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Harry Van Wingerden, Hofkens International partner

Harry Van WingerdenWhen you read my articles, look at the bands that say “Book,” and come to this site and see me front and center, you start get the impression that Hofkens International is a one-man band. Very fortunately for me this is not the case! There is another partner, and he is very important to me and to the success of Hofkens International. His name is Harry Van Wingerden, and he is an amazing individual!

I first met Harry in 1987. At the time, my grandmother lived in Santa Barbara, California, and, while my wife and I used to enjoy visiting her, I would get bored after a couple of days. On one trip, I brought along the AU registry with the hope of finding a fancier to visit. While looking through the registry, I noticed that there were very few fanciers in the Santa Barbara area. In fact, at that time, most fanciers in the area were located in Carpentaria, which is just down the coast. One of the fanciers was Harry Van Wingerden with the loft name VW Flyers.

After a quick call, we were set to meet that afternoon at about 2:00 pm at his house. However, not knowing Harry and his busy schedule, I didn’t know that he is always 30 minutes late. That is how I got to meet his wife Michelle. We got to talk for some time because he was actually about 45 minutes late that day. It took me some time to crack this code. If he is meeting you, he will be 30 minutes late, and, if he is going to call you tomorrow, that means three days from now. In most people I would find this annoying, but once I followed Harry around for a day, I had the good sense never to complain about it. In fact, recently, Ed Lorenz, my son Nick, and I visited Harry for a tour of his business. Harry was covered with mud and already in the process of taking his fifth call since we had arrived, when Ed turned and said to me, “This guy’s a worker.” Ed has an eye for these things!

Sometimes you just hit it right off with someone for no reason at all, and you become friends for life. In truth, Harry’s personality is so unique that he hits it off with about everyone, so it is hard for me to take any credit for our friendship. He is not one to complain about anything, and, unlike most people, he takes the good and the bad in stride. You know that he must be a pretty good guy if he can be a pigeon fancier and my wife still likes him!

In all of my visits with Harry, there has never been a time when his cell phone didn’t ring at least once every fifteen minutes! Every year or two, I visit Harry to cull through his pigeons. There have been times when I am wandering around the loft looking at pigeons while he is following me discussing business on the cell phone. Harry’s days begin very early, and, although we are a time zone apart (he is an hour earlier), I never have to worry about waking him up!

Harry is of Dutch descent and came to America in the early 60’s at the age of seventeen. He decided very early on that he wanted to become a flower grower like his father. This is a tough business with long hours, and right off his father wanted to make that impression on him, so Harry worked for a number of years for a very small wage (as I remember it, it was 21 cents an hour) while learning the business. While it created great hardship then, he is the better for it now because not only is the flower business physically demanding, it is also extremely competitive! Harry runs a tight ship, and, these days, with the influx of flowers from South America, that is the only way to remain profitable.

Harry would never tell you this, but he has been the center of his club for a number of years now. While his club is made up of great guys, the situation has become rather small. They meet and ship in one of Harry’s garages, and frankly if it weren’t for his loyalty toward the other club members, I think he might have quit long ago. On the other hand, I was reading an article the other day about the Lakers coach, Rudy Tomjanovich, discussing how basketball had consumed his life to the point where he just couldn’t let it go. He said that he should have done a better job of finding other things to do in his time off. Harry’s business could easily do the same thing to him, so, for him, racing pigeons are something of a distraction from his daily life.

Harry is very intelligent and very quick on the uptake. He speaks a number of languages, and he always interprets for me when the European fanciers come to visit. I remember one time when a well known long-distance champion came to visit, I had Harry peppering him with questions for three hours. I doubt the poor guy ever set foot in America again.

What I admire most about Harry is that considering how busy he is, he is still a down-to-earth person who always has time for others. He has been a great friend and partner. The only time we ever had a cross word was when I was younger and I wondered why he didn’t take pigeons as seriously as I did. Then, like my son Nick, I had the experience of following him around for a day, and I quickly realized why he didn’t take pigeons as seriously as I did. I think this last visit hit Nick at the best possible moment because I think the concept of work took on a whole new meaning for him.

Pictures of Harry’s Business and Breeding Loft

I have attached a gallery of pictures of Harry’s business, Myriad Flowers, and they are worth taking a look at. By the way, the two guys in the background are Ed Lorenz and my son Nick. Ed is the quiet one. Nick is the bored one. Also included are a couple of pictures of the four of us visiting Harry’s loft.

Dinner with the FVC Boys

Finally, whenever I am in town, a number of the FVC members hold a dinner in my honor [the occasion is that they are hungry], so I have added some pictures from that as well. In attendance were lifelong friends Donald Knox and Steve Baldwin, and my good friends Ed Lorenz, Dave Zarlenga, Steve Belanger, Carl Loizzi, Brian “Gourmet” Baumhor, and Roger Sikora. Remember, as pigeon fanciers, there is only so much that can be done with photo editing! I have known Don and Steve since I was ten years old; in fact, Don used to drive me to the club every week.

The down side is that, after dinner, they requested an impromptu mini-seminar at the Gourmet’s house that lasted from 10:00 pm to 2:00 AM. I will bet that they slept well that night!

Finally, finally, there is a picture of my good friend, “The Great Marty Ladin,” standing in the doorway of his pigeon loft. Marty usually comes to dinner, but this time I was preempted by a football game. The other picture is of “The Greatest Restaurant Flyer in America,” Ed Lorenz. It is hard to get a picture of Ed out of his recliner and in the full upright position, so take special note!

I hope you will take the time to enjoy them!