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Flemish Heroes

Flemish-American Heroes

This is a sample of the short biographies and pictures that have appeared over the years in the Flemish American Heritage calendar. Click on the links below to go to the biographies. Links in the biographies go to (mostly large) pictures.


Karel Jan Bossart, known as the "father of the Atlas missile"
Bro. Severing Vermandere contributed to choral singing in Quebec
Camille Cools, founder, editor and publisher of the Gazette van Detroit
Edward Coryn, founder of the "Gazette van Moline" and Consul in Moline, Ill.
Charles John Seghers, the Apostle of Alaska
Father Damien de Veuster, missionary of Molokai
Maestro Desire Defauw
Father Pieter Jan DeSmet, the "Great Blackrobe"
Peter Malou, revolutionary, priest, and granddad to a prime minister
Fr. Hennepin, first European to see Niagara Falls
George W. Goethals, builder of the Panama Canal
Sylvia Parmentier, philanthropist
Louis C. Rabaut, Congressman from Detroit
Jan Yoors, anti-Nazi, Gypsy, Tapestry weaver, filmmaker
Marguerite Yourcenar, novelist
Rene DeSeranno, Consul
Leon Buyse, after whom our library is named
 Karel Jan Bossart, known as the "father of the Atlas Missile", was born in Antwerp, Belgium on February 9, 1904. He graduated from the University of Brussels in 1925 as a mining engineer.  He applied for a scholarship to Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the Belgian American Education Foundation which he got with the proviso that he learn English which he did in just six weeks.  At MIT he turned to aeronautics, specializing in structures.

     His association with Atlas and its predecessor, the MX-774 research rocket, began when Convair, now a division of General Dynamics, entered the missile field after World War II. Bossart was assigned to the program as project engineer. When the Air Force canceled the contract with Convair due to budget difficulties, Bossart persuaded his company to pursue work on the missile with its own funds.  The experience he and his team gained during the next few years, later proved invaluable when it he US Government again decided to speed up work on missile.  Successful tests were carried out with the MX-774 in 1948 which proved to Bossart that the swiveling engine idea for large missiles was the correct approach.

With the MX-774, Bossart and h is team had designed and constructed the first known supersonic intercontinental missile research vehicle in the world and the first successfully tested postwar rocket in the US.

     In 1955 Bossart became chief engineer of the Atlas project and in 1957 he was promoted to Technical Director of Aeronautics at General Dynamics.  On December 17, 1957, eleven years of Bossart's work was climaxed by the successful first flight of the Atlas.  In 1958 he received the Air Force's Exceptional Civilian Award for his work in developing America's first ICBM.

     His co-workers called Bossart one of the finest technical men in the country.  They credit him with having spearheaded a major phase in the art of rocketry. Karel Jan Bossart died in San Diego, CA, on August 3, 1975.
 

REFERENCES: Winkler Prins Encyclopedie van Vlaanderen  Vol I, p. 230, 429.   Memo from Belgium, Special Number 1976, Belgians in the US published 1976 by Minister of Foreign Affairs, External Trade and Cooperation in Development, Brussels.
Recommended further reading:  Atlas, the Story of a Missile, by  John L. Chapman

   Henri Vermandere, born in Kortrijk, West Flanders, May 17, 1904, came with his parents to New York in 1907, and from there to Montreal, Canada in 1908.  Following the example of his brother Joseph (Br. Placide), he entered the Congregation of Holy Cross at Ste-Genevieve, Quebec in 1919.  As Brother Severin he made his first profession in 1921, his perpetual in 1925.  His studies included French, English, music and Natural Sciences; his diplomas:  Academic Diploma of Pedagogy (Central Bureau, 1922) Modern Education and Pedagogy (U. of Montreal, 1924) and Licentiate in Music (U. of Montreal, 1935).

     During 47 years Bro. Severing was professor of chant and choirmaster at various educational institutes in the Montreal area:  Ecole Adelard-Langevin (1924-26, 1933-43), Juvenat St-Joseph (1926-30), College Notre-Dame (1930-33) Oratoire St-Joseph (1943), Ecole Beaudet (1943-56), College St-Andre de St-Cesaire (1956-71).  After celebrating his golden jubilee of profession in 1971, he retired at the Maison St-Joseph and the provincial house, putting his musical talents at the service of the Oratoire.  He died March 2, 1982 at the Grand-St-Joseph, Chomedey, Laval (Montreal suburb).

