
I will miss Sylvain terribly.....
I have known Sylvain since the mid 70's when I started coming to the Netherland-America Association. He always had a kind word for me and my children and made us feel very welcome. When I started the Circle Dinners he was an eager participant, even hosting the dinner at his home where the table would be nicely set for the guests and he would cook his share of the meal. I was very pleased when he agreed to be videotaped to relate his experiences before, during and after World War II. The video went to the Library of Congress for the Veteran's History Project. It was amazing to hear his stories about the horrible things that happened to him and his family. On a lighter note, I wanted to add to Doortje's comment about his driving skills. His response to a remark that he did not wear glasses, not even for reading was that yes, he did not even need then to drive, and he could drive at night which made him very popular with the ladies.
Our acquaintance with Sylvain dates back to 1977 when we first read in the newspaper about a Dutchman Day to be held in the University Museum at Penn. We went there with our two young children and here was Sylvain, together with other active members, busily taking care of food and drinks for everybody. It opened a new door for us as we had not been aware of a Dutch organization in the Philadelphia area and our children had not known about any other Dutch speaking kids in this country. From then on we participated in all activities and Sylvain was always the constant presence. In the Germantown Meeting House the annual meetings were held with everybody bringing a potluck dish, Sinterklaas arrived there for the kids and Sylvain had his own office there so we considered it the headquarters of the NAADV for the longest time. We will miss him as the club won't be the same without him.