CVHS Class of 1970 honors former foreign exchange classmate diagnosed with ALS.
By Samantha SLAYBACK
On Sept. 27, a former foreign exchange student from Crescenta Valley High School visited the school and his old classmates for what will probably be the last time. In a reunion planned by Donna Arbogast, Marcia Bateman, Lynda Daniels, Charles Drayman, Peter Hanson, John Hays, Jay Helms and Allen Koblin, members of the CVHS Class of 1970 gathered together in a show of solidarity to honor their classmate after 44 years.
Willem Kok came to CVHS as a foreign exchange student from Holland in September 1969. After first being placed in an inappropriate living situation, Kok’s friend Peter Hanson brought his circumstances to the attention of former dean of Students and Boys’ Advisor Bud Adison. Adison worked to find a more suitable living situation for the teenager. Kok ended up spending the rest of his senior year with classmate John Hays.
More than 40 years passed since the 1970 CVHS graduation ceremony when Helms, another former classmate, discovered through Facebook that Kok had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly referred to as ALS. He was told he only had a few years to live.
After Kok’s wife Ans shared that one of her husband’s wishes was to visit his old friends from CVHS one more time, Helms contacted many of their old classmates and friends to plan the impromptu reunion. Kok was already showing symptoms of the disease, such as slurred speech and, possibly more devastating for the left-handed artist, the loss of function in his left arm. Knowing this information, Helms and friends worked quickly to plan the event.
On Sept. 27, 40 to 50 of Kok’s former classmates arrived at the high school to welcome and celebrate their old friend. Adison referred to the event as “a party of friendship and a reunion of friendship,” and Daniels described it as “a moving and wonderful experience.”
The reunion included a video tribute to Kok and the CVHS Class of 1970, filled with pictures from old yearbooks, past reunions and a special message from Adison.
“In preparation for the event, Mr. Adison, now 89 and living in Ohio, was contacted, and his niece was enlisted to make a video of Mr. Adison greeting Willem and his classmates,” explained Daniels. “Thus, Mr. Adison, who had had such a pivotal role in Willem’s life nearly a half-century before, was the highlight of the event with his well wishes, uplifting advice and laughter.”
Current CVHS principal Linda Junge also made an appearance to welcome Kok and his fellow classmates from 1970 back to the school.
Among all of the hugs given and memories shared, Kok was gifted with a few special CVHS-related items. Daniels presented the guest of honor with a CVHS T-shirt, followed by an honorary hall pass presented by Charles Drayman and a CVHS Letterman’s jacket presented by John Tramel.
The event came to a close with a speech from the man of the hour.
“The reunion finished with Willem addressing the group with his appreciation, his fond memories of his senior year and the friendships that have continued over the years, and a heartfelt show of mutual affection during this, his last visit to CVHS,” said Daniels of Kok’s speech.
After the reunion, guests headed down to local Montrose bar Basin 141 for drinks and food while reminiscing and saying their goodbyes to Willem Kok.
As Adison said in his video tribute, “Some of us are on a rough road and some of us on a smooth one, but basically we all have a story to tell, and if we tell that story, we’ll find so many wonderful memories and pearls of wisdom.”