In my previous post, I presented a selection of a text from Ray Nies, writing in about 1939 or 1940, recalling one of Holland, Michigan’s storied characters, a perpetually drunk but kind-hearted horse doctor named Piet Ver Liere. I discovered in a newspaper search that his actual name was Peter Van Liere, and that the story Nies tells checks out. I can’t be sure of all of the details, but it looks like Van Liere is more truth than fiction.
A digital search on delpher.nl for Van Liere in the Holland, Michigan Dutch-language newspaper De Grondwet, brings up a number of results. In the earliest mentions, Van Liere is already in his early 60s. (I won’t call that “old” and offend any dear reader). In 1882, he paid for advertisements in the newspaper, stating: “Doctor Van Liere, veterinarian, requests that people don’t call on him to treat sick cattle anymore, unless they are willing to pay for the service. He means this.” Obviously, Piet’s charity had been abused.
An article from the May 26, 1891 issue of De Grondwet confirms that Van Liere was a beloved horse doctor who worked for very little. Hermanus Lemmen of Graafschap, Michigan wrote to thank Van Liere and praise him. Lemmen had an expensive horse who needed immediate attention and another veterinarian was unable to help and recommend that he seek help in Grand Rapids. But Van Liere was able to save the horse in quick fashion.
In 1906, a article says that old Pieter C. van Liere is in poverty and need. If only people had paid him what they owed him for his service, this might not have been the case. “If, with his little horse, who sometimes knew the way better than his boss, he sped down the street, calling out “Hello, Hello, Hello” then one could tell by his tone and attitude that he was in a good mood, in which he forgot that he was old and poor.”
But Piet had spent his last $2 on fuel. And the editor of adds Piet’s famous phrase “t is en kort in Amerika” (something like: it is a disaster/mess in America…but I’ll let you use your imagination here)
In the July 30, 1907 issue of De Grondwet, we find a notice of Van Liere’s possessions up for auction. The farm was 1.5 miles east of Holland, Michigan. For sale were 2 mare horses, 4 milk cows, a 6-week old heifer, 2 pigs, a plow, a harrow, horse rake, great wagon, buggy, horse wagon, dubble bin, hayrack, buggy harnass, cutter, 3 milkcans, wheelbarrow, shovels, milk buckets, etc. Van Liere stated that although he was selling all of these things, he was not selling his house or property, but would remain there to give service as a veternarian.
A month later, a certain Harm Israel and his wife wrote a poem for the newspaper, describing a visit from Van Liere. Apparently, Israel had had an accident and Van Liere stopped by. When Van Liere saw the man, with blood flowing, he said “Ge gaat kapot.” – you are going Kaputt. But Van Liere saved the man. The microfilm copy is poor and hard to read, but part of it says something like:
Als veearts staat Van Liere vermaard, Elk weet zijn naam te noemen; Elk farmer schat hem hoog in waard, En zult zijn kennis roemen. (As a veterinarian, Van Liere is renowned, everyone knows his name, every farmer holds him in high regard, and praise his knowledge.)
Of course, somewhere in that poem is a line: “Wat is ‘t een kot” zeg soms Van Liere. ”
More articles about Van Liere appeared as he neared the end of his life. From December 28, 1909, Van Liere is said to have lived in Holland for 38 years, and has been a horse doctor for 63 years, but gave up his practice two years previously. He had been a widower for 28 years. “Zijn levensloop is vreemd, maar de goedhied van zijn karakter spreekt in het getal dergenen die hij door zijn bekwaamheid en mits ontzienenden ijver geholpen heeft.” (His course of life is strange, but the goodness of his character speaks in the number of those whom he has helped with his skill and unreluctant diligence). The newspaper also reported that the 98 year old Van Liere’s lower body had already died (perhaps some kind of paralyzed state) but his mind and memory were still sharp.
There was also some question of his real age. The first notice of his death in February 8, 1910, says that he would have been 95 on July 4th. “Peter Van Liere, een hier algemeen en sedert jaren bekende personlijkheid, die met al zijn minder aanbevelenswaardige eigenschappen, zich door hulpvaardigheid, eerlijkheid, rondborstigheid, en edelmoedig een groote mate van sympathie verworven had.” (A personality, well known for years, who, with all his less commendable qualities, acquired a great degree of sympathy through helpfulness, straightforwardness, honesty, and generosity.” )
The February 15th issue printed a longer obituary, giving his age at 95 years and 7 months. He was born in Kruiningen, Zeeland, the Netherlands on July 4, 1813 and lost his parents at 3 years of age. He lived with his grandparents in Krabbendijke, and then at 13 years of age became a servant on a farm. He married Cornelia Welleman when he was 25 years old and had 18 children, 4 of whom were still alive. He came to the United States in 1872, and always lived on a farm east of Holland, Michigan. He was still treating animals up to two months before his death.