The first time I heard Art VandenBerg's name was during a morning worship service at Blythefield Hills Baptist Church. Pastor Louie Konopka prayed for God's grace in the VandenBerg family's life because Art had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I heard that prayer many times over the subsequent months and sympathized with this family that I had never met.
Although I didn't know Art or his family, my 14-year-old daughter, Jennie, was good friends with Art's son Adam. My wife and I encouraged Jennie to stay close to her friend during this difficult time.
One afternoon, Jennie was visiting Adam at his house and called me to come and pick her up. Art was in the driveway work-ing on the family car when I pulled up. We finally met and had an opportunity to talk. As I remember, we stood in Art's drive-way for half an hour or more and immediately began what has become a very close friendship. We were amazed at how much we had in common and disappointed that we hadn't met years before.
I grew up in west Michigan only a few miles away from Art. Our families attended churches that were blocks apart. I'm 50 years old and Art is 48. We attended rival schools but had mutual friends. We are both lifelong car guys. I had a sleek and nimble '64 Triumph Spitfire in high school, while Art went through high school with a love for those noisy American musclecars.
I never lost my interest in British sports cars and began a collection 10 years ago with the purchase of a '78 MGB. I completed a nuts-and-bolts restoration of that car and have driven it every summer since. I continued the hobby with the purchase of a '58 MGA, a '67 MGB-GT, a '70 Jaguar XKE, and a '57 Jaguar XK140 roadster. I quit when the barn was filled. As they say, nature abhors an empty garage.
My new friend Art, on the other hand, has owned numerous musclecars through the years-the most recent of which is a '65 Mustang hardtop. One of the greatest things that can ever happen to a car guy is to find a wife who appreciates his hobby. Art's wonderful wife, Cindy, actually discovered their Mustang two blocks from their home in 1992. She suggested to Art that they buy it and he, of course, agreed. That same day they began a three-year restoration of the VandenBerg Pony.
Art and Cindy VandenBerg have a wonderful family and everyone joined in on the restoration. Their sons learned mechanical skills from their dad and experienced the pride that can only come from the restoration of a classic automobile. The VandenBergs joined the West Michigan Mustang Club and, for three summers, enjoyed club activities, cruise nights, and car shows in their 'Stang. Unfortunately, the financial realities of Art's health care forced the sale of the prized Mustang and marked the end of Art's enjoyment of the hobby.
My wife, Kathie, and I visited the VandenBergs last August in our '57 Jaguar XK140 roadster-which, by the way, was found by Kathie. As Art and I discussed important car stuff, Kathie watched and listened. As Art and Cindy drove off for a ride around the block in the Jaguar, Kathie noticed the smiles on their faces and the twinkle in Art's eye. As Kathie and I drove home, she told me about her perception of the pain in Art's life over the loss of his Mustang and asked if we could somehow help them get a new car for Art to use while he is able. We had recently sold our XKE, and decided to reinvest in a Mustang for Art's exclusive use.
Although I know a great deal about cars, I knew absolutely nothing about Mustangs. I went to a local cruise night and discussed our plan with a few Mustang club members. I was amazed at their response. I found that Art VandenBerg was highly regarded by everyone, and they would do anything for him. They gave me advice and supported my quest for a car in numerous ways. One man offered to let me-a total stranger-borrow his brand-new 31/44-ton truck and enclosed car hauler to pick up whatever car I found. This was my first encounter with the local Mustang club family. They are great people.