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SOUTH BEND – Loving mother, grandmother, wife and teacher Anna Maria Dits, 97, entered Heaven’s tulip fields as family prayed beside her at home on April 29, 2023.
Anna Maria van der Pol was born with a generous, funny and child-loving heart March 11, 1926, in Amsterdam. She grew up in the village of Overveen near Haarlem in the Netherlands.
Anna was the oldest daughter out of 11 children who watched the Nazi occupation of their homeland through World War II. She’d sneak into the butcher shop to listen to the underground radio. But she and her sisters also biked to the beach and swam in the North Sea.
Anna earned a teaching degree there and taught primary grades, including impoverished children in Amsterdam slums. She was an adult leader of a scout program for Dutch boys and girls, too.
She met her future husband, Paul B. Dits, in 1946 in the Netherlands, where they courted. Wanderlust led him to the United States in 1947 as he explored the priesthood for eight months, then wrote and invited Anna to come join him.
So, as she turned 24 in March 1950, she boldly boarded the SS Veendam and sailed 13 days to meet Paul in New York. Wearing a wedding dress she’d made, Anna married him two months later on May 6, 1950, in St. Columbanus Church in Chicago. After brief stops in Kalamazoo and Holland, Mich., and Logansport, Ind, they settled in South Bend.
Anna and Paul raised seven children on a budget as she helped in their big garden, canned vegetables, made her own yogurt and baked their whole wheat bread. She played her own piano. She passionately sewed, crocheted and knitted at every chance, making beautiful sweaters for all of her kids, plus blankets and many other things, including her own dresses. With a keen eye for art and style, she took pride in dressing smartly, especially for church.
She loved watching sports with her children, particularly Notre Dame, where some of them attended and graduated.
Taking a few classes, she earned an early childhood endorsement at IU South Bend in 1973. With that, she started the kindergarten program from scratch at St. Bavo Catholic School in Mishawaka, where she taught kids to love learning (and Dutch customs, knitting and so many things) for 14 years until 1987. (She’d also taught at a St. Bavo School back home in Haarlem in 1948-’50.)
After she retired, she volunteered for 20 years as a docent at the South Bend Museum of Art and at the University of Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art, where she gave tours to school children.
At St. Bavo, she remained an active parishioner thanks to a deep Catholic faith instilled by her parents. She brought Holy Communion to the homes of the sick and aged, helped with the prayer line and sang with beloved friends in the church choir.
Anna swam more than 4,300 miles in the YMCA pool in South Bend from the early 1980s through 2017, all while socializing between laps with buddies, a local boxer and a future mayor.
She competed in swimming in the Frosty Frolic and the Senior Games at the local Y in the 1980s and 1990s. She twice earned two silver medals at the U.S. National Senior Olympics, first in St. Louis in 1989 and then in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1991.
In 1994, she helped to carry a relay torch to mark the inaugural year of the Indiana State Senior Games, held in Evansville, where she earned several medals.
She swam until she was 92.
Over the years, she and Paul shared their love of creation as they took the family on camping trips to Canada and out West. In retirement, Anna and Paul sought Dutch family, pilgrimages and bears on trips to the Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Mexico, Alaska and other ends of the U.S.
Anna’s groom for 67 years, Paul, passed in 2018.
Caregivers showed her love at Wedgewood Pines these last five years, and our special thanks go to owners Edi and Rhondy. Anna responded with affection and hearty laughs, while also extending a sweet, caring touch of her hand to fellow residents.
Anna was also preceded in death by her parents, Johannes and Catharina van der Pol, and by her brothers Jan, Jaap and Adrianus (Ad) van der Pol and by her sisters Francesca (Fransje) Schulz-van der Pol, Agatha (Aat) Smit-van der Pol, Everdina (Dien) Vorstenbos-van der Pol and Catherina (To) Tromp-van der Pol. Her surviving sisters are Johanna (Joke or Jopie) van Beek-van der Pol, Tineke Csonka-van der Pol and Maria van der Pol.
Also surviving are her children: John Dits of Elko, Nev., and Phoenix, Ariz.; Paul (Marcia) Dits of Indianapolis; Mary Ann (Dan) Rodts of Niles; Tom (Elena) Dits of Granger; Peter (Stephanie) Dits of Colleyville, Texas; David Dits of Mishawaka; and Joseph Dits of South Bend.
As an Oma, she leaves 14 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren: Amy Owens (with sons, Caden and Darion); Theresa Groth (with daughter, Tienica and son, Tragen); Brian Leddy; Sean Leddy (with sons, Cameron and Tyler and Jackson and daughter, McKenzie); Madie (with daughter Adeline Anna), Danny (with sons, Bodie and Crew) and Sammy Rodts; Andrew, Christine and Mike Dits; Beth Falls (with sons, Rory, Brady and Mickey); Jillian and Avery Dits; and Tyler Dits.
Visitation will begin at 10:30 a.m. Friday, May 12 at Little Flower Catholic Church, 54191 N. Ironwood Road, South Bend, followed by the funeral Mass at noon. A private burial will be at Queen of Peace Cemetery at Saint Mary's College.
Memorial donations may be made to Mishawaka Catholic School (note Anna Maria Dits so donations go to St. Bavo Campus), 223 W. Grove St., Mishawaka, IN 46545; or to the South Bend Museum of Art, 120 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., South Bend, IN 46601; or to the YMCA of Greater Michiana, 905 N. Front St., Niles, MI 49120.
Please share stories of Anna or condolences at www.hahnfuneralhomes.com.