Return of Tulip Time’s Dutch Lunch at Evergreen Commons also showcases community center

Judging by how quickly the event sold out, there was pent up demand for Tulip Time’s Dutch Lunch at Evergreen Commons.

Nearly 45 buses carrying 2,000 visitors stopped by the community center over five days for the traditional Dutch lunch and  signature Klompen Dance performance, which had been on hiatus since the COVID-19 pandemic. But guests also were there to learn more about the host organization that is on a mission to “disrupt the way people age.”

Perry Austin, from Knoxville, Tennessee, who visited along with his wife, Bette Austin, says he was impressed with the facility, which includes a cafe, wood shop and  swimming pool.

“This is a wonderful, wonderful place,” Austin says. “This is unique for senior adults. It just brings people together. We have places like this in Knoxville, but not to this level.”

Shandra MartinezPerry and Bette Austin during their visit to Evergreen Commons.

Evergreen Commons CEO and President Jill Ver Steeg donned her Dutch costume to greet visitors and talked about what makes the nearly 40-year-old community center special.

“We believe that until our dying breath, we are called to live life on purpose,” she says. “We all have life experience, we have wisdom, we have relationships, and we have something to offer. So while we have breath in our lungs, it is on us to get up and to live an inspired life on purpose.” 

“It’s been a joy”

The nonprofit, which has more than 5,000 members and 250 volunteers, is funded with donations and grants.

“I think that the power of community comes when we do things together and collaborate,” says Ver Steeg. “And so it's been a joy to partner with some external partners, like the Tulip Time team. We love that collaboration. On the cusp of our 40th anniversary next year, it's been a joy to bring back this event that we hosted for many years.”

Shandra MartinezTulip Time visitors applaud Dutch Dancing performance at Evergreen Commons.

She adds that Evergreen Commons made more space available for the lunches to accommodate groups from Indiana and Tennessee that wanted to tour Evergreen Commons.

“The gift that it's been for these people to have a tour of our space,” says Ver Steeg. “They're coming from places that don't have the assets like we do, and so it's been an opportunity to generate ideas and build community across geography, to further spur on creative ideas around older-adults centers.

“It’s been really nice to bring this event back and collaborate. It’s a staff effort. It's a volunteer effort. It's a community effort. We are just incredibly grateful, because it is inspiring older adults to live their fullest life.”

Walter Catton, the nonprofit’s chief financial officer, who oversees operations, says buses came from New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Tennessee.

“We stopped during COVID and didn't bring it back,” Catton said. “It took a bit to get back into the schedule of Tulip Time, which plans out events in advance. This was the first opportunity we had to get in the planning cycle. We’ve been sold out every day.

“We had one or two groups that specifically wanted to see the community center. Evergreen is  just that different. It's not the standard community center for aging adults that you'd see in other communities. We are about supporting people to live their fullest life, through all different aspects of wellness, and that includes physical wellness, emotional wellness and spiritual wellness.” 

Enjoying Dutch traditions

The luncheons had the help of about 50 volunteers each day. Most were from Evergreen Commons, but others were community volunteers who signed up through Tulip Time.

The menu was traditional Dutch fare of split pea and ham soup, Dutch slaw (a cabbage salad), pigs in a blanket and an almond bar for dessert.

The performances varied day to day. On Thursday, the show featured Evergreen Commons Dutch Dancers because local students who were featured on other days were taking part in the Festival’s Kinderparade.

Walter CattonA Tulip Time visitor gets his photo take with the Evergreen Commons Dutch Dancers.

While Evergreen Commons receives a percentage of the ticket sales from Tulip Time, hosting the event offers far more value than the financial reward. The event is really about community outreach.

“They appreciate the gathering of the community and the opportunity to learn a little bit more about what Evergreen Commons does,” Catton says. “We had a lot of people ask for information to bring back to their community about what we're doing for older adults as they age.”
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