Jack van Dongen: Working hard, but with time to play

Ana Macedo talks with Chilliwack's Jack van Dongen about, work, play and life.

Jack van Dongen and his Harley Davidson.

Jack van Dongen and his Harley Davidson.

When Jack van Dongen was growing up, hard work was really all he knew. In school, he loved playing sports but responsibilities at home prevented him from playing outside the school setting. “Dad always said that working on the farm was sports enough,” he smiled.

Jack and his six siblings were all born in Canada but his parents were Dutch immigrants who had arrived in Canada in 1949. The van Dongen’s were always a close-knit family and remain so to this day.

When Jack was just four years old, an infection paralyzed him from the neck down. “This is really the first memory that I have of my life and I totally recall this period of time. I was originally treated for polio but it was later diagnosed as a neck infection. My parents couldn’t really speak English so perhaps there was something else to it but this is what I know. I couldn’t use my limbs for about eight weeks and I came to realize that the use of your limbs is really such a blessing,” he said.

When Jack was 10, the van Dongen’s moved from Pitt Meadows to a dairy farm in Delta and until he left home at the age of 18, Jack came to know the meaning of hard work and dedication. “I was heavily involved in 4-H and I loved it. I was always on the leadership team and I excelled at it. I was one of 80 kids in the province invited to BC Provincial Club Week and I was awarded a trip to Chicago to attend the largest 4-H conference in the U.S.,” he noted. Volunteerism was also something that Jack and some of his siblings, including older brother John, who is the MLA for Abbotsford South and a former solicitor general, took seriously. “Being involved in our community was something that we were interested in and that we took part in,” he said.

Jack had a keen interest in genetics and wanted to get involved in the artificial insemination of cattle. “I knew what I didn’t want to become and that was a dairy farmer. My experience on my dad’s dairy farm was that it was all about hard work and no play. I didn’t want that for me,” he said.

After graduating from Delta Secondary School, he received a phone call from a farmer who wanted Jack to go work for him. “I told him up front that I wasn’t interested in farming but he asked me to go and see him, which I did. After one year of working for him, all I wanted to do was farm. He showed me that you could work hard and be successful and yet you could still take time to have fun. You could still play,” he said.

For the next 10 years he worked on someone else’s farm, but Jack is nothing if not entrepreneurial so at the age of 28 he rented a farm in Aldergrove and started his own dairy herd. “At this same time, I also took on a job as a truck driver for Vanderveen Hay Sales but quickly transitioned into sales.  My mom always said that I should be a salesman. Whenever there were fundraisers I was always the top salesman,” he laughed.

For three years, Jack farmed and worked at Vanderveen but then his wife unexpectedly left him and their four children and this changed everything. “This was a hard time for me, that’s for sure but we moved on and in 1987 I bought my own dairy farm in Delta, across from where I had grown up. I ended up having to quit farming because I developed an allergy to cattle hair, if you can believe it. I left the farm in 1997 and went into semen sales and got into the genetic field which is what I had originally wanted to get into when I graduated from high school. This is what I did up until a year and a half ago. I was in that industry for 15 years,” he explained.

Jack and his wife, Ellie moved to Chilliwack and in 2008 Jack and his son Dave opened up Mr. Lube on Yale Road, across from Southgate Shopping Centre. He also opened up Goal Line Hockey Training Centre which is located next to Mr. Lube and specializes in hockey training year round.

Although Jack hasn’t played hockey or had the time to referee any games since moving to Chilliwack, he enjoys doing both. The couple also enjoys golfing, although they haven’t had a chance to play as often as they’d like. Above all, Jack loves getting on his Harley and going for a ride every chance he gets. “Ellie and I go on one long trip every year. Last year, we went through three states and three provinces and put 7,000 km on the bike. This year, we’re planning another long trip but we also do a lot of day and weekend trips,” he enthused.

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