Around here, we refer to the Heart of the Valley as the cities of Kimberly, Kaukauna, Combined Locks and Little Chute. But, we know the real Heart of the Valley belongs to the Honorable John Van Drunen.
Along with thousands of people all over the Valley, we are lucky to call the Honorable John Van Drunen friend.
The perks of that friendship include belly laughs, back slaps, and ready access to a gifted, look-you-in-the-eye story teller.
A 6-foot-4 imp, John lives with contagious joy. I met him several years ago when our son Vinnie played his first high school football season and encountered an especially talkative game official.
“I hope you play like the Kostelnik side of the family,” the ref said to him as the defense lined up at Kaukauna.
“Mom, the ref was talking to me,” Vinnie said after the game, clearly unsettled by the banter.
“That’s John Van Drunen,” Vinnie’s dad said, laughing. “He’s an investigator for the Kaukauna Police Department. He’s just having a little fun with you.”
A John-of-many-trades, Van Drunen recently retired as a Kaukauna Police Lieutenant, and then, for fun, went to work as an Outagamie County Bailiff and a Kobussen bus driver, where he served as team cheerleader and good luck charm. He drove eight Kaukauna teams to state titles, and several others to state runner-up trophies.
Last year, he also was elected municipal judge for the city of Kaukauna.
He enjoyed this super active lifestyle, which included as many rounds of golf as his schedule allowed, and would have continued juggling all those balls indefinitely.
Unfortunately, health troubles forced an early retirement from a few of John’s favorite activities, including bus driving. John’s big heart slipped into arrhythmia and it struck me as particularly cruel that the man’s best feature is the one that slowed him down.
Still, when you share your heart with a community, like John has always done, that community is inclined to love you back.
A viral video showed up on my newsfeed yesterday and provided an excellent example of both the quality of John’s community and his lasting effect on it.
The Kaukauna High School boys volleyball team went all the way to the finals of the WIAA tournament this past weekend. The team invited John to its state send-off pep rally, and honored their favorite bus driver there.
Even better, players, coaches, and fans followed the team bus home from the tournament and straight to Van Drunen’s house, where they showed him their trophy. Each player gave him a hug.
Last time I looked, that video had been shared 75 times and viewed more than 10,000 times.
We don’t have a trophy to share, but we’d like to add our own best wishes to our dear friend John.
Thanks for the friendship and get well soon!