Maintaining Dutch Heritage

Iconic Communities, On the Road
on April 23, 2000

Each spring more than 250,000 tulips push up from the ground in the central Iowa town of Pella (pop. 9,642). The flowers provide a kaleidoscope of color and a stunning backdrop for the towns Tulip Time festival, a three-day celebration of Pellas Dutch heritage.

Town employees and community volunteers plant about 160,000 tulip bulbs in public parks and gardens each fall. Residents plant the rest around their homes.

Pellas heritage is evident in more subtle ways as well. The Dutch work ethic has benefited the towns thriving industries, which include the Pella Corp., one of the worlds leading manufacturers of premium-quality doors and windows. Founded in 1925, the company is headquartered in Pella and employs about 3,500 people there.

The Dutch respect for learning is evident in the towns Central College, a respected liberal arts college affiliated with the Reformed Church of America.

The towns Dutch roots were planted in 1847, when a group of 800 immigrants, led by the Rev. Hendrik Pieter Scholte, left the Netherlands in search of religious freedom in America. The group named their new home Pella, a word meaning city of refuge.

I think a large part of Pellas identity today is due to the legacy of those original settlers, says Jim Hibma, a social worker and chairman of this years Tulip Time steering committee. From the very beginning, people here have had a shared sense of community and working together for the common good. Were still benefiting from that heritage today.

One example is Tulip Time itself, scheduled May 11, 12, and 13. Now in its 65th year, the festival depends solely on the work of volunteers to organize the events, which include a parade, musical and dance performances, historical tours, and the traditional street scrubbing to prepare for the Tulip Queen and her court.

Nearly all of our 10,000 residents are involved in one way or another, says Karen Eischen, director of the Pella Convention & Visitors Bureau.

But the spirit of community also shows itself year-round. Ive lived in Pella for nine years, and during that time the town has never met a bond issue it didnt like, Hibma says. We have a new school, new public library and new public safety complex, and there are plans to build a $15 million canal in the downtown. People here pull together for the good of the town.

The block-long canal, a replica of a Dutch waterway, will be landscaped with tulip bulbs, lined with shops, and spanned by footbridges. It also may be used for winter ice skating.

Pellas Dutch heritage has shaped the town in large and small ways. The tall and narrow storefronts of its picturesque downtown are reminiscent of an Old World streetscape, while a replica of a Dutch windmill and tall Tulip Tower dedicated to Pellas original settlers dominate the town square.

Just down the street lies the Historical Village, where 21 restored buildings tell the story of the town. Ethnic bakeries sell such traditional treats as Dutch letters, a flaky pastry with an apple filling, while outside the passing hours are chimed by the towns Klokkenspel. The European-style musical clock features moving figures, representing Scholte, his wife Mareah, and famed western marshal Wyatt Earp, who spent his boyhood years in Pella. Other figures depict a blacksmith, street scrubbers, wooden shoemaker, and Dutch lady and child holding tulips.

Not everyone in Pella is Dutch, but even those who arent have fun with it, says Mayor Ted Zylstra, an insurance agent. At Tulip Time I see people with all sorts of last names dressed up in Dutch costumes. Our ethnic identity is infectious.

For more information on Tulip Time, call the Pella Historical Society at (515) 628-4311.