Faces of Pittsburgh

Rags to Riches: A Coming to America Story

By BRITTANY FORTUNA
bmfst8@mail.rmu.edu

Moving from the groovy ‘70s and into the punk rock, valley girl ‘80s, 1979 gave great promise to the nation. The first Sony Walkman was introduced, Rocky was only up to the second filming, and Jimmy Carter was the reigning President.

But for one man in particular, 1979 brought a vast change to his life, a change he thought he would never forget.

Jos Kleynjans moved from Holland to America when his job gave him the opportunity to develop overseas. Because expansion was a must, Jos was sent to America to help kick start the company that would eventually help carve his way into the new world.

When he first arrived in the United States, he and his wife, Annie, were promised a one-year stay, just enough time to start up the newly-found Dutch-American company.

However, because he was the only one that knew exactly how to run the company with the right set of required skills, Jos and Annie found themselves living in America longer than they had anticipated.

After the second year, Jos knew his company was going to ask him to stay another year. After being in America for two years, both Jos and his wife agreed to the opportunity.

“At the end of the third year, my wife and I really found ourselves becoming Americanized. We started really loving and living the American lifestyle.” Jos recalled.

They soon realized, after their frequent visits back to Holland, that they would rather stay in the new land they called home. So the Kleynjans family moved permanently to the United States.

After eight years with his employer, Jos quit and moved on to bigger and better things. His background in engineering intertwined with his experience, leading Jos and Annie to building their own company.

Starting at the bottom and working their way up, the Kleynjans found themselves starting from scratch and eventually striking it rich.

“The company began in 1988 and manufactured energy controlled doors for coolers, freezers, industrial facilities, and loading docks, etc.” Jos remembered. “Over time, we expanded to worldwide distribution and produced clear flexible plastic materials.”

The Kleynjans were living the American dream. They built a company from an idea and determination.

However, Jos and Annie had to sacrifice family time for success. The majority of their family lived back home in Holland, and because they no longer had the luxury of seeing each other whenever they wanted, it put a strain on the relationships.

Travel was a major part of the business, and Jos mentioned that because he had to travel at least four times a year for board meetings, allowing him to see his family. Jos would also reserve two times a year for just traveling there and seeing their family.

While he is no longer at the company that sent him oversees so many times a year, Jos and his family still travel back to Holland frequently enough that his three children know their grandparents and other family members.

According to their daughter and middle child, Vivian Kleynjans, Jos and Annie actually met in Holland and were married in their mother land instead of in America. They were surrounded by their family, friends and all the support they could ever have.

They started off their American dream together and finished together. The Kleynjans ended up selling the factory in 2006 to live peacefully with their family of five, including three almost full-grown children. They ended up building a beautiful house from their dreams and still continually donate money to charity.

A very important charity to the Kleynjans family that benefits from their donations is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Reaching out further, the Kleynjans also involved themselves in educational programs, such as Officer Phil, and local fire and police departments programs. The family also helped sponsor local sports teams around the neighborhood to provide them with new uniforms and equipment.

According to Rachel Smith, who is a family friend, the Kleynjans are some of the “most down-to-earth and kindest people around. They don’t care who you are, they will give you the shirt off their back in any time of need.”

She recalled the multiple times that Vivian and she played softball together. The Kleynjans would sponsor their teams for years just so that the girls in the surrounding neighborhoods could play.

“Before Vivian and her parents became active in softball, we would have to use smelly, old, beat up shirts that had been around for at least ten years,” Smith said, “There were holes in the shirts and the pants had stains on them that couldn’t be scrubbed out.”

While Smith mentioned that it was some of the most fun she’s ever had in her life, she went on to say that the equipment was even starting to deteriorate. Moths had eaten the helmet padding causing them to become flimsy on the head.

Because of the generosity of the family, fortunate girls were able to play their way into fun filled seasons with their own shirts and pants that they could keep at the end. And above all else, they were provided with safe equipment.

While the Kleynjans came to an unknown place with very little, they paved a way for themselves, which is very inspiring to others who are striving to gain their footing in America.