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‘We Feel Like Teenagers’ Friends reunited at Royal Park place after 70 years

Four ladies smiling

In the summer of 1945, World War II was coming to an end. Nonie Sternberg was 14 and looking for a job. Her friend across the street, Goldie Bruischart, told her that down at the Holland Snack Shack where she worked, the dishwasher just got fired. Maybe Nonie should look for a job there?

Nonie was hired right away and walked to work with Goldie after they finished their school days at Holland Public High School and Holland Christian School. “A lot of us worked when we were 14,” Nonie says. “We liked it. It was a chance to earn money doing something besides babysitting.”

Among her co-workers there were Joyce Venhuizen and Connie Michmerhuizen, also students at Holland Christian School and Holland High . At the time, Connie was only 11.

“My dad owned the place,” Connie says, laughing. “I didn’t really have a choice about it.”

While 11 seems young, the work was far from grueling. They took turns washing dishes, taking orders, and working on the assembly line for the burgers.

“We had the grill, and next to that was ‘tops’ where you put on the toppings,” Connie says. “Ketchup, mustard, dill pickle, and onion if they wanted it. That was specified on the order.”

“Those were for the deluxe sandwiches,” Joyce says.

“It was like a production line in a factory,” Goldie says. “Each of us had a job.”

Nonie chimes in. “Later, I worked in a factory, and it wasn’t as efficient as we were at the Snack Shack!”

RPP_Snack_Shack_blog_Portrait_350x350.pngConnie begins listing the menu items. “We sold hamburgs, chicken sandwiches, French fries—”

“Malteds, sundaes, coffee,” Nonie adds

“Cream turkey on buns,” Connie remembers.

“I think it was cream chicken,” Joyce corrects.

“When it’s all creamed, everything probably tastes the same,” Nonie says.

The four ladies laugh about it now, sitting together at Royal Park Place in Zeeland, Michigan, where they all somehow found each other as neighbors 70 years later. Their lives have grown and their last names have since changed, but their memories of working together make them smile.

“It was good for us,” Nonie says. “I think it was a mistake to change the working age to 16. There’s a lot of kids running around doing other things. If you’re responsible, you can work, and get a real start on your life.”

The ladies chat about the end of the workday, when they closed up shop and Connie’s dad Louis “Louie” Michmerhuizen let them eat whatever they wanted before he drove them all home.

“We ate so much, I’m surprised we got a paycheck,” Goldie says.

That paycheck came from making what the ladies remember as between 25 and 35 cents an hour, but tips were rare. In fact, gratuity was so rare that they all remember the family from Chicago that came in and left a one-dollar tip.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Joyce says. “We never got any tips, and they left a whole dollar.  All of us were over the moon.”

Their money all went to different things. Nonie had to pay her stepmother seven dollars a month room and board. Goldie saved for a car. Joyce stuck her money in a piggy bank and used it to buy clothes. “I had two older sisters,” she says. “This was my only chance not to wear hand-me-downs.”

Connie remembers a special purchase she made. “I had a baby brother born when I was working there,” she says. “I thought he was the most darling baby in the whole world. So, I bought him a summer suit and it was perfect.”

Outside of work, the girls loved spending time together, including camping trips to the beach (“My parents didn’t let me go because I was so young, so they all had fun without me,” Connie says. “But we were all good girls,” Goldie insists.). Nonie stood up in Goldie’s wedding, but eventually they all went their separate ways, staying in touch as best as they could, but starting families of their own.

Eventually, Louie sold the Snack Shack, and that Holland institution became another memory that would soon be replaced by a handful of chain restaurants. But Connie never forgot the blessing of working for her family, and with her friends. “To be able to have a job besides babysitting, a real job where I could make my own money, that was important to me,” Connie says. “It’s hard to explain, but it was more than just a job, and I never had another one like it.”

Many years later, these same four ladies seem to be right back in the 1940s as they remember these great days spent together. Nonie (Sternberg) Rietman, Connie (Michmerhuizen) Petroelje, Goldie (Bruischart) Driesenga, and Joyce (Venhuizen) Deters all married and brought up their own children, instilling in them the work ethic that they learned so young at the Snack Shack.

While none of the four women stayed close friends with each other through their adult years, when they sit together here, laughing and poking fun and sharing memories, it’s easy to see them as they must have been in the 1940s.

They talk about some of their strongest memories.

“To me, it was so wonderful just to get out of the house.” Nonie says. “Socially and mentally, I just grew up at the Snack Shack.”

“I liked working the grill,” Goldie says. “Even after, when I worked at other restaurants, I always preferred cooking to waitressing.”

“I remember mostly taking the orders and bringing the trays,” Joyce says. “I enjoyed that, just meeting people.”

“I was too frightened to take orders,” Connie says.

“What a chicken you were!” Nonie teases.

They continue to share memories, with much laughter, and the strongest memory is their appreciation for Connie’s father Louie, who was so kind to them.

“He was such a generous person,” Nonie says.

“My mother was so glad that your dad took us girls home after work,” Goldie says. “I’d get home and my mom would say, ‘Oh good—you’re safe. Now I can go to bed.’”

“Your dad was so wonderful,” Joyce tells Connie. “I’ll never forget him.”

While all four have different interests and personalities, getting together from time to time at Royal Park Place takes them right back to their Snack Shack days.

“It’s kind of unbelievable that we’re all together here, all these years later,” Nonie says.

“When we’re together, we always have fun,” Joyce says.
“We feel like teenagers again.”





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