The Minten Sisters

The Minten Sisters
Dorothy, Janie, and Esther visiting with Santa at his house (Santa Claus House) in North Pole, Alaska on July 15, 2017

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Eve Memories

It was Christmas Eve, 2017, last night, and the three of us attended our family's annual evening together which included lots of food and a visit from Santa Claus himself.  It brought many memories to mind.

Dorothy, Esther, and I love Christmas and have many, many memories of South Texas holiday celebrations with our mom and dad, aunts, uncles, a myriad of cousins, close family friends, and of course, each other. Our father’s Minten/Siemonsma Dutch heritage was dominant in our family, and for that reason many of our childhood memories of Christmas revolve around customs that our grandparents brought with them from the Netherlands. (Daddy's sister, Tillie [Theckla, Dutch for Matilda] married Charles Boerjan, a man from The Netherlands, so all of those cousins-seven of them-were full-blooded Dutch.)

I thought our mom was Dutch, even though I realized later on that she had her own heritage! Her sister, Ruth, and her family, along with our Grandpa Howard (mom’s dad) lived just a few miles away and were always a part of every family gathering. (All of our grandparents, except Grandpa Howard, died before I was born.) Mickey (Aunt Ruth’s middle child), and just two years younger than I (Janie), shared with us in more recent years, that as a child she was really disappointed to learn that she was not Dutch, and that all of those cousins were not her cousins! They were Janie’s cousins!!  I think for a little while she was kind of mad at me about that!!!

One of the traditions, probably changed from December 5th (St. Nicholas Eve) in the Netherlands, took place every year on December 24. On that special evening, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even some friends, the Akkermans, who were also of Dutch heritage and were like family to all of us, would gather at one of the family homes where we would anxiously await the arrival of Santa Claus. I know there was always a lot of food, but I actually have no recollection of eating anything at those gatherings!!  I do remember the hot chocolate that our cousin, Mary Boerjan, would make at all winter family get-togethers. It was homemade from scratch (not a mix) and the best! I wish I could have some right now!

When it became dark, we children would anxiously peer out of the windows, going from one side of the house to the other, looking for our first glimpse of Santa. You see, we all lived out in the country on farms, so wherever the party was held, Santa always had plenty of room to land his sleigh and the reindeer out in a field or pasture far away from the prying eyes of children, so we didn’t know from which direction he would come. We would be very quiet as we looked out for him, for we knew that we might hear the sound of his bell before we would see the light from his lantern. It was so exciting, but also a little scary!! This was in the days before electricity in our homes and bright outside yard lights. It was really, really dark!  After 1950, a single light bulb in the middle of the room’s ceiling or a lamp gave more light!)

The adults were into this, too. They would be there with us, looking and listening, and to add to the authenticity of this yearly event, one of them would say, “Did you hear that? I think it’s Santa!” Or they would point up into the sky and say, “There he is! I saw the sleigh and reindeer!”

That would make us little ones look and listen that much harder. And then, we would really hear it—the rhythmic ringing of Santa’s cowbell! We’d rush to the windows on the side of the house we thought the sound was coming from, and then we’d see him in his red suit with his white beard just barely discernible in the glow of his lantern as he walked the distance from where he had left his sleigh. One of the grown-ups would go quickly to the door and invite him in, and what an awesome thing that was for us! There stood Santa Claus himself in the doorway with a pack full of gifts.  We did not rush up to grab him. In fact, we would hang back, sometimes standing close to one of our parents for a little protection. We certainly did not yank on his beard, because WE ALREADY KNEW HE WAS REAL!

He wasn’t dressed in a regal red velvet suit with white fur trim. He didn’t have on a wide shiny black belt with a golden buckle or highly polished black boots. His clothing, while red and white, were homemade and rather old world looking. His face was a mask (to protect him from the subzero temperatures of the high altitudes as he flew at fast speeds in his open sleigh—but really to disguise the fact that it was Aunt Annie or Cousin Mary or some other person that we knew quite well!!) But we didn’t care. We didn’t see that. We did not have the images of Santa Claus coming at us from every direction as today’s children do. He WAS Santa Claus! He was our vision of Santa Claus and the only one we knew!