     Bro. Severing's achievements as founder-director of choral groups, were outstanding:  "Les Petits Chanteurs a la Croix de Bois de Montreal" (Little Singers with the Wood Cross), 1933, the first Canadian choral group affiliated with the famous Paris group; revived at the Ecole Beaudet, 1951; a choral group at St-Cesaire, 1956.  His singers performed with great success at several outstanding concerts in Montreal, Quebec, Nicolet, etc.  Twice, in 1947 and 1957, he directed a mighty chorus of combined groups for the performance of the "Te Deum of Victory, a work his brother composed at the end of WW II.

     In 1953 Bro. Severing became president of the Diocesan Federation of Choral Groups of Montreal, and vice-president of the National Federation, leading its national congress as interim president on October 11, 1953 at the Aerator St-Joseph, in which 2,000 little singers participated; in 1958 president of the Diocesan Federation of "Les Petits Chanteurs de St-Hyacinthe".   It may be said in truth that Bro. Severing Vermandere made an important contribution to the appreciation for choral singing in all of the Quebec province.

  The first child of Charles L. Cools and Amelia J. Depuydt, Camille Cools was born April 13, 1874 in Moorslede (West Flanders).  In the spring of 1889, the Cools family, then numbering 11 members, decided to emigrate to the U.S. and settled in Detroit.  Young Camille quickly became involved in the community.  He received his U.S. citizenship Oct. 16, 1899 and on June 3, 1902 married a young native Detroiter of Danish extraction, Margaret Nielson.

     Camille, a very enterprising young man, started his own company, Cools & Co. Furniture, in 1905.  Later he acquired the Pontiac Reed Works, and included wicker furniture.

 The cultural community was always part of his life. Theater, music, sports, all attracted Camille's interest and involvement.  He was Secretary of the Wm. Tell Archery Club, President of the "Voor Vlaamschen Recht," a group working to bring Flemish speaking diplomats to the U.S., and was a Board Member of the Belgian-American Century Club #1, whose goal was to enlist 100 members to help each other in case of death.  Ironically, his brother Florent was the 100th member and Camille was the firs t member to die.

     Camille had a great love for the printed word.  In 1907 when the Gazette van Moline appeared as the "only Flemish weekly in America," Camille wrote for the paper for several years, but  by 1911, he began making plans to start his own paper in Detroit.  He and a friend bought a printing press and began printing a variety of material, including a "Vermakelijken Almanak" (humorous  almanac).

     On August 13, 1914, the first issue of the Gazette van Detroit was printed.  It sold for 3 cents a copy.  Under the name was the caption "Het Licht Voor 't Volk" - The Light for the People.  Camille was founder, editor and publisher.  It contained local news and community happenings.  Entering its 75th year, the Gazette is still published today with readership in several States, Canada and overseas.  Camille's "light for the people" still shines on.
 
   Camille Cools died September 27, 1916 at the age of 43.

     Born in Lotenhulle, East Flanders, on September 2, 1857, Edward Coryn spent his childhood on the family farm there. With his parents he came to the U.S. in 1881 and settled in Moline, Illinois. He worked in sawmills, ironworks, and the Deere & C o. plough factory, until he opened a grocery store in 1892. In 1906 he became manager of the Incandescent Light Co. At the end of that year he joined the Moline Trust and Savings Bank, became a director of the bank in 1907, and in 1908 was elected vice president, a post he held until his death. Edward Coryn also served as a city alderman from 1896 to 1904, and as postmaster from 1914 to 1920.

     A self-made man, who worked himself up in the world entirely by his own efforts, Edward Coryn dedicated himself unselfishly to the service of his fellow immigrants from landers. In 1890 he founded the Belgian Workmen's Sick Benefit Society; in 1905 the Belgian American Club; in 1907 he weekly "Gazette van Moline". In 1910 he was the tireless promoter and first president of the National Belgian-American alliance. In 1906 he helped organize, and was a lifelong trustee of the local Sacred Heart or "Belgian" Church.

     At the age of 42 he went to Belgium to look for a Flemish wife. He married Marie De Voghelaere, raised a beautiful family, and insisted that his children learned and spoke his native Flemish language.

