Opinion

Marblehead Persons of the Year: Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo

Ejik and Rose-Marie van Otterloo
Ejik and Rose-Marie van Otterloo (Courtesy photo)

MARBLEHEAD — The names of Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo should be familiar to Marblehead residents. The town’s YMCA is partially named after them, but their philanthropy extends much further.

The two, who have been named the town’s “Persons of the Year,” are also well-known art collectors, recently donating their entire collection of of 89 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which they gathered over a span of 35 years.

Rose-Marie, 72, said she learned from her parents to be generous and to give back. She said her husband of 43 years, Eijk, 81, came from a large family and learned to be generous in the same way. Now, she said, they’re trying to pass that philosophy on to their children.

The philanthropic pair, along with Peter Lynch, came up with the money (through their own funds and fundraising efforts) to build the Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA, and are also donating funds to help nearby Lynn build their new YMCA, according to Rose-Marie.

Rose-Marie said when the Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA was built about 10 years ago, it was desperately needed. It replaced the downtown YMCA, which didn’t have adequate parking, had an old swimming pool, and could have no more than 3,000 members. Now, she said Y membership is at 15,000 and is a resource for residents in surrounding towns such as Nahant, Salem, and Swampscott.

Their foundation, the Van Otterloo Family Foundation, based in Marblehead, gives mostly to early childhood education and after-school programs in the Marblehead and Naples, Fla., areas — the couple lives in both places, but spends most of the year in Naples, Rose-Marie said.

One of those after-school recipients is Girls Inc., a Lynn-based nonprofit, which Rose-Marie said does a wonderful job of educating children.

“It’s investing your money wisely, putting it where you know it can be used to a huge benefit,” Rose-Marie said.

Rose-Marie is originally from Belgium and her husband was born in Holland. The couple have been avid art collectors, which Rose-Marie said is a way them to remember where they were born.

The van Otterloos and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie donated nearly 113 works of 17th century Dutch and Flemish art, which is known as one of the largest collections of European paintings gifted in museum history.

Rose-Marie said the paintings would complement and complete the museum’s existing collection.

“We wanted them to stay together as a collection,” Rose-Marie said. “We know that it would be well-cared for by the Museum of Fine Arts and that it would make a big difference.”

The van Otterloo couple also provided funding for an established Center for Netherlandish Art at the Museum that will include a collection of more than 20,000 17th century books and manuscripts — Rose-Marie said the couple had previously bought the library from the late art historian Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann.

She said the collection is all related to 17th century Dutch and Flemish art — some of the books are from the 17th century and others are about artists from that time period — and will be used as a research library in the Center at the museum.

Rose-Marie declined to disclose how much their donated paintings or library is worth. The funding also includes the opportunity for an annual intern to study the conservation of 17th century paintings.

Rose-Marie said the couple continues to collect art.

Their past mentors who contributed to their knowledge of 17th century art and helped them build up their collection include Peter Sutton, the former curator of the Museum of Fine Arts, and current director of Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., Simon Levie, who at the time had just retired from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and their current advisor, Frits Duparc, the former director of the Mauritshuis Museum in Holland.

Rose-Marie and Eijk said they hope their recognition as “Persons of the Year” for Marblehead serves as an incentive for others to give back.

“It’s something that my husband and I would rather not see because we don’t feel that we are so deserving of this, because to us, it’s normal that we give back,” Rose-Marie said. “We’ve been so lucky in life that it’s really our duty to give back and make other people’s lives more interesting and easier.”

Matt Demirs contributed to this report.

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