Santa had gifts for the good kids, and all of us were quite sure we fell into that category. But, you never knew for sure, because Santa might have remembered something you had forgotten from the past year!!

He would begin handing out gifts, calling the names of the recipients in his booming voice (well it sounded booming to me when I was a little girl!). It was such a relief when you heard your own name called, because, if you had been naughty, Santa Claus would wait until all the gifts were handed out, then he would call your name, tell everyone you had been bad, grab you, stuff you into his now empty toy sack, and take you back to the North Pole where he would make you into a doll. (Just a personal note: It never bothered me to think that my dolls had been bad little girls!  I never connected the two.) We never found out what he did with the boys!!!

Just to emphasize that he meant business, he would usually start pulling someone toward him, but then an adult would usually talk him out of it, saying that the child really was a pretty good kid. Most of the times, it was an adult he would pull toward him, so as not to frighten the children too much!! Christmas, 1930, stands out in Dorothy’s memory. She was three years old, and our parents and grandparents were hosts to the extended family. At the time, Mom, Dad, and Dorothy, were still living in the original house built by Grandpa Peter J. Minten, and everyone was in the kitchen. Santa Claus actually did put seven-year-old cousin, Buddy Boerjan, in his sack, and he left with him. He must have changed his mind, because he let Buddy go when he was out of sight of the others. This story was handed down for years, and it made believers out of us, the next generation!

It was not until I was an adult reading a book of Dutch Christmas customs, that I learned this was a Dutch practice. Sinter Klaus comes from Spain on a ship, rides a white horse while in The Netherlands, and takes naughty children back to Spain in his toy sack. It didn’t mention what he does with them, and I somehow think that the “doll story” was a result of our Aunt Annie’s very active imagination. She was always doing something to make our holidays exciting. She was the youngest of the five children in our dad's family.

Now you know why we had a good healthy fear of Santa as well as great love for him. You've got to admit, it was a great way for our parents to remind us all year that we’d better be good. And besides that, he had a way of watching us through the windows at our house. At various times after Thanksgiving, we’d be doing dishes or one of our other chores in the kitchen at night when we’d hear a scratching noise on the window screen (the window being open due to balmy South Texas weather) and turn to see his masked face peering in the window at us. Then he would disappear. Dorothy and Esther learned years later that it was Aunt Annie, our dad’s sister, doing the honors. Dorothy and Esther carried on the tradition when I was little.

Our mother loved Christmas, too, and she would decorate the whole house. The home where we grew up was the second house built by our grandfather in 1926, and many of those Christmas Eve parties were held there when it was Mom and Dad’s turn to be hosts to the family. Today, that same house is our Christmas store, Santa's Texas Workshop. Oh, what memories that house holds of Christmases past!!!

We never lost our childhood awe of the holiday, and as adults we continue to celebrate in very special ways including that family party on Christmas Eve. These days, we meet at a cousin's home for this annual event. Santa still comes, but the story of being taken back to the North Pole if you've been naughty is a thing of the past. Everyone brings food, and we eat and visit and have fun together. There are a lot of little ones in our family right now, as our cousins' grandchildren have children who are getting to experience this Christmas Eve tradition.  They are not all there every year, as they spend Christmas Eve with their spouses' families every other year.  That's a nice tradition in itself!

While the children all get gifts, we adults often exchange gifts through the person of Santa Claus. This is a great way of giving someone a gag gift without ever having to admit who it is really from! (This is another Dutch tradition!!)  However, more often than not, the gifts are very nice, and we do find out who slipped them into Santa's bag.

