Dan Van Mechelen
By Rod Van Mechelen
2022 Olympia, WA -- Daniel Louis Van Mechelen, September 22, 1928, to January 12, 2022. Covid was not involved.
A year before the Great Depression began Daniel Louis Van Mechelen was born in Olympia Hospital on September 22, 1928, to Maurice and Helen Van Mechelen. They lived in a plank and pole cabin southwest of Olympia on Kinney Road and, despite being poor during the Depression Era they always had a nice car to drive courtesy of the local moonshiners, who disposed of their waste mash by feeding it to the family's pigs.
A few years later, after Helen's father, Nels Brown, built a road, now called Nels Street, to connect Kinney Road to 62nd Avenue, they moved into a small house just across the street from what, today, is the Black Lake Grange Hall, where he, sister Juanita Clark and brother Donald Van Mechelen grew up.
World War II
The two major events for them in 1941 were that they got indoor plumbing, and Pearl Harbor was attacked. There is no evidence conclusively linking the two events. Nonetheless, like millions of others Dan wanted to enlist in the military to defend the country, but he was only 13-years-old. Dan liked to recount how as he got older he would get up before the rest of the family and go down to Black Lake to hunt ducks, or out into the woods to hunt grouse, for supper.
Dan wanted a horse but his father, Maurice, wasn't enthusiastic about the idea. Horse drawn wagons were giving way to cars and trucks and one day he got home to find that his father had bought him a Model A Ford, which he would sometimes use with friends to skid and spin on the gravel and dirt roads. Even then, young men were drifting their cars.
With World War II raging Dan was eager to enlist and even though the war ended in 1945, when he graduated from Olympia High School in 1946 he enlisted in the Navy. As a Navy Corpsman, he worked in a Veterans Home in San Diego until he was detached to the First Marines in Tsingtao, China as a medic for one year.
While there, he learned enough Mandarin in the Qingdao dialect to converse with rickshaw boys and often shared how sad he felt for the way some of the military people treated the local citizens. When he had mess duty he was always careful, he recalled, to neatly set out the leftovers from their meals for the hungry local people.
Beginning a family
After mustering out in 1949 he enrolled in the pre-med program at Saint Martin's College in Lacey. Unbeknownst to him, family members conspired to introduce him to Bernice Elaine Benson, and on February 14, 1950, he proposed during their first real date. When they had been introduced, Bernice was visibly twitterpated, which Dan found captivating. They married at the First Christian Church in downtown Olympia on July 30, 1950.
Dan worked in a gas station while continuing his studies at Saint Martin's and Bernice got pregnant with their first child, who was born in October 1951. Premature, he did not survive. Saddened, they moved to student housing in Kirkland while Dan attended pre-med classes at the University of Washington. But in early 1953 with another child, Roderick Daniel, on the way, he left school and began what would become a 36 year career at Boeing.
While living in a one-room shack Dan, with Bernice's stepfather Harley Stauffer, built a two-bedroom house by SeaTac Airport to welcome their daughter, Rebecca Elaine, who was born in 1955, and son Nathan Louis in 1956. They were so close to the airport that through the living room window the family could watch the very first Boeing 707 taxi on the runway a few hundred yards away.
In 1958 the Port of Seattle bought all the houses there and Dan and Bernice used the money to begin construction of their next house, in Normandy Park, between Burien and Des Moines, where their three children grew up. When they first moved in they didn't have a flush toilet, yet, and had to use a bucket. But they had running water and electricity and before long a flush toilet, too.
The Supreme Court
By that time, two neighbors accosted Dan in the front of the house to tell him that they knew he and his family were American Indians and were welcome to live there, but that the neighbors would be keeping an eye on them. That had quite an impact on Dan, and although all the neighbors became good friends, that conversation added to his resolve to excel and succeed.
Eventually the family moved from the unfinished basement to the finished upstairs. Thirty years later, they finally finished the entire house, sold it and moved to their retirement home on the shores of Black Lake just one block from where Dan grew up.