     His outstanding merits were recognized by King Albert of Belgium, who made him a Knight in the Order of Leopold in 1913, and in 1919 he became the first Belgian consul of the Moline area.

     Edward Coryn died in Chicago on January 21, 1921. On  June 19, 1971, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his death, a memorial plaque was unveiled at the municipal school of Lotenhulle, his native town.

 Charles John Seghers, the Apostle of Alaska, was born at Ghent on December 26, 1839.  Ordained May 31, 1863, he was assigned to Vancouver Island.  Fr. Seghers made up for his frail health with an apostolic zeal that knew no bounds.

     Made curate of the Cathedral at Victoria and temporary administrator of the diocese by Bishop Demers, Fr. Seghers was theologian to the aging prelate during Vatican Council I.  Bishop Demers died shortly after their return from Rome and Fr. Seghers' own health grew worse.

     Catholicism desperately needed an apostle in the Northwest, and after a seemingly miraculous recovery, Charles John Seghers was consecrated Bishop of Vancouver Island on June 29, 1873.  Bishop Seghers spent over sixteen months in the undeveloped frontiers, personally leading expeditions  along the coast, among the Hesquiat and Cauichan Indians.

     In 1878 he was recalled from Vancouver to become coadjutor to the Archbishop of Oregon City.  He was elevated to Archbishop on December 12, 1880.  The high and well deserved ecclesiastical honors were the first ever bestowed on a son of the American College at Leuven.  Under his administration a new era dawned for the Faith in the Northwest.  But his heart was still in the missions.  In 1885 while attending and ecclesiastical council, he humbly begged to be sent back to Alaska.  His wish was granted.

     Accompanied by Jesuits Tosi and Robout, and a servant, Francis Fuller, he set out for Alaska in July 1886.  Leaving the two priests to care for settlements along the coast, the beloved prelate and Fuller journeyed into the almost unknown interior.  After months in light canoes on swollen rivers, and arduous mountain climbing, they reached their destination.  Totally committing himself to the work of civilizing the unfriendly Indians, Bishop Seghers soon became aware of another danger.  Fuller, spent and worn from the journey had become deranged and turned against him. On November 28, 1886, while resting in a deserted cabin in the Alaskan foothills, Bishop Seghers was shot through the heart.  His body was borne back to a grief stricken people and his remains rest  under the high altar in the Cathedral at Victoria.


  This is a statue of Fr. Damien in his home church, O.L. Vrou Bijstand, in Tremelo. Click on the picture to see a larger version. There are probably other Web sites devoted to him but we haven't looked yet.

Joseph DeVeuster was born on January 3, 1840, in Tremelo, about nineteen miles from Antwerp.  His parents, Francis De Veuster, and Anne Catherine Wauters had eight children of which Joseph was the seventh. Auguste, an older brother who had joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Picpus Fathers), persuaded Joseph to follow his example.

     On February 2, 1859, Joseph took the religious habit and the religious name:  Damien.  When Auguste, now Father Pamphile, was unable to sail for the missions due to illness, Damien volunteered and received permission to go in his place even though he was not yet ordained.

     Damien arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, March, 1864 and was later ordained on May 21, 1864.  He served for eight years as a missionary in Hawaii, the largest of the Hawaiian Islands.  In 1873, he volunteered to go to Molokai to work at the leper settlement.  Subsequently, he was given permission to remain there permanently.

     Although Fr. Damien was the pastor of the Catholics in the Colony, he also served as the lepers' physician, counselor, sheriff, grave digger and undertaker.  He worked untiringly with the lepers and by 1884 he contracted the disease.  Fr. Damien wrote that he would not wish to be cured if it meant leaving the island and giving up his work.  He died April 15, 1889 on the island of MOLOKAI.

     A cross of black marble was placed above his grave bearing the inscription:  "Damien De Veuster Died a Martyr to His Charity For the afflicted Lepers."  In 1936, at the request of King Leopold III, his remains were transferred to Belgium where they now rest in the chapel of the Picpus Fathers in Leuven.

     On July 7, 1977, Father Damien was declared Venerable by Pope Paul VI. The Belgian Postal Services featured Father Damien twice on its stamps: in 1946 in the series "Charity" (3 Values) and in 1964 in the series "Fight against Leprosy".  There is a statue of Fr. Damien in Leuven (1894) on the "Pater Damiaanplein", and h is birthplace in Tremelo is now a museum.  In 1969 the State of Hawaii honored his memory with a statue in the Capitol, Washington, D. C.