There were five children in our dad's family. When we were young, the families of Tillie, Henry, and Johnny all lived within “yelling distance” of one another, so the cousins played together all the time. Annie lived in Falfurrias, just a few miles away, and she took part in our Christmases, but she never had any children of her own. We also knew we had lots of cousins from the Albert Minten family in San Antonio, and sometimes they came to see us (although it was not at Christmas). As a result of this, many of the local first cousins and their children remained very close to each other as the years passed. Now in 2017, there are only 6 of our grandparents' 20 grandchildren still living: the three of us Minten sisters (Johnny’s girls), Evelyn Boerjan Solomon, the youngest of Tillie's seven children, (she's still in Falfurrias) Henry's only son, K. Henry, and one of Albert’s nine children, his daughter, Genevieve. (The latter two live in San Antonio.)

Tonight (2017), as I sat and watched the children receiving their gifts from Santa, I could not help remembering our parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who now spend their Christmases with the One whose birth we celebrate. However, through our memories of past Christmas Eves, they were all there with us tonight. I could see their smiling faces in the corners of my mind! I know all my cousins who are my age and older were seeing them, too, as the children played and had a good time, oblivious to the memories of ancestors who actually made all of this possible for them. I pray that their parents will help keep the past alive for them, because if we don’t know our roots and our history, it takes away some of our future!

I couldn't help but think that our great-grandfather, Renier Minten, and our great-grandmother, JoAnna Maria Mathiola DeBijl Minten, would be glad to know that their decision to leave the Netherlands for America in 1869 when Peter John was 5 years old, leaving family behind to never see them again, was a good decision—led by God to shape future generations as well as the lives of all that they would touch in this country for years to come!

Our other great-grandparents, Rombertus Siemonsma and Teetske Haijes Ververda Siemonsma, left the Netherlands in 1882, coming to America with their family of 10 children. One of them, Marijke, was 18 at the time. Again, a decision led by God, who in 1887, brought these two Dutch families together in the Dakota Territory with the marriage of Peter John and Marijke.

I believe that our great-grand parents, Renier and Joanna Minten (she lived only a few months after arriving in the U.S. in 1869), and Rombertus and Teetske Haijes Ververda Siemonsma, and their children, our grandparents, Peter John and Marijke (Mary) Minten would be proud if they could see their many descendents still gathering together to celebrate Christmas. Some of the little ones who were there tonight are their great-great-great-great grandchildren.  Who knows, perhaps on this most special night of the year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God may allow those who dwell with Him to have glimpses of their families here on Earth.  I'd like to think so.  I'd also like to think that if that’s so, our ancestors are proud of what their many descendants have become and what they have accomplished. We have a lot of family members who have done good things as they have sought out the will of God in their lives. They have married men and women who have added the traditions of their families with those of ours. The family’s children of today have rich and wonderful heritages upon which to build their lives.

As children, we did eventually learn the truth about Santa Claus. Different members of the family had played the part, including Aunt Annie Minten (Bone) and Cousin Mary Boerjan (Bone), who were really good Santas. (Those two women, aunt and niece, married brothers) In more recent years, Tim Boerjan (grandson of Tillie Minten Boerjan) has been Santa with a great sense of humor! He was our Santa last night!

But the most important thing that all of us who grew up in this wonderful family learned was the true meaning of Christmas. While Santa is a wonderful figment of the imaginations of our ancestors, and of ours, Jesus Christ is real in each of our lives today. All of our parents did a good job of raising us to know the difference. It never crossed our minds to question the reality of Jesus’ Virgin birth, His life, His death on the Cross of Calvary, or His Resurrection. He truly lives for us and in us today.

I pray that each of you, my readers, will have many blessed and merry CHRISTmaes in the years to come, and that the true spirit of the season will remain in your hearts all year long. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Driscoll Children's Hospital Contribution for 2016 Christmas Season

Richard Harris , Esther, Janie, Dorothy Minten, Martha Avery, and John Hyde

Wednesday, July 26, 2017, was a special day as we had lunch in Corpus Christi with members of the Driscoll Foundation to present them with the contributions that we raised during the past Christmas season.  Martha Avery, Vice-President for Development, Richard Harris, the Children's Miracle Network Administrator, and John Hyde, the Director of Major Gifts attended the luncheon. Janice Bailey, who is Administrative Assistant in the Development Department was also there, but she graciously was the photographer.