That part of their journey began in 1962 when Dan's manager at Boeing urged him to return to college. He enrolled first at Highline Community College and then transferred to the University of Washington where, over the course of the next eight years, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. Despite the grueling schedule of raising a family while working full time and attending school full time, every fall the whole family, accompanied by Dan's parents Maurice and Helen, spent two weeks salmon fishing out of Chinook or Ilwaco at the mouth of the Columbia River. As with so many Western Washington American Indian families, salmon played an important role in their diet.
After he graduated from University in 1971, Dan was elected Chairman of the Quinault Allottees Association -- now Allottees Association and Affiliated Tribes of the Quinault Reservation -- and, with Helen Mitchell Sanders as the named plaintiff, he and Bernice ran the cases that would become known as Mitchell I and Mitchell II. Both cases went to the Supreme Court, where they were decided in favor of the Association. The 1996 Cobell v. Salazar case, which was decided in 2009, relied on the precedent set by the 1983 Mitchell II decision.
Return to China
Early in his career with Boeing, Dan began a campaign to ban smoking inside the workplace, and recruited his children to make stickers with drawings and anti-smoking messages. In 1987 the company announced that it would ban smoking in all company offices. In January of that same year, Dan and Bernice moved to China where Dan held a position as a Boeing Representative to the Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation.
For two years while Bernice taught conversational English, Dan worked as the Quality Control Supervisor for the 737 vertical tail fin assembly project. During that time, they traveled extensively throughout Asia and later shared many stories of their travels. Their favorite was the time they visited family friends Murli and Chitra Salatore in India. Dan met Murli at Boeing and he, and later his wife Chitra were frequent dinner guests and close family friends.
In December 1988 their assignment in China ended. Dan enjoyed recounting how many people politely shook his hand but then wept while hugging Bernice.
The Lockerbie bombing
Departing Beijing, they wanted to fly home through Washington, D.C., and when Dan learned that the Boeing HR office in Seattle had booked them on a flight via New York City on Pan Am Flight 103 he objected and demanded that it be changed. But for that, they would have lost their lives in what is known as the Lockerbie bombing. Dan never forgot about their close call.
The following month he retired. After moving into their new house at Black Lake in Olympia, they joined Discovery Tours in Lacey and traveled to many places near and far. During that time, he built a steeple for the Black Lake Grange Hall, which is next to the McLane Black Lake Fire Station 95, to serve as a belfry. He shopped for several months to find a bell for it, and of the two bells he bought, he gave one to friends Ryan and Chelsey Troy, who have it mounted in their Troy Family Christmas Tree farm.
Over the years there were many hunting and fishing trips all over North America. Dan recalled that in his lifetime starting as a boy, he successfully hunted 34 deer, 5 moose, 2 caribou, 1 elk, 1 antelope, 1 wild pig, and 1 buffalo. Also there were countless salmon and shellfish. Bernice would cheerfully chime in that they ate every one.
On June 1, 2015, Bernice, ravaged by cancer, went to sleep and did not wake up. Without his teammate of 65 years Dan was heartbroken, and in 2018 he moved into Olympics West Retirement Inn in Tumwater and spent his final days sitting by a window where he could gaze at the cemetery where Bernice and other family members are buried, and where he will join her, at last.
He was preceded in death by his wife Bernice and son Nathan Van Mechelen, and is survived by his sister Juanita Clark, brother Don Van Mechelen, son Rod Van Mechelen, daughter Rebecca Scholtz, Nan Van Mechelen (widow of son Nathan), grandchildren Jacob, Jenny, Rachel, and Alison; and great-grandchildren Kira and Eliona.
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Rod Van Mechelen
Rod Van Mechelen is a Rand Paul Republican who lives in Olympia, WA. He serves on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council, was a Washington State delegate to the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004, and founded The Backlash! @ backlash.com in 1995 to expose and oppose misandry and cultural Marxism. He continues to serve on tribal committees, publishes a periodic email newsletter for Cowlitz tribe members, and is in the process of building a monolithic dome home.