Jeff Manes: ‘World traveler’ at home in DeMotte
August 17, 2012 12:32PM
Sig Boezeman, 86, relaxes in the flower garden at his home in DeMotte, Ind. He is the third generation in his family to farm the same land along the Kankakee River. | Photo provided
Updated: September 20, 2012 6:09AM
“Morgenrood brengt water in de sloot.”
(Red morning sky brings water to the ditch.)
— Dutch proverb
Sigmund Boezeman, 86, has traveled to Japan, Canada, Mexico, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, The Netherlands and to 47 states in America.
But he still lives in the house where he was born, in DeMotte.
Boezeman was married to his wife, Rhoda, for 61 years before her passing. They raised three children.
Sig, his father and his grandfather have farmed the same land along the Kankakee River. Equestrians from near and far make their way to the Boezeman place each fall, when he hosts the Northwest Indiana Carriage Ride.
Boezeman, a World War II veteran, is a member of the Newton County Historical Society and the American Reformed Church of DeMotte. His farm recently was named Riverfront Farm of the Year because of its water management and conservation practices.
Your Dutch heritage?
“My father came to the United States in 1895 when he was 4,” Boezeman said.
Did your father’s family come directly to the DeMotte area?
“No, they started out in Minnesota near an Indian reservation. My grandfather bought a pony off a Native American and built a house in the woods. They tried to raise produce, but the land wasn’t any good, so the family moved to Kalamazoo, Mich., where they made wheels for buggies.”
How did your grandparents discover the DeMotte-Thayer area?
“Through friends like the DeFries family, who already had settled here.”
Has your surname been Americanized?
“There are about five ways of spelling Boezeman. Boezeman was difficult for some people to spell or pronounce. When my grandfather worked in Kalamazoo, somehow, his boss got him to change our name to Bushman.
“My grandfather told him, ‘I don’t care how you pronounce or spell my name, as long as I get my paycheck.’”
That’s a good one.
“But, after awhile, a family member told him: ‘Don’t forget, you have relatives in The Netherlands who have money. If that inheritance comes here, they’re not going to give it to you if your name is Bushman.’ So he changed our name back to Boezeman.”
“I attended Thayer Grade School and DeMotte High School. It was a two-room schoolhouse in Thayer with two teachers.
“I was a sophomore in high school when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Our principal, who also was my history teacher, walked around the classroom; there were 14 of us — nine boys. One by one, he pointed to us boys, then he sat down at his desk and said, ‘Each one of you boys will be in this war.’ ”
“All nine of us went to war. Two of my classmates were drafted before they graduated high school.”
Tell me about your time in the service.
“I was drafted into the Navy and ended up becoming a member of the Seabees. After our training in Davisville, R.I., we were put on a troop train to California; it took four days.
“There were 42 ships that went out at one time — battleships, cruisers, destroyers, destroyer escorts ... . There also were 22 personnel carriers that carried a battalion of men per ship.”
How many men make up a battalion?
“A battalion is 1,800 people. There were 60,000 of us going over there at one time.
“It was smooth sailing until we got past the Hawaiian Islands into enemy territory, where we started getting into the Japanese submarines. We stopped the entire convoy and began dropping depth charges.
“We were in the backyard of Japan when they dropped the first atomic bomb (Aug. 6, 1945, on Hiroshima). It was the equivalent of 20,000 tons of dynamite. (On Aug. 9), we dropped the second bomb (on Nagasaki), and that ended the war with Japan.”
Did you get to come home right away?
“No, they put me on a mine sweeper. Eventually, we made our way back to the United States, but not before we ran into a typhoon with waves as high as 35 feet. It was a scary thing.
“It took us 48 days to get back to the United States.”
Well, Sig, I’m glad you made it back. As a member of the Newton County Historical Society, you were an integral part of putting together the 700-page tome “Roselawn, Thayer and Shelby, Indiana: The First 100 years.”
“Yes, that project took us seven years to complete.”
“I’m an avid duck and dove hunter.”
Boezeman has the energy of a 21-year old. His yard, aerated pond and flower gardens are immaculate. He even mows trails throughout the original river bottom portion of his property, where he gives golf-cart tours to friends.
While in the service, he traveled 16,000 miles by water and 8,000 miles by land.
But Sig Boezeman will be the first to tell you, there’s no place like home.