We opened for the season on September 24, 2016, and actually did the last tour of the season on June 4, 2017. The tours in the latter part of April and May were few and far between, as the season was officially over. The last tour we did on June 4, was for a group of cousins who were in Rockport where we all attended our Minten Family Reunion.

The total amount raised and presented to Driscoll Children's Hospital for this past season was $14,420.00. This amount will be added to the Dorothy, Esther, and Janie Minten Endowment for Cardiology that was established in memory of Dr. James W. Simpson, long time head of cardiology at Driscoll Children's Hospital and founder of The Children's Heart Institute of South Texas. All of the funds that we raise through our Christmas House are used to help children in South Texas who have heart problems. This brings the grand total of funds raised during the years to $337,325.00. That averages out to nearly $10,000.00 a year since we started raising this money to help children with heart problems.

The money we raise at The Christmas House is dedicated to the memory of two special people. One is an aunt we never knew. Her name was Margarett (pronounced Marguerite) Elizabeth Howard, who died as the result of a heart condition in 1918 when she was just 14 years old. Our mother was 13 when she lost her beloved big sister, and while she knew that she had heart problems, she never knew the diagnosis. In 2006, eleven years after our mother's death, we visited the Mahaska County Courthouse in Oskaloosa, Iowa where we were able to see Margarett's death certificate that is filed there. It simply stated that the cause of her death was Mitral Valve Prolapse! They were able to diagnose the condition, but in those days, they could do nothing for it. Mother always said that "they just tried to make her comfortable towards the end." How sad, but Praise God that children aren't given a death sentence with a diagnosis like that anymore!! In fact, that diagnosis is very rare today.

The other young girl whose memory we honor is Shelley Siemonsma who was our first cousin twice removed--her paternal grandmother was our first cousin on our dad's side of the family! Shelley was born with a serious heart defect in 1980, and should not have lived more than two years. However, thanks to Dr. James Simpson and Driscoll Children's Hospital, she lived to be 18. Even though she passed away in 1998, everyone in the family still misses her and her wonderful attitude towards life. 
She was an inspiration to everyone who knew her!

The total amount that we raise each year is from several different sources related to the tours we conduct through The Christmas House.

1.) We give $1.00 out of each paid admission fee.

2.) The three of us personally give $2.00 (we share that amount) for each non-paying guest. (Non-paying guests include our family, our friends, La Gloria School children and staff, and paying guests who return for a subsequent tour(s) during the same season.)

3.) In addition to this, we each make our own personal annual donation to DCH which is included in the total.

4.)Many of our family and friends make donations to Driscoll Children's Hospital in lieu of the admission fee. (We don't ask them to do this, but certainly will never refuse a donation.) Sometimes we'll get a check in the mail made out to DCH from someone (family, friend, or even a past guest) just because they didn't get to come see The Christmas House during the current season!

5.) The Organ Fund, started as a joke by a guest in January of 1993, has proven to be the most fun! Guests who return each year always have their donation ready to put on the antique pump organ. (If you scroll down the blog, there is a post that tells how it got started.) Many who come for the first time follow suit and add a donation along with everyone else's. The Organ Fund does give Janie an opportunity to share with our guests about Driscoll Children's Hospital and all that they do for the children of South Texas. The Organ Fund total for this past season was $6,900.13. That is an all time record since it started in 1993. It brings the grand total for the organ fund to $84,999.20.

We would like to once again thank everyone who made this possible. If all you did was attend a tour of the Christmas House as a paying guest, then $1.00 of your admission fee went to DCH. If you were a non-paying guest, you made a $2.00 donation from us possible. Perhaps while you were touring the house, you left a donation on the antique pump organ.Your visit to The Christmas House made all of this possible! We couldn't have done it without you!  We also thank our family and friends who made donations above and beyond what you needed to do! 

