Dan Van Mechelen
2022 Olympia, WA -- Daniel Louis Van Mechelen, September 22, 1928, to January 12, 2022. Covid was not involved.
January 24, 2022
A year before the Great Depression began Daniel Louis Van Mechelen was born in Olympia Hospital on September 22, 1928, to Maurice and Helen Van Mechelen. They lived in a plank and pole cabin southwest of Olympia on Kinney Road and, despite being poor during the Depression Era they always had a nice car to drive courtesy of the local moonshiners, who disposed of their waste mash by feeding it to the family's pigs.
A few years later, after Helen's father, Nels Brown, built a road, now called Nels Street, to connect Kinney Road to 62nd Avenue, they moved into a small house just across the street from what, today, is the Black Lake Grange Hall, where he, sister Juanita Clark and brother Donald Van Mechelen grew up.
World War II
The two major events for them in 1941 were that they got indoor plumbing, and Pearl Harbor was attacked. There is no evidence conclusively linking the two events. Nonetheless, like millions of others Dan wanted to enlist in the military to defend the country, but he was only 13-years-old. Dan liked to recount how as he got older he would get up before the rest of the family and go down to Black Lake to hunt ducks, or out into the woods to hunt grouse, for supper.
Dan wanted a horse but his father, Maurice, wasn't enthusiastic about the idea. Horse drawn wagons were giving way to cars and trucks and one day he got home to find that his father had bought him a Model A Ford, which he would sometimes use with friends to skid and spin on the gravel and dirt roads. Even then, young men were drifting their cars.
With World War II raging Dan was eager to enlist and even though the war ended in 1945, when he graduated from Olympia High School in 1946 he enlisted in the Navy. As a Navy Corpsman, he worked in a Veterans Home in San Diego until he was detached to the First Marines in Tsingtao, China as a medic for one year.
While there, he learned enough Mandarin in the Qingdao dialect to converse with rickshaw boys and often shared how sad he felt for the way some of the military people treated the local citizens. When he had mess duty he was always careful, he recalled, to neatly set out the leftovers from their meals for the hungry local people.
Beginning a family
After mustering out in 1949 he enrolled in the pre-med program at Saint Martin's College in Lacey. Unbeknownst to him, family members conspired to introduce him to Bernice Elaine Benson, and on February 14, 1950, he proposed during their first real date. When they had been introduced, Bernice was visibly twitterpated, which Dan found captivating. They married at the First Christian Church in downtown Olympia on July 30, 1950.
Dan worked in a gas station while continuing his studies at Saint Martin's and Bernice got pregnant with their first child, who was born in October 1951. Premature, he did not survive. Saddened, they moved to student housing in Kirkland while Dan attended pre-med classes at the University of Washington. But in early 1953 with another child, Roderick Daniel, on the way, he left school and began what would become a 36 year career at Boeing.
While living in a one-room shack Dan, with Bernice's stepfather Harley Stauffer, built a two-bedroom house by SeaTac Airport to welcome their daughter, Rebecca Elaine, who was born in 1955, and son Nathan Louis in 1956. They were so close to the airport that through the living room window the family could watch the very first Boeing 707 taxi on the runway a few hundred yards away.
In 1958 the Port of Seattle bought all the houses there and Dan and Bernice used the money to begin construction of their next house, in Normandy Park, between Burien and Des Moines, where their three children grew up. When they first moved in they didn't have a flush toilet, yet, and had to use a bucket. But they had running water and electricity and before long a flush toilet, too.
The Supreme Court
By that time, two neighbors accosted Dan in the front of the house to tell him that they knew he and his family were American Indians and were welcome to live there, but that the neighbors would be keeping an eye on them. That had quite an impact on Dan, and although all the neighbors became good friends, that conversation added to his resolve to excel and succeed.
Eventually the family moved from the unfinished basement to the finished upstairs. Thirty years later, they finally finished the entire house, sold it and moved to their retirement home on the shores of Black Lake just one block from where Dan grew up.