Speech by His Majesty the King at the Heritage Lunch hosted by the Governor of Michigan

Speech by His Majesty the King at the Heritage Lunch hosted by the Governor of Michigan, Grand Rapids, 2 June 2015.

Governor Snyder, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for your warm welcome. My wife and I are delighted to be here in the Great Lake State. And it’s great to see you all here in the Grand Room of the Frederik Meijer Park.

Governor Snyder, thank you for your kind words.

You may not be aware of it, but your state is six times larger than my country. The Netherlands is only a dot on the world map, but it punches above its weight. Over the centuries, the Dutch have made their presence felt all over the world, including here in America. And in Michigan especially.

We can see that for ourselves here today. How marvellous it is to meet so many people with Dutch roots.

And to hear so many Dutch names! Shall I give you some original Dutch pronunciations? Huizinga, Meijer, Van Andel, De Vos, Meekhof, Hoekstra, Dijkstra, Kleinstra, Snijder… Music to my ears!

The history of Dutch emigration to North America spans more than four centuries. Our presence here goes back further than that of most other European nations.

Here in Michigan, Dutch settlers only arrived in big numbers after 1840. What kind of people were they? One thing’s for sure: they were ordinary people, in search of religious freedom and a better life for their families. Most came from rural areas. They were farmers, field workers and day labourers. Or they were small-town artisans, hoping for a brighter future.

One of these new arrivals was 32-year-old Frans van Driele, from Middelburg, in the Dutch province of Zeeland.

He was one of the first Dutch settlers in Grand Rapids. He got here in 1848, after a seven-week sea voyage. First he was a lumberjack and canal digger. Then he worked for 15 years – earning 10 dollars a month – as a labourer in a grain mill. Quite an achievement when you consider he was lame.

Fortunately, his disability didn’t prevent him from finding love, and in 1849 he married a widow from Friesland.

From the very beginning, the Dutch got a good press here. In 1848 a reporter from the Milwaukee Gazette paid a visit to the Dutch settlement of Holland, on the other side of Lake Michigan. He wrote, ‘When these people arrive, the first thing is to buy a piece of land. The second is to commence chopping. The third to plant and make fence; and, lastly, build a house.’

He also described the results of all that chopping, planting and building: ‘This country which but a year and a half ago was a dense unbroken wilderness, is fast becoming a garden of the choicest kind. Truly, the wilderness is made to blossom like a rose.’

The Dutch had a talent for agriculture. They still do, in fact. Today, the Netherlands – that tiny dot on the map – is the world’s second-biggest agricultural exporter, after the United States. The seeds the Dutch planted here have borne fruit: food and agriculture are still a cornerstone of Michigan’s economy.

Hard work. Frugality. Determination. These were the values that helped many Dutch families build successful lives here. The Dutch may not have been the biggest immigrant community, but they were certainly one of the most outspoken. They probably didn’t always make life easy for themselves or for others. Some took the attitude: ‘If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much.’

Nonetheless, those first Dutch settlers thrived, putting down roots in Michigan’s soil.

A lot of their success was down to the ‘can-do’ atmosphere here. An atmosphere in which talent can flourish, and where business, innovation and social development go hand in hand. That was true 170 years ago. And it’s still true now.

It’s fascinating to see how Grand Rapids continues to build today, in 2015. The city is in a constant state of renewal. In recent decades it has for instance developed into a major centre for life sciences and health care.

I’m looking forward to my visit this afternoon to two landmarks on the Grand Rapids Medical Mile: the Van Andel Research Institute and the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

The Medical Mile is a fine symbol of the close bond between our countries and peoples. Together with many others, Dutch ‘heritage families’ like the Van Andels, the DeVoses and the Meijers have helped give a major boost to this city.

Research, education, health care, economic growth and urban development: these different areas reinforce each other and help ensure that Grand Rapids remains a city where people want to live and work. A city that invites people to use their talents and achieve their dreams.

Today, the Dutch still feel very close ties with Michigan and Grand Rapids. That’s clear from the keenness with which Dutch experts and entrepreneurs signed up for the business mission running parallel to our visit.

Michigan is the only place on Earth where you can drive between Holland, Zeeland, Friesland and Drenthe in less than an hour. That’s right: even in the Netherlands you can’t do that!

This is the beating heart of the Dutch-American community in the United States, with no fewer than two top educational institutions of Dutch origin: Hope College and Calvin College.

So, for all of us, this is a unique chance to deepen our existing ties and forge new ones too.

I’d like to thank Grand Rapids and the State of Michigan for the many opportunities you have given Dutch people over almost two centuries, and for the friendship that is as strong today as ever.

In 1849 the Grand Rapids Enquirer said this about the Dutch: ‘They are a very stout and frugal race and will by patient industry transform the wilderness to a scene of fertility and busy life.’

We are proud to have played a part in the history of this great state. And we are keen to keep playing a part in the future.

Thank you.