The lives they’ve led have been anything but ordinary, their story would compare favorably to a Hollywood script or a best-selling novel.
Even though the Van-Der-Steurs live in Holland, they find their way back to Kentuucky as often as they can. Last week, they were back in Harlan, the place of their marriage almost a half-century ago, to visit and discuss their life together.
As they approach their 50th wedding anniversary, the couple say romance and adventure have played a major role in their relationship — and whether it be fate or just a little luck that has kept them together, they’re thankful for it.
Anne Van-Der-Steur was born Anne Ellis-Kuhns in 1935 in a small town in Kansas. Her father was a doctor for the United States Army, which led to her moving all over the country with her family. In 1956, after her aunt saved for several years in order for her to travel to Europe, she joined a student tour group and began her adventure across seas.
During the trip, the ship she was on encountered turbulent weather and bumpy waves, which caused a heavy amount of swaying back and forth. Almost all the passengers aboard became seasick, except for Van-Der-Steur and one other person on the ship. After going to the top deck to get a better view of the events, she noticed only one other passenger at a distance.
After a while, the person walked over and introduced himself as Hans Van-Der-Steur. The two instantly struck up conversation that lasted well into the night. After hours of dancing with one another, the night eventually ended, as did the trip. Anne Van-Der-Steur descibed the connection between the two as magical.
“I really liked Hans a great deal as soon as we met. He and I had a lot of things in common. I guess it was just one of those moments that you could feel something special happening,” Anne Van-Der-Steur said. “That is a moment that I will never forget.”
Despite the instant connection, they went their separate ways once the ship arrived at the shore. They did so without exchanging telephone numbers or addresses. After that, she was sure that the man she had so quickly fallen for would be out of her life for good. However, the very next day, she would be in for the shock of her life. The two ran into each other at a local party, and again they had an opportunity to talk extensively.
Weeks later, fate again intervened. As Anne Van-Der-Steur was exiting a train in London, she was greeted by a representative of the Dutch student trip organization, Hans Van-Der-Steur. This would become a repeating occurrence over the next few weeks, as he would show up unexpectedly where her train was. Weeks later, while staying in a motel in Rome, she received an unexpected phone call.
“I was very shocked when I got a call from his parents inviting me to come and stay with them. I wanted badly to stay in Europe and work, but I was unable to find a job. So when they called and offered me to stay with them, I was pleasantly surprised,” she said.
After that, Anne and Hans Van-Der-Steur became a couple for good, though hard times would follow, as the two were later separated for over a year. Hans Van-Der-Steur was drafted in 1957 by the Dutch Air Force and was stationed in Holland. Before he left, however, he asked her to be his wife. She said she was excited when he proposed but wasn’t sure exactly what to say.
“I just told him I would think about it. That was a very overwhelming moment for me, to say the least. At the time, I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” she said.
During their time apart, Anne Van-Der-Steur returned to the United States. They were apart for nearly a year and could only stay in touch through letters.
“Back then, phone calls were much too expensive, so that really wasn’t an option. There were no e-mails or nothing like that back then, so writing letters was really the only way we could keep in touch,” she said.
After a year had went by, Hans Van-Der-Steur was released from the Air Force and immediately came to the United States to find the woman that he says he could never get off his mind.
“She was what I thought about the entire time that I was in the Air Force. We could not see each other, and that was very difficult for me. I always knew that she was the one that I wanted, though. There was never a doubt about that for me,” Hans Van-Der-Steur said.
After the couple reunited, they came to Harlan County with marriage on their minds. Anne Van-Der-Steur’s father, now retired from the Army, was working at the Harlan ARH Hospital as a doctor. She said it was traditional to be married close to where your parents lived.
“That was a very happy day for the both of us. We both were in love with one another, so it was a great thing to do. We have been married nearly 50 years now, and I would do it all over again if I could, “she said.
The couple have lived in Holland now for nearly 46 years, though their memories of Harlan County are ones they still cherish to this day.
“We have always loved Harlan County. The people of Harlan have always been really nice to our family. My parents were here for 10 years. We even brought our children back here to be baptized. So, we love this county, no doubt about that,” Anne Van-Der-Steur said.
For many, “destiny” is a word that doesn’t mean a whole lot, but to the Van-Der-Steurs it is the only answer to a lifetime of events that have somehow always managed to bring a seemingly destined couple back together no matter the circumstances.