Meet Gus Melder
He’s Called Simpson Meadows Home Since 2012
From the land of dikes to Downingtown
Johannes “Gus” Melder was three years old in May 1940, when the Nazi Army began its occupation of Holland, or The Netherlands. The Simpson Meadows resident recalls spending nights in the cellar or in a neighbor’s bunker, listening to Allied bombers fly overhead on their way to Germany. Hunger was widespread. When shooting broke out between Allied and German forces on opposite sides of the Waal River, his family moved twice, taking very few belongings. It went on for five years—and then it ended.
“I will never forget when Holland finally was liberated on May 5, 1945,”Gus says. Everyone was singing, dancing and hugging while the American warplanes that just happened to be flying over greeted us by waving their wings up and down. To this day, I am extremely thankful to all veterans of World War II who gave us our freedom back.”
Gus isn’t one to dwell on the dark times. Born to textile merchants in the village of Ophemert, in an area known for agriculture and fruit trees, he grew up playing outdoors, running and riding his bike through wide-open spaces. In summer, he and his sister, Rita, would cross the fields between the dike and the river to reach their favorite swimming hole. Winters brought lots of snow, and they would sled down the dike or ice skate on the moat around the local castle, which belonged to a Scottish earl.
Coming to America
Gus’s sister became a schoolteacher. Gus worked in Amsterdam as a jet engine mechanic for KLM Airlines for a short time, until a Dutch family in Downingtown sponsored him to move to the United States and got him a job at Pepperidge Farm. “I hated working inside,” Gus recalls, so he found a job as a driver/salesman for Servomation Vending (later Service America), where he stayed for 30 years. After he was laid off, he joined Krapf Group’s Rover division. He transported their frail and physically challenged clients for 22 years until he retired.
Touring and traveling
Gus’s Dutch sponsors did one other thing that would change his life: Over 50 years ago, they introduced him to his wife, Rosemary. Avid travelers, they visited Gus’s family in Holland frequently and spent long weekends at the beach in Wildwood Crest, N.J. As an activity director at Downingtown Senior Center, she planned day trips and formed a group called Young at Hearts, which eventually merged with Brandywine Hospitals Senior Circle. Gus and Rosemary planned and escorted day-long and multi-day trips throughout Pennsylvania and beyond, to places like New York City and Vermont.
“It involved a lot of work, but it gave us a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment,” Gus says.
The couple stopped leading tours after Rosemary contracted Lyme disease, and they moved to Simpson Meadows in 2012. His tips for aging well include staying active, avoiding alcohol, and keeping the brain sharp by doing crosswords and jigsaw puzzles. Looking back on a life of rich experiences, including those war-ravaged early days, he says the most important thing he has learned is, “Don’t dwell on the bad” and instead focus on the joy.