Maarten VanKruyssen, From Holland to Alaska to Reno, With Pastries and Love
Seanna Simpson writes about her Dutch-born uncle who once had legislators work on his behalf so he could stay in the United States at his pastry shop in Anchorage.
Getting Help from a Long Time Senator
Growing up in Las Vegas, I didn’t have many opportunities to visit my aunts and uncles here in Reno. However, one of my favorite parts of seeing my Uncle Maarten was hearing his stories about what it was like coming to America at the age of nineteen.
Whenever I am in his house, my eyes are always drawn to the trinkets from Holland that decorate his house. Having been to Amsterdam myself, the glass houses lining the top of his cabinets look exactly like the houses that line the canals in the city.
When I asked my uncle what brought him to America he says: “Well, growing up in Holland I knew I wasn’t going to stay in Holland.”
Growing up, VanKruysseen lived all over the world due to his father being a pilot but mainly lived in Bussum, Netherlands. So, when he was nineteen and was offered a one way ticket and a visa to Alaska he says he couldn’t refuse. When he moved to Anchorage, Alaska, he helped open a Dutch pastry shop called The Flying Dutchman, which is still open even today.
When his visa paperwork expired about a year and a half after moving to Alaska, the entire town of Anchorage came together to keep him in the state.
“Senator Ted Stevens passed a bill for me in the Senate to keep me in the state for a certain amount of time,” VanKruyssen said of the long serving Republican who held his seat from 1968 to 2009.
In order for this bill to pass, it had to be proven that his skill set in the pastry shop wasn’t able to be done by anyone else in the state of Alaska. They put ads out to attempt to hire someone else, but none of them had the qualifications that Vankruyssen had.
Since he went to culinary school in Amsterdam, he had knowledge about being a Dutch pastry chef that not just anyone could have. This led to the bill being passed in his name which can still be found if you google ‘Maarten VanKruyssen.’
Avoiding Deportation Through Love
While working in this pastry job, he met my aunt Sherri who would soon become his wife and they began dating.
“A couple weeks after she got the job there, we ended up going to a party together and the rest is all history,” he said with a big smile on his face.
The lawyers in charge of VanKruyssen’s case told him to go into his work at least once a month, and he would make birthday cakes for their families. Shortly after he met Sherri, the extension on his visa was going to expire again and he had no idea how to stay.
One day while at work he was given a tip by his immigration officer that his number was coming up, which essentially meant that he was going to get deported soon. Five days later, he and Sherri got married and it’s a good thing they did.
“Literally one week later, I got a deportation notice in the mail from immigration, but it was dated after our wedding day so they couldn’t deport me since I was married to an American,” VanKruyssen said.
Eventually, Sherri and Maarten ended up in Incline Village and Maarten opened up another Flying Dutchman there that ended up being very successful.
“We were the best bakery in Tahoe for six years consecutive,” VanKruyssen said, “and by the time we closed we were doing upwards of six hundred wedding cakes per year.”
Although he was experiencing success in America, Maarten knew that if he was going to be here he wanted to be a part of the political process and began trying to get his citizenship. With his marriage granting him a green card, it was a bit easier for him and he officially became a United States citizen in 2001.
He said that becoming a citizen to be able to vote was vital to him. If he was going to be a part of the system here in America, he wanted to do it right and have a voice in politics.
When I asked him if there was any possibility he would move back to Holland he said he wouldn’t.
“It’s hard to explain but it’s a different freedom here in America,” he said. “People tell me that Holland is one of the most socialized countries in the world but it definitely has its drawbacks.”
VanKruyssen recalls how his father had to pay a 72 percent income tax and how tax officials would randomly check his parents bank statements, as one example of what he doesn’t miss. Currently, my uncle is now retired but sill drives an Uber during his free time where he also meets many immigrants and discusses coming to America.
“As bad as some people think it is here, it really isn’t,” VanKruyssen said. “There is a reason why people will walk thousands of miles from South America with no shoes to live here.”