Go for the flowers, stay for the stories

Holland B&B owner reminisces about her 90 years in West Michigan
14
The Parsonage's flower garden décor conveys a tranquil and peaceful ambiance. Photo by Carmel Musich.

A historic B&B is one of many Holland homes that opened its gardens to visitors during the annual Holland Garden Club Garden Walk in June.

Bonnie’s Parsonage at 6 E. 24th St. used to be— you guessed it— a parsonage; a house provided for the family of clergy by the church. This one was built in 1908 for Prospect Park Christian Reformed Church (long before the church moved to its new location on 33rd St.). Unique features of the garden include pink flowering dogwood trees, gorgeous rhododendrons, a mimosa tree from upstate New York, and— depending on the year— a tulip bed, dahlias, or tomatoes that owner Bonnie Verwys plants in the area between hers and her neighbor’s house. In early June, the garden was one of nine featured in the Holland Garden Club’s “Secret Gardens” walk. To add to the already magical ambiance, Slow & Easy, a harp and guitar duo Verwys met at Holland Summer Street Performers series, entertained garden guests.

“My grandmother had a beautiful garden. We had beautiful gardens in Douglas, too,” said Verwys of her childhood home. “The gardening comes naturally. The good Lord does most of the work. If you put a plant in, and water it and love it, it comes back every year!”

The 90-years-young Parsonage proprietor who celebrated her birthday June 3 exudes such a youthful spirit that it’s difficult to believe she is, indeed, a nonagenarian. As she describes a recent addition to the home, a (nearly) handicap-accessible suite, she chuckles before she delivers the punch line: “I’m going to move in there when I get old.”

Born Bonnie McVoy in Lansing in 1934, her early years were spent in East Grand Rapids. She had a pony named Playmate that was kept in the garage right in town at her home near Wilcox Park. “You could do that sort of thing back then,” she said, recalling fond memories of hitching it up to a sleigh during winter and riding the snow packed streets of Grand Rapids, ice skating on Reeds Lake, and visiting the Ramona Amusement Park in the summer.

Bonnie Verwys stands among the flowers on her B&B property in Holland. Photo by Carmel Musich.

When she was in sixth or seventh grade Bonnie’s family moved to Douglas, and there she stayed for a good many years. Soon after the move, she won a poster contest that earned her some lessons at the prestigious Ox-bow School of the Arts. “I wasn’t really a very good artist,” said Verwys humbly. “But what you did at Ox-bow was block print (a technique that required the use of sharp tools) and the very first thing I do? I stab my finger.”

Perhaps physically constructing art projects wasn’t her strong suit. Sports were more her forte (ask her about her medals and trophies), but her keen artistic eye would serve her later in life— as the owner-operator of a historical inn that is meticulously decorated indoors and out.

“The house is in wonderful condition. I haven’t minded spending one penny on it, decorating it with nice art and antiques. It’s very interesting. My kids say I over did it. I’ve had more fun than a barrel of monkeys antiquing,” Veryws said.

“I’ve always had an eye for them. I never know what I’m going to find,” she added, while contemplating some artwork she found at an antique store in Hudsonville. It depicts two vessels moored beside the Saugatuck Pavilion, now a vestige of the past that holds special memories for Verwys. She worked there as a teen, serving food to wealthy Chicago businessmen who would visit the resort community by passenger boat. Her father didn’t like her working there because, well, she’s not entirely sure, but it probably had something to do with the adult activities that took place there— like dancing.

“You had to be 18 to dance,” said Verwys, as she recalled the luxuriously dressed ladies who would accompany the men to steak dinners. On one momentous occasion, Verwys said she was tipped $100.00— in 1951!

With an eye for antiques and the finer things in life (not the least of which was good food), when she found herself out of a job in 1984, it was a natural fit to turn the parsonage, which she’d purchased ten years prior, into a bed and breakfast.

“I married into the community (Holland) in the 1960s, and we had a divorce. As a single lady I bought the parsonage, and it was the perfect job for me,” she said.

Above, Bonnie Verwys servers her signature breakfast dish— pannukakku. Photo by Carmel Musich.

As a preparer of breakfast— served daily to her many guests— she keeps more than a couple culinary tricks up her sleeve. A large oven pancake, “pannukakku,” pigs-in-a blanket, her grandmother’s custard, oatmeal, and an egg casserole are her go-to’s for breakfast. “We once had a judge stay for seven days. The last day I’d run out of ideas. He asked for the pancake again and said it was a culinary masterpiece.” With a wink and a nod Verwys jokingly told him, ‘Well, we haven’t lost anyone yet.’”

The judge had relatives who lived nearby, so they were invited to experience breakfast, which is always served in the formal dining room at an antique walnut table that seats 12 when it’s fully assembled. “It should probably stay with the house if it’s ever sold because it’s just such a wonderful table” Verwys said. It’s an antique she picked up for $300. An expert of sorts told her it is probably now worth $10,000— the price paid for her family’s 11-acre Douglas property in 1947.

To see the inside of the house, there’s a two-night minimum stay. “Our house and our rooms— one has twin beds and one has a beautiful walnut double bed. If someone needs a queen size bed, we can provide that, too,” said Verwys. (It’s in that addition that she had built ‘for when she gets old’ that she has yet to move into.)

And she has no intention of stopping. “I’ve met the nicest people over the years— a doctor from India who’s daughter went to Hope College,” said Verwys. “I’ve been invited to France. I’ve been invited to Mississippi. Sometimes I forget about collecting the money because I’m having such a wonderful time.”

 

Facebook Comments