Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
The Van Dyke family stands in front of their Gaston farm house. The large family has deep roots in Washington County.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
The Van Dyke family stands in front of their Gaston farm house. The large family has deep roots in Washington County.
Edward Van Dyke is somebody.

This he is reminded of on a daily basis in his downtown office where he has posted a sign that reads: “I know I’m somebody ‘cause God don’t make no junk.”

While the sign was initially met with some controversy — co-workers complained it was inappropriate for the workplace — Van Dyke held his ground on his right to post the sign because he believes it’s a message worth remembering. The sign has been displayed for more than two years.

“I keep copies, so I can put up a new one every once in a while, when one gets too tattered,” he said.

At home, Edward’s list of “somebodies” is a long one. He and his wife Sharon have 10 children. There is also the extended web of Van Dyke relatives peppered throughout Washington County, a result being descended from one of the original Dutch families to settle in the area. Big families have long been a tradition of the Van Dykes, starting with Edward’s great-great-grandfather, Theodore, who landed in Verboort after emigrating from a densely Catholic area of Holland. Big families are common among the other Catholic settler families’ ancestors, too, as evidenced by the many Vandeheys, Vanderzandens, Meeuwsens, Herinckxes and other relatives densely clustered in the area, filling local phonebooks with Dutch names.

For Edward and Sharon, the adventure started 28 years ago when their first son, Jonathan, was born. Nine more followed, most siblings two or three years apart. All spent their childhood at the family’s house in Gaston, several miles south of Forest Grove. For the past 28 years, their home has been filled with a symphony of boisterous laughter, homework questions, complaints about chores and everything else that comes along with raising youngsters.

“What I have loved seeing with my kids is that they really rely on each other’s friendship,” Sharon said.

The family today is Jonathan, 27, Heidi, 25, Ronald Charles II, 23, Alicia, 21, Hannah, 18, Cassandra, 15, Lindsay, 13, Nathaniel, 11, Jackson, 9, and Zachary, 7.

Sharon and Edward count off on their fingers to make sure they’ve remembered everyone.

Having family around at all times is nothing new for the family. Edward is descended from Theodore Van Dyke, born in 1847 in Holland. The patriarch settled in Verboort in 1880. Many of Edward’s relatives, newer generations from old farming families, have also stayed in the area. Some of the old farm acreage has been sold, but the familial connections remain.

The Van Dykes live on a country road a couple miles out of town. Edward, 49, retired in 2002 as a sergeants major after 22 years in the military, the highest non-commissioned officer rank in the Army.

Edward enlisted in the Oregon Army National Guard in January 1980, while he still a junior in high school. After training, he accepted an active duty tour with ORANG as an administrative specialist for an infantry battalion. During this time, he traveled to several training exercises including the Naval Amphibious Assault Course at Coronado, San Diego, as well as Leadership Development Courses.

In 1984, Edward accepted a new position as a recruiter. Even though he found the job challenging due to his introverted personality, he was awarded the Chief’s Fifty Award in 1985 (an award given to the top recruiter in each state). He was presented this award in Washington, D.C., by the chief of the National Guard Bureau. It was an unusual accomplishment for a rookie recruiter.

He continued working in recruiting, increasing in rank over the years. In 1994, Edward was assigned to lead a platoon during the North Wind Exercise in Hoikido, Japan, a joint exercise with the Japanese Defense Force.  In 1996, Edward was awarded his Air Assault Wings after completing the Air Assault Course at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, at the age of 36. He was more than 10 years older than the average trainee.    

In 1998, while still working in the Recruiting Force, Edward was promoted to sergeants major, a position he kept covering the state of Oregon until his retirement from the military in 2002.

In his new career, the father commutes an hour-and-a-half (one way) every weekday into Portland where he works as a claims manager for the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. He advocates for Oregon veterans and their dependents who are seeking benefits with the federal VA.

Colleagues say he is a good boss who is a hard worker and a family man. Sharon and Edward invite coworkers out to their home for picnics in the summer. Ron Kincaid, a veteran’s benefits counselor, said Van Dyke’s family makes a good and memorable impression.

“He and his wife were a good host and hostess,” Kincaid said. “And there are always kids around, older or young.”

Sharon, 48, worked as dance instructor and a veterinary technician until child No. 3 arrived, when her primary job became raising their children.

They bought their house in Gaston in 1995. They share their property with an occasional beef cow, horse, chickens, alpacas and llamas and a Jacob sheep that Sharon found wandering on the side of the road. A softy for animals, she shepherded the lost creature with her car  - and after posting “lost sheep” signs all over town, the family accepted the sheep as one of their own.

Sharon, whose family moved to the area when she was 11, grew up in a comparatively small family, with only one brother and one sister.

Their Fourth of July family get-together is always memorable, she said. With Edward’s siblings’ immediate families, along with nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, and Sharon’s parents and siblings, the gathering is quite the affair.

This past October, Edward and Sharon  proudly introduced the first two of a new generation in their family: Alicia and Rodney’s baby Chloe, and Ronnie and Shaylee’s baby Zachary (named after his uncle).

Edward and Sharon were sweethearts at Hillsboro High School. They were students in history and biology classes, and she asked him to a Sadie Hawkins dance their senior year.

“By our second date, I was in love,” Sharon said. They married two years later in 1982.

Despite a busy schedule, the family is involved in its parish of nine years, St. Anthony’s in Forest Grove. He’s on the administrative council and they both help run the annual fundraising spaghetti dinner. He’s a lector and she helps with youth ministry.

Being active in his parish is something Edward learned from his grandparents, Joe and Marjorie.

“[Grandma] was a person who I could always talk to about my faith,” Edward said. “She was an inspiration.”

He grew up helping out at the Verboort’s annual sausage and sauerkraut dinner, pouring coffee and doing whatever else was needed.

So many years of supporting their community and church came back to the Van Dyke family three years ago, when it was discovered that Sharon had a malformation of blood vessels in her brain that was causing seizures. Medication was successful in treating the symptoms, but did not correct the cause of the seizures, so Sharon was referred to an expert at Stanford University Medical Center where she would undergo neurosurgery on her brain.  

Edward still tears up when the family talks about that time.

Sharon stayed at Stanford for 10 days in recovery, but when she arrived home to Gaston there were two-months’ worth of meals that had come in from St. Anthony parishioners, neighbors and friends.

Their kids stepped up to take care of each other, as well as the many animals on the property and upkeep of the house.

“It was quite an ordeal, but we had amazing support,” Sharon said. A year after surgery, Sharon was weaned from medication and has since made a full recovery.
It’s a lesson in the benefit of having so much family in such close proximity. That time could have been even more difficult than it already was without so much familial support, they said.

“Our family is our family and that’s where we get our strength,” Sharon said.