 Desire Defauw was born in Ghent on 5 September 1885, the youngest of five children.  At the age of eight he entered the Ghent Conservatory, with a strong plea to study violin, because, as he himself declared "I already know the piano". He was a student of Johan Smit. At 15, he became concertmaster of the Winter Concerts in Ghent, and toured as a Violinist with great success.

     From 1914 to 1918 with Lionel Tertis, violist, Charles Woodhouse, pianist, and E. Doehard, cellist, Desire Defauw formed the Belgian Quartet and toured England.  Defauw started his career at the age of twenty-one when he was chosen conductor of the New London Symphony.  In 1920 he founded the "Concerts Defauw" soon renowned all over Europe, and was appointed in 1925, as Director of the Concerts of the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, and the post of musical director of Belgium's National Radio Institute, conducting an 84 piece symphony orchestra formed expressly for radio broadcasting.  On December 9, 1939 at the invitation of Arturo Toscanini, the first of the distinguished guest conductors occupying the podium is the Belgian violinist and  conductor Desire Defauw, who is also credited with sufficient wit to "tell a good story with a Cockney accent."

 He made his American debut with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Since 1940 Desire Defauw was director and conductor of the Orchestra of the Symphonic Concerts of Montreal.  During the following years he conducted the major American Orchestras: the Boston Symphony, Detroit Symphony, with the Chicago Symphony he was Musical Director and Conductor for four years. The Grand Rapids Symphony, and the Chicago Youth Orchestra, he was visiting conductor of orchestral activities at Northwestern University in 1955.  He was invited again to conduct the Orchestra of Caracas on a special tour organized by the Venezuelan Government, ending the tour in Lima, Peru.

The 1951-52 season brought the maestro to Brazil and Argentina. In Buenos Aires he gave fourteen concerts with three orchestras of this renowned musical city.  On July 25, 1960 in Gary, IN, Desire Defauw died of pneumonia.  He was 74 years old, and had retired as director of the Gary Symphony Orchestra.

  Father Pieter Jan DeSmet, Jesuit missionary among the American Indians, was born January 30, 1801, in Dendermonde, East Flanders, Belgium and died at St. Louis, MO. May 23, 1873. Pieter Jan emigrated to the United States at the age of twenty and entered the Society of Jesus.  Ordained in 1827 at  Florissant, MO, he was appointed treasurer of St. Louis College.  After six years he went to Belgium because of ill health, but returned to Missouri in 1837.   He became the greatest missionary among the Northwest Indians, a peacemaker between the U.S. Government and hostile tribes, and a writer of missionary literature which made his name a household word on two continents. Many colorful accounts of his life have been written.

     He explored the Great Salt Lake Valley about 1841 and described the area to the Mormons approximately five years later. He wrote, "These people asked me a thousand questions about the regions I had explored, and the valley I have just described pleased them greatly..."

     During the 1850s and 1860s, he visited the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains seven times as an agent of the Federal government.  In 1864 he alone could enter the camp of Sitting Bull; and his last journey West (1870) was to establish a mission among the Sioux.  In the interest of the missions he made repeated journeys to the mountains and crossed the Atlantic Ocean 16 times, visiting popes, kings and presidents.  His writings are numerous and vivid in description.

     "The Great Blackrobe", as the Indians called him, was made a Knight of the Order of Leopold by the king of Belgium. Towns in Montana and South Dakota, as well as a lake in Wyoming were named after him, while statues were erected in his honor in his native town, in Ogden and Salt Lake City,  Utah, and in De Smet, South Dakota.

     Born in Ieper, W. Flanders, Oct. 9, 1753, Peter Malou, son of a textile industrialist married Marie -Louise Riga and had two sons.  Alderman of Ieper, known as Malou-Riga, he played a leading role in West Flanders' participation in the Patriots' Revolution against Austria.  The short-lived  independence of the United States of Belgium (Jan.-Dec. 1790), was ended by the Austrians' return.  Malou-Riga welcomed the French invaders in 1792, as they promised to restore Belgium's independence. When it became obvious that the French wanted to annex his country, he went to Paris in January 1793 to remind their government of its promise.  Two months later the Austrians recaptured Belgium but suffered a final defeat by the French in the spring of 1794.

