Coby Verheij and Bev Dirksen met in a hospital kitchen in Edmonton, Alberta in the 1950s and quickly became best friends.
In the 62 years since, they have lived in three countries, four states, ran a bed and breakfast together and created a lot of memories, including meeting “Elvis.”
Now, they are roommates at La Posada senior living community in Palm Beach Gardens.
The women — both of whom are Dutch — left Holland for Canada soon after World II ended.
Verheij, 81, remembers the day that Nazis came to her house. “They were looking for anything of value,” she said.
Verheij stood watch at the door and as soldiers came down her street, she said, mother was inside hiding anything of value under the floor boards.
“It was scary,” said Verheij, especially because her father wasn’t there.
But there was no escaping the Nazis, who captured Verheij’s father, a welder, as he was riding his bicycle to work. At the time, the Germans needed people to weld and build parts for their machinery.
Verheij’s father was transferred to a work camp in eastern Germany, where he lived for almost a year. One day, he woke up and found no guards, which he figured meant the war had ended. Verheij’s father and other prisoners left the camp, and made their way back to Holland with the help of the Canadian Red Cross.
“When my father came home and rang the doorbell, I peeked through the upstairs window and alerted my mother that a man stood at the door,” said Verheij. “I was 9 years old at the time and didn’t recognize him because he was wearing different clothing and had lost a lot of weight.”
Soon after that reunion Verheij’s family decided to move to Canada.
Dirksen, for her part, immigrated because her brother already lived in Canada and urged her to join him. So she did and left behind her parents and 11 other siblings.
When Verheij started working in the kitchen and diet office of a Catholic hospital in Alberta, a supervising nun asked her to take another Dutch woman, who had just arrived in Canada, under her wing. That woman was Dirksen.
“Bev showed up and the nun comes up to me and says, ‘I think she is from where you’re from,’” Verheij recalled as she looked over at her friend, who’s now 95. “So, I walked up to her and Bev said, ‘I don’t speak English very well.’ I said ‘that’s OK.’ And that’s how we became friends.”
Canada gave Verheij her best friend, as well as her husband, Johan.
Johan Verheij was from a “hole-in-the-wall” city in Holland, that Verheij said she never would have visited when she lived there. But the two met at a church social group and married in 1957. The couple had their only child, Rick, in August 1958.
Dirksen never married or had children of her own, but she served as an aunt to Rick.
“I don’t recall any period of time that Bev hasn’t been with us,” said Rick Verheij, who added that Bev was also his babysitter.
Verheij and Dirksen’s friendship also extended to business, where Verheij said “we worked like sisters.”
The Verheijs and Dirksen opened a bed and breakfast called Applewood Manor in Asheville, North Carolina. Dirksen took care of the housekeeping, Verheij cooked and set tables, and Johan Verheij took reservations and dealt with the customers.
The trio ran the business for 10 years before selling it in 2006. Verheij said that their time in North Carolina was her “favorite because of the bed and breakfast.”
So, what’s the secret to making friendship last?
“Give and take,” Verheij said simply. “Not everybody is the same, so what she likes you may not like. And what I like, she may not like.”
But what these two both enjoy is adventures and Elvis.
For Verheij’s 80th surprise party in North Carolina, Rick Verheij arranged for an Elvis impersonater to perform. The impersonater was so impressive, he said, that by the end of the party all of the older women were lining up to have their photos taken with the King of Rock and Roll.
Dirksen and Verheij have been to Las Vegas for a Neil Diamond performance and to Panama, where Johan worked for the summer in 1974. It was during that summer that robbers broke into their apartment and stole money as well as Johan Verheij’s watch.
“I woke up the next morning and screamed,” explained Verheij. “They took everything.”
In 2012, the duo took a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and Dirksen sat in the front row. When asked if she was scared, Dirksen replied, “I’m in my 90s. Why would I be scared? What is there to be scared of?”
That idea of not being scared of life is something Verheij talks about too. After 81 years of living “every day as a new day,” she said, adding that her life is full.
“I have to be honest I am lucky. There is nothing that I could say I should have done,” said Verheij. “I have traveled. I have seen things, done things. I didn’t sit in a chair.”
Dirksen chimed in and added, “I’ve seen enough,” which drew laughter from both of them.
Now they spend their days reading, watching television, going for walks and enjoying each other’s company.
“Most people think we are related, and they can’t understand the dynamic friendship we have,” said Verheij. “It is a rare and wonderful thing.”