There is a special group that we must thank. These are the children and staff of La Gloria School ISD which is the community school that our grandfather Minten (a Dutch immigrant recently moved to Texas from Iowa in 1907) helped start in 1909. He was one of the first three board members. Our dad attended school there, his younger sister and all of our cousins went to school there. The three of us attended First through Eighth grades there, and Dorothy and Esther taught there for over 30 years each! Many of the children who attend school there today are the grandchildren of kids that Dorothy and Esther taught. Some of them are the great and great-great grandchildren of former students and even those with whom D and E went to school in the 30's and 40's. So, they are like family to us.

Each season, we invite everyone at the school to come see The Christmas House. We sit down with Superintendent David Braswell and work out a schedule for each class to come see us on a different day. This past season, we hosted over 120 children (Pre-K through 6th grades) and staff members. One of the things the kids look forward to most during the tour is putting their donations on the antique pump organ! And believe us when we tell you, they make really good contributions! So, thank you to these children, their parents who make sure they have their donations, and their teachers who encourage and remind them and then give their own donations to DCH!

And of course, we wouldn't do this if we didn't believe in all the work they do at Driscoll Children's Hospital for the children who live in 31 counties of South Texas. They have touched the lives of so many children and their families, and while we have no children of our own, we are grateful!


When and Why We Started Raising Money for Children's Heart Care

In 1976, our family (Mom, Dad, and the three of us) decided to take our love of Christmas to a new level. We had always decorated our home and collected Christmas decorations! In '76, Dorothy and Esther had gone on a summer vacation to Atlanta, and while in that area, they visited Gatlinburg, TN. I was working in Premont, so was not able to travel with them in those days. However, I always made sure I was home when they were going to call. (No cell phones, text messages, Facebook, etc., in those days! Long distance calls were expensive, so we more or less scheduled them once a week.) A call came in, and they were so excited!! "You'll never guess what we found today in Gatlinburg!!" Well, they were right! Never in our wildest imaginations could we guess what they'd found. "We found a store where they sell nothing but Christmas decorations all year long!!!"

What? Christmas decorations in the summer??? We were fascinated at such a concept for a retail business! I think that was the first time that UPS ever made a delivery to our home. And what a delivery!! There were boxes of themed ornaments, that along with our old decorations would make it possible to decorate every room in what was then our 15 year-old ranch style home.

We decorated at Thanksgiving, and then planned an open house for December. That open house, attended by about 100 of our lady friends, was expanded the next year to two open houses and families were invited. Each year we added to our collections of Christmas decorations, to the point that we could do new themes that were different from the year before!! Several years later we were having six open houses and several parties and luncheons for friends and family that totaled over 600 people during the Christmas Holidays.

It was in 1982, that our family decided that we should benefit a charity by giving a donation related to our open houses and parties. We put in our invitations that year that for each person who attended a Christmas gathering at our home, we would, as a family, donate $2.00. Since we had been hosting 600 people for the past couple of years, we thought a $1,200.00 donation would be nice. We chose The Children's Heart Institute in Corpus Christi. Dr. James W. Simpson, head of cardiology at Driscoll Children's Hospital, and our cousin Shelley Siemonsma's doctor, had founded this institute in order to help his heart patients who came from all over South Texas to be treated at DCH. It was quite a hardship on many of their families to have to come back to Corpus Christi for check-ups and follow-up visits with him. So, CHI made it possible for him to go to the children in the towns where they lived. Through CHI, he could go all over South Texas to see his patients. Hospitals and clinics let him use facilities free of charge for perhaps one day a month while he held clinics there. There was a cost for transportation, etc. and for this he got grants and donations. We decided that this would be our "charity." 

The first year, 1982, we actually raised $1,600.00, because some of our guests were ready to pay the donation. We told them that our family was doing it and they had to pay nothing. However, they said that they would donate, too. So, we ended up putting a basket by the guest book. Dorothy made sure that every guest (man, woman and child) signed on a separate line in that book! It just made it easier to keep totals that way.