     Concerned about his safety, Malou-Riga fled with his family to Delft, Holland, and from there to Hamburg, Germany. Seeking to prepare a new home in the U.S.A., he left Hamburg in 1795 and bought a 900 acre farm in Princeton, N.J. Unfortunately his wife died in Hamburg two years later.

 Unable to return to Flanders, he asked his brother-in-law, Canon Joseph Riga, to look after his two sons, and entered the seminary of Wolsau (Rothenburg), Germany in 1799.  He left for Dunaburg, Russia in 1804 to join the Jesuits. Ordained a priest in 1807, Father Malou devoted himself to teaching in Mogilev and Vitebsk, and apostolic work in Orsha.

     Upon the request of Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore for missionaries, Fr. Malou was assigned to the U.S.A.  He taught in New York's Literary Institute, and in 1813 became pastor of St. Peter's Church in New York.  Defending the churches' trustees against New York's Bishop John Connelly and falsely accused of collaboration with the French revolutionaries, Fr. Malou was deprived of his priestly faculties.  Supported by Archbishop Ambrose Marechal of Baltimore, he was reinstated in 1825, resu ming his pastorship and visiting the New York schools, until he died on October 13, 1827.  A local newspaper praised "his admirable charity in bringing solace to all miseries".

          In Belgium his two sons became senators, one grandson bishop of Brugge, and another prime minister.

 George W. Goethals was born 29 June 1858, Brooklyn, N.Y. of Flemish parentage, son of John Louis and Marie LeBarron, who emigrated to the United States from Stekene, near Ghent in 1850.  After  attending Brooklyn public schools, he worked his way through three years of college. Representative 'Sunset' (SS) Cox, hearing of Goethals high scholarship, gave him the coveted appointment to West Point Military Academy, from which he graduated June 15, 1880.

     His service in the Engineer Corps of the Army covered all grades from second lieutenant to colonel inclusive.  His more important details were: engineer officer, department of Columbia 1882-84; improvements on the Ohio River 1884-85; instructor and assistant professor of civil and military engineering U.S.M. Academy 1885-89; construction of the Colbert Shoals Locks 1889-1894; instructor in practical military engineering at the United States Military Academy 1889-1900; river and harbor works , Block Island to Nantucket, and fortification of Narragansett Bay and New Bedford 1900-05; General Staff 1903-07; and Construction of the Panama Canal 1907-14.

     In 1907 he was selected by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt as Chairman and Chief Engineer of the Isthmian Canal Commission (two predecessors had resigned).  The following January he took complete charge of construction work and government in the Canal Zone.  When the Panama Canal was opened to commercial traffic in August 1914, Pres. Woodrow Wilson appointed Goethals the first governor of the Canal Zone.

     On March 4, 1915 he was made a major-general in the United States Army by a special act of Congress.  During World War I he served as acting quartermaster general.  In 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of conspicuous service in reorganizing the army's quartermaster department.

     From 1919 to 1928 he was president of the engineering firm of George W. Goethals and Company.  He served as consultant to many important engineering organizations, including the Port of New York Authority.   He retired to Vineyard Haven, Mass, which he had considered his home since 1894,  after marrying Effie Rodman of New Bedford, MA. January 21, 1928 he died of cancer.

 
Antoine Hennepin, born May 12, 1626 at Ath, Hainaut,  entered the Franciscan monastery in Bethune (French  Flanders) at age 17 and took the religious name Louis.  Ordained a priest, he visited various monasteries of his Order in Italy and Germany, joined the French troops, as chaplain, during the Spanish war, until his superior appointed him at Halle. One year later he went to the coastal towns of Duinkerke, Calais, etc. where he became fascinated by the strange tales of the sailors.  In 1672 he resumed his military ministry in the Low Countries until the Battle of Seneffe in 1674, -at one time in 1673 at Maastricht, ministering to over 3000 wounded soldiers.

    When King Louis XIV asked the Franciscans to send some men to accompany Bishop Francois de Laval, of Quebec, the choice fell on Fr. Hennepin and four other friars.  They sailed from La Rochelle on July 14, 1675 to New France, landing at Quebec at the end of September.

