BRADENTON -- Dan van der Kooy was trying to make it to Christmas.
Mr. van der Kooy, a 62-year-old father of four and former principal and superintendent of Bradenton Christian School, was just five days away.
He died Saturday, 1 1/2 years after being diagnosed with brain cancer. But taking into consideration what their husband and father would want, Christmas will go on in the
van der Kooy household.
"He would not want Christmas to stop," Judi van der Kooy, his wife of 41 years, said from inside their home Tuesday.
The family lives within walking distance of the school, where Mr. van der Kooy was a well-loved educator. Mr. van der Kooy left the school after his diagnosis in June 2013. And while many knew him as a principal or a superintendent, to his family -- his wife, four sons and eight grandchildren -- he was much more.
"There's just not enough words to describe him," Judi said. "Dan van der Kooy. That's his description."
He was the man who genuinely cared about others, encouraging others to make "wise choices" and "lead by example." He wanted to travel the world in his renovated van and photograph it all with his family. He took pride in his home, his appearance and his belongings, always blowing the leaves and keeping his appearance tidy.
He loved to make wooden coffee tables and watched The Weather Channel constantly, never missing a moment to call a far-away family member and brag about the beautiful weather in Bradenton. He loved sports, fishing, camping and pulling pranks -- he'd join students after they toilet-papered his house, hopping in his silver pickup truck to head to the next home with them. He lived out the word of God, without making others feel uncomfortable. Mr. van der Kooy taught his sons how to be fathers of their own.
"I'm a good dad because of the dad he was," said his 36-year-old son Scott. "He wasn't trying to teach us how to be a good dad. He was just being a good dad."
For Mr. van der Kooy, who was constantly talking and communicating, brain cancer was the worst type for him to get, his family said Tuesday. The cancer took away his ability to speak. Even so, he was aware of what was going on around him, including when the football field at Bradenton Christian School was dedicated to him in October. His eldest son, 38-year-old Dan, remembers someone from the crowd yelled out during the ceremony to give the microphone over to his father so he could speak.
"It was so tough for someone like him, who used his words so often," Dan said.
The cancer allowed Mr. van der Kooy to take time and quietly reflect back upon 62 years of life. From being born in Colorado, to living in Michigan, California, Iowa and then spending the past 23 years in Bradenton -- the van der Kooys loved to travel. Just prior to his diagnosis, Mr. van der Kooy and his wife were planning an extended trip. They had just bought a new camper for the occasion. But then the diagnosis came and it forced him to slow down.
"I don't think his mind ever sat still," Judi said.
A constant phrase for Mr. van der Kooy, whether talking to students or his children, was "make wise choices." He believed one wrong choice could have an effect not only on one person's life, but on the people's lives around them. When his sons were getting ready to go out, it was his constant reminder.
"There was no more that he needed to say," said his 35-year-old son, Kevin. "It covered everything."
And he led his life by that example, Judi said. Her husband believed there was always a right choice to make, and he was always searching for that choice.
"He worked at being wise, but he was naturally wise, too," she said.
Mr. van der Kooy also made sure to help others find the right choices for themselves, without being pushy or overbearing. He lived his faith fully, without forcing it on others, and that affected tens of thousands of students, the family said. The outpouring of support and recognition has been overwhelming since Mr. van der Kooy was first diagnosed.
"That's one of the greatest things to hear: 'Thank you for sharing your dad,'" said 33-year-old Ryan, the youngest son.
A memorial service will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 2, at Bradenton Christian School in the Wichers Auditorium, followed by an outdoor reception on the Dan van der Kooy Field at BCS. Dress is casual. In lieu of flowers and to honor Mr. van der Kooy's passion for Christ-centered education, contributions may be sent to Bradenton Christian School, 3304 43rd St. W., Bradenton 34209, bcspanthers.org, for the Dan van der Kooy Fund to assist families with tuition; or to Babes Against Brain Cancer, 8499 S Tamiami Trail No. 231, Sarasota 34238, babesagainstbraincancer.org, to help with the fight against brain cancer.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.