The Depth of Community at ELIM

This article was featured in the Summer edition of The Elim Connection (page 16), a community publication distributed three times per year to all residents of Elim Village. It is also shared with our email subscribers. The Elim Connection focuses on the stories and lifestyle of those living and aging in place at our two retirement communities.

This particular article begins with an introduction to staff member Kris Versluis.

Many of you already know me, but for those who don’t, my name is Kris. I started here at ELIM in 2005, when The Emerald opened. I was in my mid-20s at the time, and it was only supposed to be a temporary job…and then I just never left!

Many may find it interesting to learn that I worked for Burnaby Lake Greenhouses; the very one onsite when Elim purchased its Surrey property. Actually, my boss there was John VanderEnde, whose wife Grace eventually joined Elim’s staff team. In those early days, we were just 10 – 12 employees, and then it started to grow. That’s one of the reasons I stayed; we’re always building, always expanding. There’s always opportunity. Today, I’m the Manager of Facilities and Maintenance, and it’s been fun. You wouldn’t make it this long in a job if you didn’t enjoy it.

For me, ELIM in an extension of the church system and that community. Sonya Vanden Pol, who works in Full Care—she was my Sunday School teacher. With residents, the (late) Henk Van Huizen—he was a teacher at my school. Minke Jonkman, now in Full Care, her family sat in front of us at church. And Sjouke; that’s my grandma! For me, everywhere I look, there’s a connection and a tie. That makes it very comfortable.

The reason Kris knew of the opportunity at ELIM in 2005 was because his dad, Tony Versluis, was recently hired on staff. And the reason Sjouke—otherwise known as Joyce VanderMeer—is a resident, stems from more of the same: that extension of community. Joyce had a lot of friends already at the Fleetwood site and, of course, her son-in-law and grandson were on staff. She moved into a duplex in 2014. Sadly, her husband Thomas had passed away already several years earlier.

Joyce and Thomas originally came from Friesland, in the Netherlands, with Thomas arriving in 1951 and Joyce following a year later. It was a long journey, with passage taking one week by sea, and one week by train, from Halifax to Vancouver. They settled in the area and raised their two children, Jenny and Hart.

The Versluis family was also from the Netherlands, and Tony made the same sea voyage as his future in-laws, as a sprightly boy at the age of seven. When he was ten, he met Joyce’s daughter, Jenny, at Richmond Christian School. Their parallel scholastic journey continued to Fraser Valley Christian High School, where Tony was part of the first graduating class. From children to teenagers, and then on to adulthood, Tony and Jenny grew up side by side; they wed in 1972.

The couple have four children. As for where Kris falls in the family order, “He’s the caboose,” Tony chides. When the caboose followed the engine to Elim, neither would have guessed the arrangement would last several years; but it’s worked remarkably well. And although Tony officially retired in 2016, he stays connected as a contractor. “Kris—he’s a chip off the ol’ block; I know him inside and out,” Tony kids, with that characteristic twinkle in his eye. (They both have that twinkle).

Their light-hearted approach to life is enviable, although the family has known their share of pain. How does one prepare for news of an unexpected death? For Joyce and Thomas, Jenny and Tony, it came as a shock to learn their son and brother had drowned in Harrison Lake. The year was 1980; just a few months before Jenny’s due date with her fourth child.

There is no shortcut through grief. But a life well-lived is worth remembering; not forgetting. Tony & Jenny would name their newborn son in honour of Hart; Hart Kristopher Versluis. Joyce would eventually purchase a Memorial Bench to honour both her son and husband. Residents and visitors can find this bench on the western side of the property, near The Emerald. It is often occupied, located as it is in full sunshine. Joyce passes it during her walks about the property, and Kris and Tony watch over it throughout their workday.

Kris Versluis smiles with his grandma, Joyce, and father, Tony.

Left to right: Kris, Joyce, and Tony

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