     After three years of ministry, Fr. Hennepin was invited by Cavelier de La Salle to join him in his explorations westward.  As they journeyed up the Niagara River Gorge, on December 8, 1678, they discovered the Niagara Falls.  Fr. Hennepin was the first European to describe the falls from actual view.  Continuing their voyage through Lake Erie on the "Griffon", they navigated the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair, named by La Salle, on the feast of St. Clare, August 12, 1679.  Hennepin and his companions left La Salle near Lake Peoria, and continued toward the Mississippi River.  On April 12, 1680 they were taken prisoner by the Aced Sioux and obliged to accompany them in their wanderings.  On one of these journeys, they stopped at a cataract in the Mississippi, which Hennepin named St. Anthony Falls.  By the end of September 1680 they were released, and after a long and difficult journey reached Quebec.

     Fr. Hennepin returned to France in the fall of 1681, where he retired in a monastery and wrote his famous "Description of la Laesione, newly discovered on the Southeast of New France, by order of the King".  Published in Paris in 1683, it became a best seller and was soon translated into other languages. In Athrocyte, Netherlands, he published two new versions of his travels, in which he added discoveries made by others.  Eventually he left for Rome where he spent his remaining days in a monastery and died prob ably after 1701.

     Born in Edingen, Hainaut in 1793, Sylvia Parmentier married a distant cousin and fellow-townsman, Andre Carpentier (b. 1780).  After unsuccessful financial ventures, the family left for the U.S.A. in 1824 and settled first in New York City.  And re, a competent horticulturist, rejected a position with the Elgin Botanic Garden in New York, and selected Brooklyn as his residence.  There on a 25 acre tract he developed the splendid Horticultural and Botanical Garden, which earned his membership in the N.Y. Horticultural Society  and La Societe Linneenne de Paris.  He is said to have exercised a more potent influence in landscape gardening in the U.S.A. than any other person of his profession up to that time. Predeceased by two of his children, Andre died at the age of 50 in 1830, survived by his wife, two daughters, Adele, 17 and Rosine, 1, and one son Leon, 12, who died shortly after.

     Sylvia Parmentier sold the gardens for $60,000 and had a fine house constructed, which became a center of hospitality, charitable and social activities.  Her guests included Bishop John Dubois of New York, on his weekly visits to minister to the growing Catholic population of Brooklyn, Mother Theodore  Guerin, founder of the Sisters of Providence of St.Mary-of- the-Woods, Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C., first president of Notre Dame, the Little Sisters of the Poor. For many missionaries, including Fr. Peter De Smet, S.J., and local parishes she obtained liturgical articles from her relatives in Belgium. Her generous charity for the needy equaled her hospitality.  Local parish priests would refer recent immigrants in need of employment or  financial assistance to the Parmentier family.  Sylvia Parmentier died on April 27, 1882, at the age of 89.

     The two daughters cooperated with their mother's philanthropy.  Adele (1814-1892), married  to Edward Bayer in 1841, spent thirty years of her life caring for the spiritual and temporal wants of the sailors of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She was revered by the seamen of the world as an angel and friend.  Together with Adele, Rosins (1829-1908) assisted varied charitable causes, such as orphanages, Indian Missions, Negro schools, and the support of missionary priests.  In her will she bequeathed to the Sisters of Saint  Joseph money and property to be used for a high school for girls.

     A grandson of immigrants from West Flanders, Louis C. Rabaut was born in Detroit, Michigan on December 5, 1886. His parents operated a wholesale toy and fireworks store. Louis studied law at the University of Detroit, obtained his degree of Master of Arts in 1912, and was admitted to the bar the same year.  He married Stella M. Petz of Detroit.

They had nine children, on of the three sons became a Jesuit, three daughters joined the I.H.M. Sisters.  After working for Seymour Troster's Real Estate Co. for a couple of years, Louis in partnership with James J. Brady established the Standard Home Investment Corporation, and was engaged in developing East side subdivisions as well as in insurance.

     On November 6, 1934 Louis C. Rabaut was elected to the U.S. Congress as Representative of Detroit's East side (Michigan 14th District),  with the support of the Flemish American community.  Addressing the House of Representatives in 1936 to recall the heroic life of Father Damien, whose remains were then being transported to Belgium, he introduced himself "as one with Belgian blood flowing in my veins, being, I believe, the first of such lineage ever to enter the American Congress".

     Rabaut's record in Congress for more than 25 years, - he lost only one election (1946) is impressive. On many occasions he championed the cause of economic justice for workers, social security legislation, unemployment benefits, fair employment practices, guaranteed bank deposits, small business, lower interest rates, etc.