The next year, the donations grew to $2,300.00. By, 1986, at the encouragement of Mattie Gaston of Kingsville, TX, we decided to open to the public for tours of our home! We had already opened a Christmas store called Santa's Texas Workshop in 1984. It was, and still is, located in the 1926 farmhouse in which we all three grew up. It was the second house that our grandfather built on the ranch that he purchased in 1907.

When we opened for public tours in 1986, we decided to continue benefiting Dr. Simpson's Children's Heart Institute. We continued that until after his death. Then DCH built permanent clinics and hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley, so there was no longer a need for doctors from Corpus Christi to travel there. CHI was phased out, and all the money left after the bills were paid, was put into an endowment at Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi. We were really surprised and honored when we were told at a special luncheon that the endowment was to honor us and our commitment to helping children with heart problems here in South Texas.

I remember that we said, "But there are others who have given so much more than we could ever give." The answer to that was, "Yes, there are those who may have given more, but no one has been committed to doing it year after year for 27 years!" While it was created to honor us, what made it so special was that it honors the memory of James W. Simpson, M.D. who committed his life to serving and treating the children of South Texas.


The Organ Fund and How it Started

In January of 1993, a group from McAllen, TX was touring our Christmas House.  A lady saw the antique pump organ in our family room and asked Dorothy "Which one of you plays the organ?" 

Dorothy:  "I do." 

The lady:  "Oh, will you please play it for us?" 

Dorothy:  "Sure---for a nickel!"

The woman was surprised with this answer, but Dorothy immediately said to her, "I'm just joking.  I play that organ for every tour when we all sing 'Silent Night' together."

No more was said for the rest of the tour, but as the group was leaving when the tour was over, the woman had her hand in her pocket.  When she got to the door where Dorothy was standing, she pulled a nickel out.  "Dorothy, here's the nickel.  Thanks for playing the organ.  You did a good job."

Dorothy didn't want to take the nickel, but the lady insisted that she put it on the organ she had played. (We have two antique pump organs!)  Dorothy finally agreed, telling her that the nickel would stay on the organ until the end of the season, which would be two and a half months later at the end of March.  She also told her she would make sure that the nickel would be added to the donations to help South Texas children who have heart problems.

By the end of the season, more people had added to the donations on the organ. It had garnered a grand total of $66.55!! Since it was a cute story, we put an article in our newsletter for 1993 telling about it. When we opened the next season, the third group to tour the house asked why there was no money on the organ. They had read about it in the newsletter and were prepared to make a donation. We told them that it was just a joke, the money had been added to the donations, and we weren't doing it anymore! Well, those 7 ladies decided that they were going to start it, so they did!! At the end of the season, $596.52 had been left on the organ.

The story of these seven ladies and their donations was put in the newsletter. The three of us agreed that we would never start it, but if someone in a group put some money on the organ, we would let it continue for that season. So, we opened and our first group came on the last Saturday in September of 1994. This group had been coming since the year we opened, and asked after a couple of years if they could always be our first group. So, they have had standing reservations to be first for over 28 years! During their 1994 tour, at the point when Dorothy finished playing the antique pump organ, they all got up and started putting donations on the organ!!! When we asked them what they were doing, they said they were starting the Organ Fund, and that they planned to start it every year from then on! The "organ fund" tradition has been carried on by that first group ever since.

I would like to add one little note about that group. They went on to become some of our very best friends. The group has changed a little. A couple of the older ones have gone Home to be with the Lord, some have moved away, but others have remained faithful. We have watched several sweet little children (grandchildren of the ladies who started coming the first year) grow to be wonderful adults who are now parents of precious children themselves. They come to the first and the last (that's another story!!) tours when they are able, because they no longer live in this area. But, the core group still comes! Thank you all so much for your friendship and your faithfulness to start our Organ Fund. Because of y'all it has grown to a grand total of $84,999.20!

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Here is something that happened after Christmas in 2017, and we promised that we would share the website. We are honored to be included in Tapestry 2017, an online journal of Texas A&M University, Kingsville Women and Gender Studies. Thank you Jenni Vinson for including us.

Click on this link Tapestry to read it. The article about us starts on page 34.