The casket of Ralph Berkel is taken into Salem Cemetery.
Mourners walk to Salem Cemetery.
ST. EUSTATIUS--Ralph Berkel, fondly known as “Meneer Ralph” was laid to rest on Saturday afternoon in Salem Cemetery on St. Eustatius.
Hundreds of mourners attended his funeral, including relatives and friends from St. Maarten, Saba, Aruba, the United States (US), Sweden, and the Netherlands.
Chris Johnson, Dutch Representative for the Windward Islands, also paid his respects to Berkel. Also attending were officials from St. Maarten, including Member of Parliament and family friend Claret Connor, Ministers Silveria Jacobs and Raphael Boasman.
Statia Island Council members Clyde van Putten, Koos Sneek, and Recheline Leerdam, and Commissioner Charles Woodley were also in attendance along with veteran Saba politician Will Johnson with whom Berkel founded the Windward Island People’s Movement (WIPM).
Commissioner Ernie Simmons of the Democratic Party of St. Eustatius reflected on a humorous incident that took place on a trip he, Berkel and Acting island Governor Julian Woodley took to Curaçao. Woodley said he and Berkel developed a close friendship when they were neighbours for a multitude of years and even when Berkel moved.
He discussed Berkel’s long and illustrious career in politics and education. Berkel, Woodley said, believed in Statia and the progress of the people. Berkel would often call himself a “Statiacrat,” instead of a democrat.
Berkel had 39 plus years in education and he left a lasting impact on education on the island, Woodley said. Berkel had many obligations which he juggled, many on the island did not know how he did it, being that he was raising a family, managing the Governor De Graaff School as well as teaching in a classroom and attending Island Council meetings.
“[He displayed – Ed.] his commitment to Statia and its people and did whatever he could with the means available to serve his people in both education and politics. Anyone knew Meneer knew he loved Statia and his people and his devotion and love for its people was known throughout the Caribbean and Kingdom,” Woodley said.
The son of Berkel, Robert “Robby” Berkel, said his father originally travelled to the Netherlands to study chemical engineering, but changed to education.
In 1962 he married Elizabeth Berkel-de Lau. Berkel had a profound interest in local affairs, which lead him into education and politics.
Berkel become Principal of the Governor De Graaff School. He was a motivator and enforcer of discipline for over 39 years.
He was active in the Lions Club and the Historical Foundation and helped in reading legal documents and translating documents.
Carmen Berkel, daughter of the deceased, thanked everyone for the outpouring of love received by her family during “these rollercoaster days.” She added, “I’m very proud to be a Statian and never more than since the passing of my father. It has made me more proud to be called a Statian with the show of love and support from the community. To her dad she said, she will miss him and hopes he rests in peace.”