     In the field of international relations he chaired several congressional committees, represented the U.S. in the Philippines (1935), at Oslo, Norway (1939), in South and Central America (1941), and in Europe (1945), and promoted world trade.

     Rabaut, a deeply religious man and daily communicant, was the author in 1945 of the amendment inserting the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. Flag, and of the legislation placing a cancellation mark on mail using the word s "pray for peace".  He had a good voice and loved to join his colleagues in song as they would gather in the evening at the Congressional Hotel.  Death came suddenly to Congressman Rabaut on November 12, 1961 in Hamtramck, Michigan, as he was speaking at a banquet honoring a former colleague.

     He received awards from the International Economic Council (1944), the Catholic War Veterans and the Daughters of the American Revolution (1956), and in 1957 the George Washington Honor Medal from Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge.


     Born in Antwerp on April 12, 1922, Jan Yoors, son of artist Eugeen Yoors, left home at the age of twelve to join a kumpania, or tribe of gypsies roaming through Western Europe and the Balkans.  In 1940, because of the Nazi persecution of gypsies , he became a liaison operative between Allied intelligence units and gypsies behind the German lines. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and condemned to death after six months of solitary confinement and torture, he escaped and resumed his activities .

     A year later he went to London, where he studied at  London University and the School of Oriental Studies.  Inspired by an exhibition of medieval tapestries, he took up  the art.  In 1950 he came to New York City and continued his  hand-woven art.  The first museum showing of his tapestries was in 1956 at the "Twentieth Century Tapestries" exhibition  of the Montclair, N.J. Art Museum.  Dominating the gallery were 14 of Jan Yoors' dramatic works ranging from 8 to 90  feet square.  They portrayed simple objects in stark and  sharp outlines, using brilliant solid-color contrasts of men and animals.  Art in America magazine called him "a new talent in the U.S.A."  In 1962 and 1965 he represented the U.S. at the International Bienanle of Contemporary Tapestries in Lausanne, Switzerland.  Fifty of his tapestries were exhibited in 1974 in St. Peter's Abbey at Ghent in a celebration marking the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of this Flemish city.  In 1976, 50 of his tapestries were exhibi ted in Chicago.

     In 1963 Jan Yoors made a feature-length documentary film, "Only One New York", and in 1965 Simon & Schuster published a photo album on the same subject.  In 1966 and 1967 he travelled in the Amazon territory, much of the Far East and Russia, tak ing photographs.  He wrote "The Gypsies", a nonfiction account of six of the years he lived among nomads in Europe before WWII, in 1967, followed by a sequel "Crossing", an autobiographical journal, in 1971.

     Jan Yoors died at the age of 55, after suffering a heart attack, on November 27, 1977 at New York City.


     Born in Brussels, June 8, 1903, Marguerite Yourcenar was only a week old when her mother died.  Her father, Michel Cleenewerck de Crayencour, returned with her to French Flanders, to Rijsel (Lille).  It was on the "Zwarteberg" that Marguerite, as a small child, discovered the beauty of nature.

     Marguerite was educated by her father, who taught her Greek, Latin and history.   Her father had a book of her poems printed privately when she was sixteen, and they devised her almost anagrammatic pen-name.   She spent her formative years traveling with her father, until he died, leaving her, at the age of 24, financially independent.

     At the beginning of WWII Marguerite moved to the U.S. By that time she had published four books.   At her home in Northeast Harbor, on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine, she devoted her time to translating Negro Spirituals in French, giving conferences and teaching comparative literature at Sarah Lawrence College.  Now she could return to her research for her historical masterwork "Memoirs of Hadrian".  It was published in 1951, an English translation in 1954.

     Fascinated with her Flemish roots, which she could trace to 1600, she wrote "Work in Black" (1968, transl.1976), a novel of the late Renaissance, with Brugge as its main scene of action.  In 1974 she published her "Souvenirs Pieux" and in 1977 her "Archives du Nord".  Besides many awards, both in the U.S. and in France, she was the first woman to be admitted to the Academie Francaise, in 1981.

     Marguerite Yourcenar died in Bar Harbor, Maine on December 17-18, 1987.

