If you stop by Hokema’s Vacuum and Sewing store you might just catch a glimpse of a passing whirlwind. Like the more powerful winds, she has a name: Gerda. You might see her on hands and knees gingerly unclogging a vacuum hose; or with spatula in hand, cheerfully serving cookies to budding sewing students. The cookies are baked at break of day. There is no shortage of work ethic or good will with this lady.
Gerda has been a woman of industry throughout her life, including the 48 years Hokema’s store has been open. In 1964, after a break with a business partner, Gerda and her husband Hermann started their own appliance repair shop. Yuba Street was the location. Empty shelves and a workbench with tools was the setting. Gerda served in every facet of the business, including bookkeeping. Side by side they labored with purpose of heart. Hard work characterized the atmosphere. Courage abounded. The American Dream sprang to life. Hokema’s has since expanded to sales of appliance parts, vacuums and sewing machines. The metal sounds of daily repair work still remain.
During this busy time of building a business, three baby boys arrived, one after another. A play area was nestled between the tools and the vacuum parts. Sounds of tiny trucks and Tinker Toys filled the air, lending a lively melody to the daily agenda. While Gerda juggled bottles and toys, she also searched for appliance parts, recommended vacuum purchases, and balanced the books. Her industrious spirit spoke of her roots and her homeland, Germany.
Nordhorn, with its surrounding farmlands, where the Vechte River flows was the lovely setting for Gerda’s home. Johann, Bernd and Franz Dieter were her brothers; Irmgard and Meta her sisters. Mama and Papa gave each their chores. There was a woodpile to move and potatoes to pick. Free time meant entertaining themselves with their own version of charades and trading pictures acquired in town. Playing with older brothers encouraged the tomboy in Gerda. One of her adventures was to jump from the upper loft of the neighbor’s barn onto a pile of hay below; a secret wisely kept from the unsuspecting neighbor. Study also proved to be a right component for the Deters’ childhood.
At 15 years old, Gerda worked in a grocery store where many items were sold in bulk. Flour, sugar, sauerkraut and herring were carefully weighed for each customer. Always ready for the next task, she also helped her father, a building contractor, with his business, which included assessing the correct cost for each square foot bid, bookkeeping and payroll. It was customary in Germany to attend trade school, as well as school. With zeal, Gerda chose retail as her field of interest. After three years of study and apprenticeship she was awarded a certificate for Management in Retail Business.
When recreation beckoned, Gerda journeyed with her friends by bicycle and car to the breath-taking tulip fields in Keukenhof. Holland was not far from home and the fields were ablaze with beauty.
Busy building her life in her beloved Germany, Gerda felt an attraction to another country across the sea. Care packages from America began to arrive at her church. The high heels and bright colored clothing within the boxes ignited a call to adventure in her heart. Saying goodbye to her family and her homeland, she bravely set out on an ocean voyage that would take her to a new occupation- nanny to five children in the state of Michigan. As the ship approached New York Harbor, Lady Liberty stood tall and welcoming. Destination: America. Destination: new life.
The Hokema Family Tradition Continues
Like a hand-crafted German clock signals time, so Mrs. Hokema pauses at noon for a half sandwich and cup of tea. The bread is closest to her beloved German bread back home and the tea is boiling hot. After lunch, it’s time again to organize, clean or find that all-important appliance part. Today she works side by side with her three sons who each have their own work to do. There are appliance parts to order and customers to help. If you visit Hokema’s store, now located on Bechelli Lane, listen carefully for you might hear the sound of a family at work –“Mom, line one. Mom, line one.” Perhaps the call is a person in need of a refrigerator part, or maybe it’s Mr. Hokema asking to speak with his sweetheart.
Hermann Hokema, after dozens of years of faithful work, has laid down his tools and retired. Hermann and Gerda Hokema are Oma and Opa to seven grandchildren, the oldest being 22.
Meanwhile, Gerda Hokema is keeping up the family tradition of working side by side with the ones she loves.
Karen Cranfill enjoyed working for the Hokema family and getting to know them for 10 years. She sewed whimsical quilts, taught classes and partook of Mrs. Hokema’s splendid baked treats. Today she enjoys making up lyrics for songs, writing a joyful children’s book, and spending fun time with her six children and nine (soon 10) grandchildren. In April she will be going on a Missions Trip to Paris, France, to let the Parisians know they are loved from above.