MISSOULA – Albertine Hanneke Eikema Ippisch, born March 23, 1925, in Benningbroek, Netherlands, died peacefully Sunday, April 15, 2012, in Missoula.
Daughter of a Dutch minister, Hanneke grew up a tomboy who liked to ride faster, skate farther and sail as fast as the winds could carry her. Her love of outdoor activities was cut short with the beginning of World War II and Nazi occupation. At the age of 17, Hanneke joined the Dutch Resistance movement and became the personal courier to Wallraven Van Hall, later referred to as The Banker of the Dutch Resistance. In her wartime role, she arranged hiding places for Jewish families, set up secret meeting locations for the resistance movement leaders, and traveled throughout the Netherlands transporting information and funds to people involved in the resistance effort.
Hanneke was captured and imprisoned and cut off from the outside world, except for small secret notes affixed to the labels in the clothes that her father was allowed to retrieve for laundering. So secretive was their work that neither Hanneke nor her father fully understood the extent of their resistance effort until they were reunited at the end of the war.
After the Netherlands’ liberation and Hanneke’s release, she set a course for adventure. Immediately following the war, she worked for Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands as a “nurse,” offering comfort to injured soldiers and citizens from the war effort. Later she traveled to Kalmar, Sweden, for employment with the Rappe family where she met and married her first husband, Claes Fredrik Rappe.
Hanneke and Fredrik immigrated with their young family to America in the early 1950s and settled in the San Francisco Bay area, where Hanneke became active in their community. She worked as an art teacher, opened a Dutch-themed restaurant, formed a traveling puppeteer troupe and began what became a 40-year career of hosting Christmas markets.
In the early ’70s, in search of a less urban, more natural lifestyle, Hanneke and her family moved to Montana. There she later met and married her “Montana man,” Les Ippisch, who was a native Montanan and worked for many years for the U.S. Forest Service.
Never one to be idle, she and Les remodeled an old abandoned schoolhouse and teacherage and created a Scandinavian-influenced property west of Missoula at Ninemile. The tradition of the Ninemile Schoolhouse and Christmas Market began with their handmade wooden creations and the annual holiday sale. A menagerie of wooden ornaments, Nativity scenes, children’s toys and more were sawn, sanded and painted each year in anticipation of the many guests who would, starting at Thanksgiving, experience a step back in time and select unique items for friends, family or themselves. Every year, draped in her legendary red coat, she would open the iron gates to their store; the tradition continued until their retirement, when they moved to their “dream” location on Flathead Lake.
Hanneke authored children’s books, including the award-winning “Spotted Bear,” in collaboration with her daughter Hedvig. But it was her book “Sky” that garnered her greatest recognition. Intending it as a book for her grandchildren about the cruelty of war, as seen through her own teenage eyes, she recounted the story of her time in the Dutch resistance. The book’s reach went far beyond her own family and she captivated young audiences around the nation with her personal story, infectious smile and sparkling eyes, and the important messages of her experiences. She spoke about the horrors of war, the importance of tolerance and the ability we all have to make a positive difference in the world. “Sky” was later adapted to a MCT Center for the Performing Arts Theatre production where her messages were shared on stage.
Hanneke was an activist throughout her life. In the early 1950s she organized an emergency relief effort for victims of the devastating 1953 floods in the Netherlands. In support of a bond issue in California, she acquired the use of two elephants that were paraded through town with support slogans painted on their backs. In the early ’90s, together with other volunteers, Hanneke helped in the resettling efforts of Tibetan refugees to Missoula. In 1996 she co-authored a play to benefit the Missoula Children’s Theater known as “The Gift,” performed outdoors at the Schoolhouse. Many community members were delighted and privileged to experience the magical outdoor production performed during a particularly cold and snowy winter night.
Hanneke’s death rather poignantly closely coincides with meaningful dates in the Netherlands. Each May 4 commemorates those lost at war. Also on May 5, the Dutch celebrate liberation from Nazi occupation. Journalists in the Netherlands this week have honored her memory with multiple articles reminding its peoples of her remarkable bravery, sacrifices and worthy assistance to so many.
Hanneke was preceded in death by her father Jan Eikema; mother Gezina Eikema; her sister, Alida Jantina; her husband, Les, and her daughter, Hedvig Rappe-Flowers. She is survived by son, Jan Rappe (Beth and granddaughters Annie and Olivia); daughters, Olleke Rappe-Daniels (Orville) and Liedeke Rappe (Tom Ritzheimer); son-in-law Pat Flowers and granddaughters, Erika and Natalie. In the Netherlands remain her brothers, Jan, Hans and Heddy Eikema; nephews, Jan Herman and Martien Meijer and cousins, Johan Frederik ter Haar and Toos Eikema.
A celebration of Hanneke’s life will be held at 2 p.m. June 16 at the MCT Center for the Performing Arts located at 200 N. Adams St. in Missoula. Her children and family will reunite Hanneke with “her man,” Les, later this summer. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests any memorials to the MCT Center for the Performing Arts or the charity of your choice.
Hanneke led a colorful, tireless, energetic and full life. She left an indelible mark on the minds and hearts of all who knew her. Like the message she so eloquently shared in her writing “let us remember” Hanneke.