Rudi Hoenson fell in love with a good cup of coffee as an 18 year old living in Java, Indonesia.
The year was 1941, and he was fascinated by the daily ritual of roasting and grinding the beans before pouring hot water from two feet above the mug.
“It makes the grinds swirl around,” says Hoenson, now 91. “I still make mine the same way to this day.”
Hoenson’s life story goes far beyond a good cup of coffee, but getting him to tell the tales takes some doing. He prefers to focus on his philanthropic work at the Lodge at Broadmead senior care home, where he’s donated over $600,000 including a $100,000 (and counting) matching donation to help Broadmead install overhead lifts. The $1.3 million project will benefit 115 Second World War and Korea War veterans and another 110 seniors who live at the lodge.
“What am I going to use the money for,” says Hoenson, a WWII vet and former prisoner of war at a Japanese encampment. “I can identify with the people (at Broadmead). A lot are veterans and they also went through the terrible times.”
The facility is the primary provider of residential care and day programs for veterans on Vancouver Island.
A native of Holland, Hoenson moved to Indonesia (then a Dutch colony) with his dad, who was stationed there.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941, Hoenson immediately enlisted with the Dutch forces.
He fought the Japanese in the Indonesian jungle before he and about 500 Dutch soldiers were caught and imprisoned. He remained a prisoner of war for three and a half years, until U.S. soldiers showed up a month after the war’s end in 1945.
“I went in at 130 pounds and when I came out, I was 80 pounds. I could have survived maybe a few more years, but some guys, they either refused to eat, which was suicide because they’d beat you to death, or they got sick and died,” he said.
The prisoners’ diet was mostly rice, sometimes with a bit of squash, and if they were really lucky, some vegetables.
“Twice, maybe, there was a bit of excess whale blubber with the rice, which we gobbled up because we needed it so badly.”
Hoenson can still recall his first proper meal upon release from prison, when he was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Chenango.
“It was so rich (for us), most of us threw up,” said Hoenson, who still includes rice in his daily diet. “We couldn’t eat that way anymore.”
Hoenson slowly returned to the Western way of life. At 28 years old, he chose Calgary as his first North American home because of its proximity to the Rockies, which were glorified in the 1936 movie Rose Marie.
“I saw the Mountie canoeing in front of mountainous backdrops,” he said.
As it happened, Hoenson made his money in the Alberta oil boom while also spending plenty of time hiking in the wilderness of Banff. He moved to Saanich in 1979 with wife Sylvia. The couple was generous long before Sylvia died in 2008 after 52 years of marriage.
Hoenson’s contribution to other Broadmead Care fundraising campaigns include upgrades to its residential care equipment, including the installation of accessible bathtubs a few years ago.
“I strongly believe that we should be more supportive of the veterans – not just in Victoria, but all over Canada,” Hoenson said. “The veterans are old people now that fought more than 70 years ago, and we should help these people who did so much for us – we are so lucky to live in this wonderful country.”
Broadmead’s acting director of development, Jennifer Jascheko, was the first to suggest the idea of challenging the community to match Hoenson’s donation up to $20,000.
“His original offer was met in two days,” Jascheko said. “And it was his idea to increase his match to $30,000, which was matched in a week.”
The donation target grew until Hoenson topped out at $100,000 which was matched by February.
There are now two remaining challenges: a group of high-ranking army retirees has committed to match the per-room cost of $5,300 to cover the lift, motor, track, slings, installation and training.
Hoenson will also match funds raised at a golf tournament on May 1 at Uplands Golf Club. A lot of Broadmead’s support comes from military groups such as local Legions, naval officers and Ladies’ Auxiliaries, Jascheko said.
“The Lodge at Broadmead is 20 years old and was built before overhead lifts were available. But lifts are now the industry standard for care,” said Broadmead CEO David Cheperdak.
“Our staff has its own motto they came up with – Every Moment Matters – because the average stay here is 18 months and we want to do everything we can for the residents.”
Cheperdak said Hoenson’s donations are a game-changer because of limited funding available from Island Health and partner agencies for capital improvements and equipment.
“We need to keep up with the standard of care offered at modern care homes,” he said.
For more information, call 250-658-3274 or visit broadmeadcare.com.