Wards’ international romance blossomed through postcards

Longtime Homewood residents and active community members Dave Ward, and his wife, Jacoba “Yoka” Ward, describe their lives together as “serendipitous” and charming.  

Ward, the former superintendent of Coyote Run Golf Course in Flossmoor, said: “I was a pretty shy guy, Yoka can tell you; I’m a much better conversationalist now than I was then.” 

“He was shy, I wasn’t,” Yoka confirmed. 

In 1970, then 17-year-old Ward was a member of the Homewood-Flossmoor High School choir. The music director at the same time, Walt Rodby, a former commanding officer during World War II, organized a trip  to the Soviet Union. 

“Our first stop was to Amsterdam for two to three days, where we sang in the town of Liden, in this huge church, Pieterskerk,” said Ward. “Liden (was) the ‘mini-Amsterdam’ without congestion and tourists.”

“I served coffee and tea at the intermission,” said Yoka. “My dad was the sexton of the church; he was an administrator and in charge of services.” 

“We were doing warmups, and in between the actual concert, a friend of mine was talking to Yoka, the blonde girl I had noticed serving drinks and sweets,” Ward said. “My friend introduced us, and somehow we got on the topic of postcards.” 

Ward and Yoka learned they both enjoyed saving postcards, and they began to correspond. 

“Soon after leaving Amsterdam,” Ward said, “I sent Yoka a postcard from Moscow and for the rest of the tour.” 

Postcards from Vienna, Salzburg, Moscow, and Ukraine filtered in, “To which my mom voiced (I’d) better start writing back to that nice young man. ‘Look at all the postcards he’s sent you,'” said Yoka. 

One letter in particular Ward received was an announcement sent in 1974. “I received an announcement from Yoka and Vin (Yoka’s fiance at the time),” he recalled. “It had a picture of the two of them, dated and signed in Dutch as “Jacoba & Vin We Zijn Verloofd.” He later learned the translation from Dutch was “we are engaged.”

“Soon after, a friend delivered a letter from Dave to me addressed to Jacoba & Vin We Zijn Verloofd,” said Yoka. Ward congratulated the couple, believing “we zijn verloofd” was the new last name and not an engagement announcement. 

“My friend looked puzzled because I was already engaged, and it was just funny and sweet,” said Yoka.  

Yoka’s engagement to Vin ended in 1975  after her father died. Having a change of heart and a fresh perspective, she visited the States and Dave. That helped define their relationship more, and in 1977, the couple  married. 

“What’s interesting is through writing to one another, we learned everything about one another; nowadays, people don’t experience that,” Yoka said. “We had written to each other for years; we didn’t physically spend time with one another, but we got to know each other on paper.”

The couple tried to find a way to get together, but were initially denied visas, but then discovered the K-1 Visa (Nonimmigrant Visa for a Fianc[é]). The K-1 visa permitted Yoka to travel to the United States, and and they had to marry one another within 90 days of arrival.

“We had less than 45 days to get married, and Yoka, a big numbers person, picked our wedding date for 7-7-77, which happened to be a Thursday,” said Ward. 

Adjusting to life in America wasn’t easy for Yoka. 

“I moved away from friends and family to move to the States where getting used to having to drive everywhere happened,” Yoka said. “You’re not just getting used to a whole new country, and its customs, but also how people interact,(and it) was very different to me.

“Dutch people tend to be incredibly direct, almost to a fault. Now that I’ve lived here longer, if someone were to ask my opinion, I quickly learned how to ask, ‘Well, what do you think?'” 

Taking several different working opportunities in here helped her become acclimated, and eventually, Yoka became a U.S. citizen in 2015.

For this family, Liden has provided a magical spell. The friend who introduced them met his wife there, and the Wards’ youngest daughter not only met her husband in Liden but also married there 41 years after her parents.

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