ATLAS mechanics inspect car

Klaas Van Beek and Denny De Zeeuw inspect a muffler on a vehicle donated to the Car Ministry of ATLAS.

SIOUX CENTER—Klaas Van Beek and Denny De Zeeuw have been key members of the Car Ministry of ATLAS since it started in 2012. Even though they retired from it in July, the car ministry will continue to provide vehicles to qualifying people in need, according to ATLAS of Sioux Center director Amy Keahi.

Even before the car ministry was formed, ATLAS would receive donated cars every now and then. When that would happen, the vehicle would sit behind the organization’s building and wait until the right person in need came along who they could work with and give it to.

The problem was that by the time that person came along, the car’s battery would be dead or some other problems would be discovered.

“It was an imperfect system,” Keahi said.

She was approached by Arnie Ver Hoef and Marion Mouw, former owners of Ver Hoef Automotive and Mouw Motors, respectively.

“They came to me and asked, ‘What if we started a car ministry?’” Keahi recalled.

She was for it, and in 2012, the Car Ministry of ATLAS began.

“Since then, we’ve received over 200 cars, which is a stunning number,” Keahi said. “I assumed we’d maybe get one or two a year and then we’d try to find the best people to give them to. Marion and Arnie were very visionary and probably saw it for what it’d be.”

Two mechanics — De Zeeuw, 74, and Van Beek, 76 — joined the ministry, voluntarily repairing the cars to get them roadworthy.

Thanks to their hard work, Keahi said ATLAS has been able to give away 116 vehicles.

“These mechanics have been so wonderful and so helpful and such a blessing to us,” Keahi said. “They’ve both ministered to people in such a powerful way, even behind the scenes. They don’t get to meet the people or see the people, they don’t get much credit for what they do. But they’ve done an amazing job of blessing people through the gifts that God has given them. I appreciate them.”

Most of those seeking an ATLAS car are single mothers, according to Keahi. The car typically gives them a means of making it to work independently, without needing the help of others. It can also help these people keep up with their children’s schedules, bringing them to appointments or activities.

“We’ve seen people who’ve been able to really further their careers and their lives because they have the freedom of having their own vehicle,” Keahi said. “Many of the recipients, this is the first car they’ve ever had. They’ve never had a vehicle before.”

There are requirements that go along with the program.

The recipient must prove they can afford the vehicle. They do this by meeting with someone from the Center for Financial Education, complete with paperwork showing that they can afford all the expenses, such as the title and insurance.

They must also have a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance.

ATLAS keeps a one-year lien on the vehicle after it’s been given, and check-ins continue in the ensuing year. When the year has passed, the recipient is given the title to the car.

“We make it clear that these aren’t perfect vehicles. They’re not going to run forever,” Keahi said. “It’s a starter car for a lot of people. They should be saving money for their next vehicle because this is not a permanent solution for them.”

De Zeeuw and Van Beek retired from the program July 8.

Keahi said the car ministry will continue, noting that Mike Hoekstra, a former mechanic at Mouw Motor, has joined the car ministry. ATLAS is still in search of one or two more volunteer mechanics.

De Zeeuw and Van Beek were lifelong mechanics. De Zeeuw had worked 47 years at Ver Hoef Automotive; Van Beek worked 41 years at Mouw Motors.

It was a bit of a change working on cars, Van Beek said, having spent his career working on trucks at Mouw Motors, “but it worked out.”

“Experience was not an issue,” De Zeeuw added.

They worked two mornings a week in spare space in a machine shed shop Mark Rensink of Sioux Center made available for the ministry.

Van Beek said they’ve enjoyed the work and the chance to help out people in need, but the work was getting a bit much for them at their age.

And there has been plenty of work through the years.

“There were times when we first started we had 10, 12 cars standing there that we had to check out,” Van Beek said. “Sometimes they needed some work, and sometimes, they’d go to Post (Metal Recycling) because they were just junk.”

With enough time and money, anything can be fixed, De Zeeuw said, but the trick is figuring out how much time and money is really worth the trouble.

Rust was a common foe of donated cars, and it rendered a few of them scrap.

“Sometimes they have over 200,000 miles on them,” Van Beek said. “We always look them over first and try to find out what it’ll cost to repair it and get it road worthy. If the body was bad and we’d have to spend $600, it goes to Post. That’s all there is to it.”

But every once in a while, there would be a few really nice cars that came their way, De Zeeuw said.

“It runs the full gamut,” he said. “Some cars that came in, I couldn’t believe how good they were, where I’d have taken it to California.”

Van Beek still recalls fondly one such vehicle: a Chrysler mini van that had been donated by a school. When it was donated, it hadn’t run for two years. Mice had chewed up the wiring under the hood and the transmission was busted, but the tires were new and everything else was in good shape.

“We hauled it into the shop and looked it over. I says, Denny, just for kicks and giggles, let’s get that motor running,” Van Beek said. “We spent maybe three, four hours splicing wires. That thing purred like a kitten!”

De Zeeuw and Van Beek were thankful for the help they received from area businesses, especially for help with discounts on parts and help coming up with manuals.

The first step was to analyze the car. When analyzing the car, they went over a check list of things to look for: brakes, lights, exhaust, etc.

Brakes were one of the most common repairs they had to make on cars they worked on. Tires, too, were frequently in need of attention.

“The ones we junked, if the tires were nice, we’d take those off and save them at Mark’s, in the shade and out of the weather,” De Zeeuw said.

Having spent about seven years helping ATLAS with cars has been a rewarding and fun experience, they agreed.

“I think it was a good decision,” De Zeeuw said. “I enjoyed it over the years. Klaas and I had a good time. We were all over the countryside, laughing, going here and there. We got along well.”

They won’t have a problem remaining busy. De Zeeuw said he’ll continue to work part time, delivering parts for Arnold Motor Supply and Van Beek will continue to work as a bus driver for the Sioux Center Community School District.