Peter and Leni Vander Kooij, long-time residents of Bradford, continue to find ways to support their community.
Peter and Leni Vander Kooij, ages 83 and 82, respectively, have lived a full life, contributing to a variety of causes and organizations with one goal in mind — to “improve the lives of those around” them and to bring a voice to those who have not been heard.
They live on a property near 10th Sideroad and 10th Line in Bradford that includes an upgraded cedar-sided house, which overlooks a hill descending to a little pond.
The industriousness of the couple is clearly evident in the pride they have shown in their gardens, landscaping, and even a zip line that starts at the top of the hill and crosses the pond.
This industriousness has been honed over their lifetime of farming, community services and, more recently, with their activism.
Peter arrived in Bradford from Holland at the age of seven as part of a family of seven children. His family left Holland in 1947 to work in the Holland Marsh with the Verkaik brothers. Peter eventually became a Marsh farmer in 1963 and farmed for 40 years before retiring in 2003.
The couple definitely had a vision beyond farming and wanted to make a difference. One of their endeavours for more than six years was gathering food donations from Holland Marsh farmers and packing houses and taking a van full of food up to Camp Oak-a-Lea in Bracebridge. Every two weeks, Peter would volunteer his time to gather and ship the fresh food to the camp.
“We had potatoes, onions, carrots, lettuce, celery, apples, and even strawberries … They ate absolutely the best,” Peter said.
They also dedicated many years of service to Community Living. According to its website, Community Living Central York was founded in 1954 and is a non-profit, charitable organization that provides support to people who have intellectual disabilities.
Peter served more than 12 years on the board of Community Living in Newmarket, including numerous terms as president, and was involved for more than 40 years. Their main motivation to be involved was their daughter, Gwen, who joined the organization due to her special needs.
“We had a very special daughter ... Gwen benefited from the services of Community Living,” said Peter.
Their involvement with Community Living led them to participate in a similar group called Voices of Joy, a community choir founded by Linda Middlebrook primarily composed of people with special needs.
“Voices of Joy is a community choir designed to bring the joy of singing to people with special needs ... Many of them love singing and performing as a part of the community. There is nothing more rewarding than to be singing with them in a choir and have an audience applaud and stand up,” said Peter.
More recently, the couple has been involved in activism. They are passionate about the topic of the Bradford Bypass.
They are participating in town halls across the region to bring awareness to their concerns about the bypass. On June 4, a presentation was given at the Bradford and District Community Centre. They also attended a June 11 event in Sutton. There will be another meeting June 20 in East Gwillimbury.
Some important questions they hope to have answered: How will the Bradford Bypass affect your life, your community, our health, our environment? Does the current route make the most sense?
They recognize the need for an east/west road to connect Highway 400 with Highway 404 to reduce the traffic congestion in Bradford. Their concern is the proposed location of the bypass. They feel it would be better suited farther north, connecting Highway 89 to Ravenshoe Road just south of Lake Simcoe.
Peter presents several advantages to this location over the current one between 9th and 8th lines.
“The current location crosses the river twice, has a tremendous financial cost. It goes through the town proper, with prevailing northwest winds blowing fumes over the town of Bradford,” he explained.
“Air quality is a big question. Noise is a question … The Ravenshoe option could be done for less than half of the cost.”
The Highway 89/Ravenshoe Road option would only cross one river rather than two with the current design, so there would be less of an environmental encroachment, he said.
The land farther north is mostly open fields, farther from existing residents in Bradford and East Gwillimbury, which would be more advantageous for noise and air pollution as opposed to the current location, he added. In fact, there used to be a bridge over the river at the Ravenshoe Road location, which was knocked out by Hurricane Hazel in 1954.
“It would be less intrusive, much more economical to build, and serve the purpose of east/west traffic in a much better way. It would take the horrific busyness out of the town. It would connect the 400 to the 404. We should be more responsible with our tax dollars. The worst option is the current option … We are doing this out of principle for our children and grandchildren,” said Peter.
The couple’s passion for the community is clear. Their hope is to impart the wisdom they have accumulated over the years to help protect future generations.