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More than a welcoming committee

Marie Havenga • Jul 23, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Case and Maria Vink live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but their hearts reside in Grand Haven.

For the second time, the Canadian natives are serving as campground hosts at Grand Haven State Park, staying a month at a stretch, helping fellow campers with everything from fix-it projects to tourist advice.

And although Canada is home, they were the ringleaders of the recent Fourth of July parade through the campground, celebrating everything red, white and blue.

Their campground site decorations show their affinity for both countries, sporting Canadian and American wind socks, and U.S. and Canadian puffy fleece hats.

Originally from Ontario, Case attended the Calvin College Seminary in Grand Rapids several decades ago.

“As poor college students, we could come here,” Case said, sitting outside the couple's 23-foot Spree travel trailer at site 45. “There was a free beach. That's all we could afford.”

But this stretch of white singing sand beach did more than save them money as college kids. It quietly laid a path for their future travel plans and built a symbolic sand castle in their retirement vision.

Later in life, serving as a chaplain, Case participated in a Grand Rapids-area conference every June. The couple would rent a vacation home in Grand Haven.

“We've been a lot of places, but we love this place,” Maria said.

Case agrees.

“There's something about everything being all together in this town — the boardwalk, the shops and everything,” he said.

In June 2015, the couple applied to be campground hosts at Grand Haven State Park. Hosts stay for a month to assist campers, help keep the campground clean, sell firewood, update the bulletin board, host weekend coffee gatherings and more.

After undergoing background checks, the couple learned in January 2016 that they had been selected.

“We weren't just looking for a place to stay, but look to make friends and make memories,” Case said. “We weren't looking to travel all the time.”

Maria said the park feels like a second home.

“We wanted to give back to the park because we used to spend so much time there as students,” she said.

The Vinks came up with the idea of a Fourth of July campground parade. About 50 people participated with decked-out bikes and scooters this year.

“Here we are Canadians doing the Fourth of July parade,” said Maria, laughing. “It was a lot of fun. We're very border-friendly. Everyone was very congenial.”

As Case described the duties of a campground host, he noticed a remnant of trash — a doggie poop-scoop bag — left behind by campers at the next site. Without pause, he walked over, picked it up and disposed of it.

It's all part of the job — noticing small details and taking care of them.

“We're not just a welcoming committee,” Case said. “We're trying to create a wonderful atmosphere for campers. If they have questions, they can come and ask us. Our No. 1 job is to help people feel comfortable.”

The Vinks even accompanied a pet owner to a veterinary hospital in Grand Rapids.

“We helped a lady who was locked out of her trailer,” Maria said. “We helped a young couple who had no idea how to put up their tent.”

Case said they enjoy helping, no matter what the need.

“Little things make a difference to make people less anxious,” he said.

And when it comes to feeling less anxious, and relaxing, the Vinks provide a library on their picnic table, with everything from children’s to adult books, fiction and nonfiction.

When the couple isn't helping fellow campers, they enjoy sitting in beach chairs, reading.

Case's title this week includes a quote that sparks true in their lives: “Is the life you are living worth what you are giving to have it?” It's a great question to ponder, he says, and one that he knows the answer.

“What's better than to be in one of your favorite places and help people,” he said of the hosting experience. “We're volunteers. We don't have to be in a dingy basement to volunteer. We can volunteer here. We love hearing people's stories and interacting with them, and camping on the beach.”

Case said he and Maria feel blessed to spend time in this area, and point campers to all there is to do here — the splash pad, Worship on the Waterfront, the Musical Fountain and more.

The Vinks feel it is part of their mission to bring the campground and community together.

“We're really blessed to have this whole Lakeshore,” Case said. “It's so important to get people connected. We believe a campground can support a community and a community can support a campground.”

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