• A visit to Union 2013. If you grew up in Union, West Virginia and you have not been able to return to Monroe County recently, chances are you will enjoy a little tour of Union and the area.

    View a Picture Tour of Union & Monroe County.


“Memories of an Exchange Student – Class of 1966″ by Hans Bonnet of Holland







Hans Bonnet

Foreign Exchange Student

Class of 1966





It was 1965 when I graduated from school in Holland at the age of 17.  My father decided that I should grow up before going to the University and arranged a contact with Rotary International.  I was accepted as exchange student to the USA for one year.

Before I left I got a good bit of information about my coming stay in West Virginia although I had a hard time finding Union in my school atlas.  In July 1965,  I sailed on a liner together with a group of students.  After a stormy journey of 8 days and a lot of fun on board we reached Montreal. From there we took the train to New York where we were met by Rotary representatives.

The main part of my first week in the States was spent on the grounds of the World’s Fair in New York.   After one week it was time to continue my journey to West Virginia. Transportation was organized.  It was a cattle truck driving south.  Nowadays all dutch kids speak good English but in my time you had to learn good grammar and a lot of words but hardly any English was spoken in school.  So my trip South with two West Virginians speaking slang and chewing tobacco could have been in any country in the world.   I hardly understood anything they were talking about.  All I knew was that they were going to the West Virginia State Fair where I was met by my first host family in Monroe county.  Edwin and Eloise Sibold lived in Pickaway.  Mr. Sibold was both teacher and farmer so early in the morning we – Pat Sibold and me- rode with him to Union High.  Brother Don Sibold had left for the University.

A lot of things were new for me.  I had never seen corn grow, let alone eat corn.  Broccoli did not grow in Europe and meatloaf was not prepared at home.  And even though I came from a rural community in the Netherlands, farms and the way they were run were completely different.

Union High school gave me a warm welcome.  In the gym the principal, Charles Allen, introduced me and told all students that I would be one of them during the year to come.

Next step was to choose classes in which I would learn something. The school I had finished was college level so in regular learning I was ahead of my fellow students.

I chose to learn typing, followed lessons in American History and of course had classes in English. The typing really saved me a lot of time. After returning to Holland I got myself a typewriter and worked out all my university notes on that machine.  English, taught by Florence McClung, was my favorite.  She really was a character but also a great teacher. We got along quite well.  During regular classes I was allowed to use a dictionary (English-Dutch) to make life a bit easier, but one day we had a test and she forbid me to use my dictionary.  I told her I could not do that and she replied: “ Cannot is not in my vocabulary.”  To which I replied with southern drawl: “ What do you say?…. Can’t?”  She burst out laughing together with the class but restored order right away.

It was a time in which chewing tobacco was not allowed but tolerated during classes.   So some of my classmates would get a large Coke from the machine in the hall and after emptying it… used it as a spittoon.

The biggest difference between my former school and Union High was the attention that was paid to other things than just brain work.  We learned debating, had lessons in cooking and above all there were sports.  I was not built to play football so I started to play basketball.   Kyle Baker was the sport coach and he taught me quite a lot in a short time.

I was by that time staying with the Allen family where Mike, David and Kristy were my brothers and sister.

One day I told fellow student  Keith Barton that I had done some boxing in Holland so he challenged me. The fight never took place, because he gave me a friendly tap on the shoulder that caused such a big hematoma that I had to go to the clinic. He was embarrassed but couldn’t help it.

In the meantime I had moved to Second Creek where I lived with the Degges’ family.  Frank Degges was attending Union High.  Betsy Degges and her mother Charlotte Mason Dickson took care of me.  One night I went out with some of my buddies and drank pitchers of beer. On my return I remembered there was a service in church where I was supposed to be.  So my buddies dropped me off in front of the church.   It was freezing but in the church, care was taken of a good temperature. That was too much for me.  I had to leave and waited outside.  After the service was over people came out and one asked if I was homesick.   A quick: “yes” from my side was enough to get massive support.

Later on I moved in with the Shiflets and the Walker family on Willow Bend Road.   William and Harriet Walker, together with son Jimmy made me really enjoy working on the farm.   Daughter Barbara was in college and visited regularly.

I revisited Union several times, the last time with my wife.   Former students of Union High had arranged a reunion and from all over the place people showed up.   I told them what a memorable year I had spent with them and memorized the  influence on the rest of my life.  After the reunion one came up to me and said: “I don’t think you realize how special you were to us.  Almost anything you talked about was different from what we were used to.”  That was when I really realized that exchange broadens the mind of all involved.

It was a memorable year and even though I don’t wear my High School ring, I still have it.









Hans Bonnet – Class of 1966

Exchange Student from Holland