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Lives Lived: Lippe Catharinus de Haan, 80

Lippe Catharinus de Haan

Teacher, pigeon racer, machinist, musician. Born on Oct. 8, 1933, in Surhuisterveen, the Netherlands; died on May 6, 2014, in Exeter, Ont., of cancer, aged 80.

The emigration of Lippe Catharinus de Haan Jr. from the Netherlands to Canada had an inauspicious start. Seasick for most of the westward voyage, he celebrated his 18th birthday aboard SS Volendam, which was making one of its final Atlantic crossings before being scrapped.

It had been six years since the liberation of the Netherlands, including his home province of Friesland, largely by the First Canadian Army. Now Lippe and his family – mom, dad and five siblings – were part of the great Dutch diaspora of the early 1950s to Canada.

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After landing in Montreal, they joined relatives near Owen Sound, Ont., where Lippe worked for almost 10 years as an apprentice and then a machinist, earning money for his family and for college.

He also had a short stay in the Freeport Sanitorium in Kitchener, Ont., where he was treated for tuberculosis. He had to take many pills every day, something he recalled during his cancer treatments later in life when daily pills were also many. In "the San," he learned to love cribbage, a game he played until the final weeks of his life.

After saving enough to pay for a couple of years of education, he enrolled at Calvin College, a Christian liberal arts school in Grand Rapids, Mich. His undergrad experience was atypical: He was in his late 20s, married (to Catharina De Rijk, also a Dutch immigrant) and had a young son. To support his family, he spent the final two years of his four-year program taking a full load of classes and working 40 hours a week, from 4 p.m. to midnight, in a Grand Rapids machine shop.

After graduating with a bachelor of arts in 1964, he became a teacher and spent most of his career at South Huron District High School in Exeter, Ont. He taught machine shop and English, coached and refereed soccer (his favourite sport), and imparted to his four kids (Phil, Joanne, Derek and Tess) a variety of values, skills and Frisian swear words (the latter inadvertently).

Near the end of his life, a stream of former students paid tribute to him via a Facebook page devoted to those who grew up in Exeter. Two entries speak volumes: "Because of … what he brought to the classroom – pride, workmanship, a big smile and laughter – I pursued a career in machining." And: "Always loved his very dry sense of humour. Some got it, some didn't, but that's the charm, isn't it? He made many of us feel as if we were friends and not just students."

He was a church organist and choir director, sang in community choirs, played piano daily, was an inveterate crossword puzzler (especially cryptic crosswords) and, despite his youthful seasickness, loved the water and loved to sail.

Another lifelong passion was homing pigeons. He took up the sport as a teen in Friesland. In Exeter, his coop was a backyard fixture for four decades, and his birds faithfully returned to him after training runs and the weekly races in which he took part as a long-time member of the Lucan Racing Pigeon Club.

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His death, one day after the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, came peacefully at home, his hospital bed facing east, his now-empty pigeon coops in view.

Phil de Haan is Lippe's son.

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