OSKALOOSA— On Wednesday, July 3, the Oskaloosa community honored Reuben Van Veldhuizen. Three years ago on July 7, Reuben unexpectedly passed away during a routine medical procedure at the age of 12.
Reuben's passing affected many, and the community wanted to show their support for the Van Veldhuizen family: Scott and Sandy, Nate, Blake, Noah, Lydia, and all their extended family.
Sandy Van Veldhuizen, Reuben's mom, said Reuben was many things.
“Reuben was quiet, thoughtful, insightful, ornery –he loved to tease his brother's girlfriends – a hugger, sensitive, a deep thinker, baby lover, details mattered in that everything had to be just right,” she said. “From our eyes, he was a gift of God. His name means 'behold a son, with great joy.' We chose his name because we were overjoyed to have four boys, two sets of partners in crime, the big ones, and the little ones.”
Sandy said, “he had a caring heart for animals as well. He loved his goats and he loved the outdoors and trapping and hunting with his dad and brothers. Lydia and Reuben have also formed a really special bond in recent years before his death.”
The Oskaloosa Baseball team hosted Pella Christian in a doubleheader that started at 5:30 p.m. Both teams showed great gestures of support by wearing neon green shoelaces. Neon green was Rueben's favorite color. The game got to the fifth inning but then was delayed for several hours and finally postponed. However, the rain and delays did not stop the community from supporting the Van Veldhuizen family.
There was even a rainbow shining perfectly over the baseball field during the delay.
At the Oskaloosa high school baseball field, a 'tree of life' was planted, and a rock placed with “in memory of Reuben Joel Van Veldhuizen” painted on it as was a way of remembering a special young man and to show support to the family.
There were a lot of donations that helped make the memorial happen. There were donations from the baseball family. The rock was from Jerry Thompson, The tree was from Stam's Greenhouse and the rock was painted by Ray “Bubba” Sorenson. All of the baseball players got armbands with the number 24 on them.
When the game was finally called, several community members joined in for a non-school sponsored event. There was a gathering for prayer and remembrance of Reuben.
Kathy Butler, a family friend of the Van Veldhuizens, was very emotional talking about Reuben.
“Reuben had just the best heart. He was one of Cael's (Butler's son) best friends. He was a very good silent leader, we always used to joke and Scott would say, 'do you ever talk' and Reuben would be like, 'we talk all the time', so he was just one of those quiet souls and just always including everybody and was a good friend. They would do any job you would ask them, pick up trash, grill, just whatever needed to be done they would just go and do it and you wouldn’t even have to ask sometimes,” she said. “He was just like one of our kids, like all the kids. I mean, it's a baseball family.”
Laura North, also a family friend, had some very kind words for Reuben.
“Reuben was a gentle, quiet young man. We got to know him through baseball and we absolutely loved watching him play. He was a kid who was just easy to cheer for. He always played the game with respect, pride and grit. In my eyes, he was a child of God who lived life to the fullest. We were so blessed to be a part of his life.”
The memorial means the world to the Van Veldhuizens.
Scott Van Veldhuizen, Reubens dad, said he feels it's really special to know that people still think about Reuben and his family and care about him and are wanting to give.
"I mean, people want to help and want to serve and when peoples hearts are open like that and they think of others, I think it's just really special,” he said. “We feel very blessed by that and we've felt blessed the day of the tragedy that people just continue to support us and care about us and let us know they care. You know its not always a lot of words, sometimes just a hug or hey I'm thinking about you, that's the key that we know we're not in this alone.”
Over the past three years, the community support towards the family has been amazing, Scott said.
“The first Christmas we had some close friends do a fun thing, they did the 12 days of Christmas and it was just kind of a nice distraction to get us to get our minds on something different and kind of a game and just how they worked through all that," he said. “People continue to send us letters, they send us notes, they text us, Rubens birthday was on Christmas and we get a lot of messages that day. We get a lot of messages on Father's Day, Mother's Day, and on the seventh, the day he passed.”
Sandy said, “We had someone leave a baseball on his grave, someone else helps take care of his grave. Just non stop love and support. And then this.”
The Van Veldhuizen family grew up together at the ball field and the game of baseball is very important to them.
“Our kids started playing the game and with four boys and our daughter, we would count how many games we had to get through each week and really that was our summer, that's our vacation because we enjoyed doing it. I tried to teach my kids a lot about life through the game and I think that's important, and there's a lot you can learn from games about life. There's adversity in games, and how do you respect coaches, respect teammates, respect your opponents. When you spend so much time doing something like that you're going to learn something from it and grow, and that was just our lives so we spent a lot of time on the ball field and grew up together there.”
VanVeldhuizen said, “I still remember tournaments that Brandon and I coached Reuben in and I remember those great events and I remember sometimes where he struggled a little bit and I had to talk through somethings with him and then he would overcome those things.”
“You know thinking about our team now, the last three games before tonight we struggled a little bit," he said, "and then you think about going back to your kids and Reuben was always a kid that played with a lot of heart. He wasn’t the most skilled kid but I hardly ever remember a time where he didn’t go hard."
Scott VanVeldhuizen said Reuben always played hard and gave everything he had.
"I just want that to pass on to other kids because they have that opportunity that he doesn’t have right now, he can't play another game but they can play a game right now," he said. "So I want them to play with that same heart and you never know when it's going to be your last swing or your last catch or your last pitch, just play hard until the end and that way you know you finished hard."