     Scion of a family that owes its name to a Spaniard who came to Flanders in the late 1600's, Rene DeSeranno was born of immigrant parents on May 30, 1910 in East Moline, Illinois.  In 1912 the family returned to Belgium, making their home in Tiel t.  There, Rene went to school, helping his mother in a small grocery store during WWI, while his father served in the Belgian army.  The family returned to the U.S.A. in 1922 and settled in Detroit, Michigan.

    Employed in a construction business, his father started the Beachlawn Building Company in 1925.  Rene attended St. Ambrose school, dreamed of a career in bicycle racing or boxing, but ended up working for his father, digging basements and taking care of personnel and bookkeeping.

     At Our Lady of Sorrows on May 23, 1939 Rene married Aline Maertens. This marriage was blessed with two children: Elizabeth A. DeSeranno-Stevens and Donald J. DeSeranno.  It was Aline's late father who had founded the Ajax Bolt and Screw Co. in Detroit, of which, in 1950, Rene became president.  In 1953, he founded The Cold Heading Co., manufacturers of bolts and screws for the auto industry.  He remained chairman of the board until his sudden death, December 17, 1983, at his home in Grosse Pointe, MI.

     Rene DeSeranno lived for his family and tried to instill in them the values that were his own.  Early in his adult life, he was involved in organizing and promoting projects to benefit the Belgian community and Our Lady of Sorrows Parish. In a humble, unselfish way, he was able to communicate his wisdom, enthusiasm, courage and perseverance, supporting others in roles of leadership in the many facets of social, cultural and parish life.

     In 1969 Rene DeSeranno was knighted in the Order of Leopold II by the king of Belgium.  On March 27, 1972, he was appointed honorary consul of Belgium for Michigan.  He was the first Flemish American to be knighted in the Order of "'t Manneke uit de Mane", in Diksmuide October 24, 1976.

     The new Belgian Church and the Fr. Taillieu and DeSeranno Residences for senior citizens are lasting memorials to his generous dedication.  He cherished his Flemish Heritage and was responsible for saving the Gazette van Detroit.  Numerous are those who remember him as a loyal friend and generous benefactor.

    Leon Buyse was born in Ingelmunster, West Flanders on June 2, 1905.  When his parents left for the U.S.A. and settled in Detroit, he was raised by his mother's family in Ledegem.  With his brother Robert he came to the U.S.A. in 1920.  His father had died in 1917.  Leon attended Our Lady of Sorrows school in Detroit, helped his mother in the bakery and eventually opened his own bakery with his brother Robert.

     During World War II, Leon worked at Briggs Manufacturing Co. (later Chrysler's) until his retirement at age 60.  Before and after his retirement, he also worked for the Beitzel Calendar Co.  The death of his wife in 1975 and his failing health caused him to move to the Fr. Taillieu Residence in Roseville.  He died on March 18, 1982.

     People and places fascinated Leon.  In Detroit, he became part of the flourishing cultural and social activities in the Flemish-American community during the years between the two World Wars.  In his youth he joined the "Flandria-America" Soccer Club, the Flemish Dramatic Club "'t Roosje Bloeit in 't Wilde", making his debut on stage in 1924, and soon found his way to the printing shop of the "Gazette van Detroit". There he met Mariette Christiaens, whom he married in 1930.  She gave him two daughters, Delores (Mrs. Arthur Schneider) and Marion (Mrs. Norman Laquerre).

     As a member, officer and/or consultant, Leon Buyse helped to form, alter, continue or influence the progress of Belgian Societies in the Detroit area.  He was active in the Conventions which brought together leaders and delegates from various Flemish settlements in the U. S. and Canada in 1939-40.

     As an author, Leon made his first contributions to the Gazette van Detroit in 1955 with his series of "Who is Who" in the Belgian community in Detroit.  He reported the minutes and activities of the societies and clubs.  He collected and saved many books and records, programs and minuted, pictures and memorial cards.  His "archives" became a source of information for many an author.  His most famous work was the book "Belgians in America" (1960), compiled mostly by Leon himself and in cooperation with Philemon Sabbe and others.

     In 1974, when the Gazette was threatened with termination, Leon and others made substantial contributions to keep it going.  As editor or co-editor, he worked diligently to insure its survival, even with failing eyesight.  He entrusted his collection to the Genealogical Society of Flemish Americans.  It is now an important part of the "Leon Buyse Library".

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