Dutch Treat: Richmond family and exchange student from Holland enjoy an enduring

A Richmond family that welcomed a Dutch exchange student into its home 17 years ago could hardly predict where it would lead.
Karin Slobben came to Richmond for the first time during the 1992-93 school year. Her hosts were Rick, Laura, Justin and Heather Wrisinger. After tasting American culture and the Wrisingers’ warm hospitality, Karin (now Karin de Vaan) has been back eight times, the last visit with her husband, James, for Christmas.
Three years ago, it was Laura and Heather Wrisinger who helped Karin shop in Kansas City for her wedding dress. In keeping with the close family connection, Rick’s sister – Aunt Bonnie – completed alterations on the dress before Karin returned home.
Bonnie and her family live in Lexington, a perfect historical attraction for a visitor from another country.
Then in September 2007, Karin returned with her husband. During that visit, she learned that Rick, then-principal of Orrick High School, planned to retire the following spring and that Heather, Karin’s “American sister,” was expecting her first child. With those two milestones just around the corner, Karin planned her next-to-last visit, around a year and a half ago.
No longer merely an exchange student but now extended family, Karin was on hand for Rick’s retirement dinner at the Elms Hotel and in Richmond shortly after Heather gave birth.
“When Karin found that she was going to come for Heather’s first baby, she knew she was going to have a limited amount of time here and planned to come after the due date so she’d be sure to see the baby,” Rick Wrisinger said.
And it seemed that with every visit, Karin and the Wrisingers found a new reason to keep the bond strong. This time it was Karin’s desire to expose James, her husband, to a traditional American Christmas.
The couple, residents of Leusden, Holland, arrived at KCI on Dec. 19, 2009. James and Karin enjoyed their first Christmas in America, ate a holiday meal with Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Jim and told Justin’s children, Reece and Kennedy, all about the Dutch version of Santa Claus.
“She said she wanted to show James what a true American Christmas is,” Rick said. “James has really become a part of our family.”
In Holland, Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 5 and some traditions differ from ours, including spelling Santa’s last name Clause with an “e” at the end.
The Wrisingers opened presents in the afternoon, and then gave their guests a tour of the Christmas lights at Longview Lake and a Dec. 26 shopping outing at Independence Center. There was even time for a side trip to see the sights of St. Louis.
Before their return trip to Holland, Karin and James traveled to Canada to spend New Year’s with an old friend of James’.
Their trip home immediately followed the thwarted terrorist attempt to blow up an airliner headed for the U.S., Rick said, and was a tense time. Karin and James landed in Amsterdam, where the would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, boarded his flight, and security was very tight.
Karin is like a daughter to the Wrisingers, and they’ve been a spectrum of emotions together.
“Karin lost her mother soon after leaving here (after her exchange year) and that was very difficult,” Rick said. “She had a heart attack and it was unexpected. We were close before then and she still has her father, but she’s just really become part of our family.”
Now, the same could be said for James, who’s been to Richmond twice. This last time, he visited Ray County Memorial Hospital, where Laura works.
“They’re just very easy-to-be-with people,” Rick said.
Photo: Rick and Laura Wrisinger, left, hosted Holland residents Karin de Vaan, a former exchange student at Richmond High School, and her husband, James de Vaan, right, at Christmas. Karin lived with the Wrisingers in 1992-93. (Photo provided by Rick Wrisinger)

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