The Heart of the Valley

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!

IMG_8131 2
John’s Oye! Oye! to open Vince’s investiture remains on of my favorite moments of that ceremony. He is a dependable officer of the court and valued friend.
2013-07-19 17.02.16
John is the only person in this picture not to have attended Marquette University, but he fit right in anyway. We have included him in several of our Marquette reunions, and we consider him an honorary alumnus. Ring out Ahoya for our favorite boy-a!
John owns the links, when he’s able to play.
2013-09-05 08.30.55
John is a proud member of the Friday morning Queen Bee breakfast crew.
More than anything, though, John is a family man, proud husband of Kathy, father to Matt and Luke, and grandfather to Vivian and Winston, pictured here on the occasion of Winston’s first birthday.



3 thoughts on “The Heart of the Valley

  1. I went to HS with John (XHS ‘73), whom we called Oskey. Even his mom called him that! He is one of the most gentle men I’ve ever met, and loads of fun, ta boot! His nickname came from the movie The Summer of ‘42 – he looked like the character Oskey (Oscar – I’m not sure of the spelling) I still can only think of him as Oskey. Ann (Dungar)


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.