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No matter how you spell it, it’s a family affair

May 08, 2007

For the Van Der Bloemen, er, van der Bloemen, uh, Vanderbloemen family, mother Nellie and son Rob have just one spelling on their mind: g-r-a-d-u-a-t-i-o-n.

The two will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in history from Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences on May 11 at the West campus. Nellie will check to see that her last name is spelled properly: van der Bloemen. Rob, too, will check to see that his last name is spelled correctly: Vanderbloemen.

Huh? Oh, and father Robert, head of the family, spells the clan’s Dutch moniker Van Der Bloemen.

“When Robert turned 50 in 1995, we decided to do something special that would be a little bit of fun,” says Nellie, who serves in ASU’s West campus events office as a set-up technician when she isn’t attending classes. “We were just goofing off I guess, and we had to get our driver’s licenses renewed at the same time. We went down to the DMV and we were like a couple of teenagers.

“Robert split the name into three parts and capitalized the V, D and B. I went with the traditional Dutch spelling with just the capital B.”

What about Rob, who retained the original, one-word, cap V spelling of Vanderbloemen?

“It was the name I had growing up,” said Rob, who will pursue a graduate degree in arts and British history at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England. “It wasn’t a conscious decision; I just left it the way it was and what it had always been.”

So, while the family continues to deal with the mundane challenges of name changes on Social Security cards, bank statements and tax returns, the real focus these days is on Nellie’s and Rob’s upcoming graduation.

Both have earned associate degrees from local community colleges – Nellie from Glendale CC in 1981, Rob (an AAS in culinary arts) from Scottsdale CC in 2005, but it wasn’t until their enrollment at ASU in 2006 that the two actually began attending classes together. They have shared six classes over their four-semester studies at the West campus.

Did they plan to attend together, major together, and graduate together?

“It didn’t work that way at all,” said Nellie, who will continue to attend courses this summer as she eyes a second bachelor’s degree – this one in religion and applied ethics studies, a new degree offered by the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Studies.

“Part of it was Rob telling me I wasn’t getting any younger and that I should get on with my life. He helped me get off the dime and do it.”

The fact that both gravitated to history majors – Nellie minored in religious studies – wasn’t planned, it was meant to be, they said.

“My mom and dad are both history buffs,” said Rob, adding, “It’s been my life, surrounded by history. If you look at our home, it’s like a library of history. This is what interests me, especially military and modern European history.

“I started looking at history program at graduate schools before I received my A.A., but it kept coming back to the fact you have to have a bachelor’s degree first, so here I am.”

Nellie traces her interest in history to her early school days.

“From the time I first started dreaming about college, it was going to be history that I was going to major in,” she confided. “British and European history, cultural and social history. I’ve always been fascinated by people’s interactions, their likes and dislikes, how they raised their kids and how they made their beds, and how they lived their lives.”

As the two make their way to stage where they will receive their degrees – Nellie in front of Rob, as she insists she will graduate first – they have reflected on their two years at ASU and where the journey might end.

“Ever since they broke ground here (at the West campus), I knew this is where I was going to go. It just took 40 years to do it,” noted Nellie, who remembers driving by the construction site while a student at Peoria High School where she graduated in 1969. “I am amazed that I’ve been able to go back to school and that I’ve held my own against kids who could be my children – one of them is – and some who could be my grandchildren.”

For Rob, the journey has just begun.

“This is just a stopping point, and now I’m looking at graduate school and will be leaving for England soon,” he said, noting that he and wife Jaime will leave the Valley on August 31. “Ideally, I’d like to pursue a Ph.D. and write and teach and make miserable money and not have to work in the summer.”

Once you get past the idea of mother and son receiving degrees at the same time, from the same college, and in the same major, it might be easier to envision the two sitting together and sharing notes at the end of the day.

“You know, in the classroom setting we tried to separate ourselves, maybe subconsciously,” Nellie said. “We have different styles. He sits in the front of the room, I sit in the back. I talk constantly, Rob doesn’t say much.”

On May 11, Nellie and Rob will take the walk to receive their diplomas, one after the other. It will mark the end of a two-year experience that will also signal a new beginning for each. No matter how you spell it, their time at ASU has been a family affair of educational proportions.