Whether you knew her as Yoka, Mom, Oma, your aerobics, adaptive PE or police cadet instructor, your massage therapist, the donut lady, the marathon runner or the world record weightlifter… You were blessed to know her!
Aleida (Yoka) Zwetsloot-Vat was born in 1939 in the city of Hilversum, the Netherlands. It was there in 1956 that she met the love of her life at a ballroom dance class. Their meeting and marrying was an old fashioned love story: she was only 17 and had only two dates before Hank and his family left two months later for a new life in the USA. Undaunted, Hank and Yoka wrote, “love letters” to each other for four years. In 1959 Hank made the long trip to Holland to propose and in 1960 Yoka said goodbye to her family and came to the US to marry her man. In 1961 they were the first couple to be married at the newly built Saint Apollinaris church in Napa. In the next six years they were blessed with five children (their first child, died at six weeks old of a heart defect) As the Zwetsloot household grew it was marked by love, music and good food. Her lifestyle of caring and sharing made her an amazing wife and mother. She was always available to help at school, church functions or wherever she was needed. Music was one way; blessed with a voice like “Snow White” she would sing with her family at church, rest homes and other venues to encourage and uplift others.
Yoka always enjoyed physical education, but didn’t get serious about it until she was in her 30s... a comment by Hank that she was, “getting broad in the beam” caused her to change a few of her habits. She quit smoking and traded in her cigarettes for running shoes. She enjoyed running so much that she joined the cross country team at Napa Valley College and went on to run six marathons. In 1985 Yoka earned her physical education degree at Sonoma State and began teaching Aerobics, adaptive P.E. and the police cadets at NVC. She began each day working out either at the college or at a local gym and continued this habit until she was almost 80. At the encouragement of a weightlifting coach she entered a bench press competition when she was 68 and won the world record for her category.
Another endeavor was to become a massage therapist and for 30 years she used her “magic hands” to heal people.
Yoka always believed in God, but in her 50’s she went from just knowing about God, to “knowing God” and began attending First Christian Church. She became a mentor for other women and also began selling donuts every Sunday as a fundraiser; which earned her the title “the donut lady”. She was an active volunteer at the food bank and also served with, “Adopt a block” to distribute that food to neighbors in Napa.
Somehow she still always had time to make her amazing Dutch soup and bread (broodjes), pizza and cookies; not just for her family, but for neighbors, coworkers and friends. On rainy days her kids could count on Pea Soup and Broodjes when they got home from school. Friday night was, “pizza night” and countless family and friends enjoyed Yoka’s incredible baking skills! Even her mother-in-law raved about her chocolate chip cookies, they were, “a meal in themselves” she said!
From early on, in true Dutch fashion, Hank and Yoka rode their bikes most everywhere; in the early days often with two kids each on their bikes doing errands around town. Over time their rides became more extensive and in 1996 included a 3500 mile cross country ride from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
As grandchildren came along, she became an equally amazing Oma. She attended many of their births, babysat, took time to attend recitals & school functions, but most important taught them how to be loving and kind...and to make Broodjes!
In 2014 everything changed, Yoka began showing signs of FTD (frontotemporal disease). This cruel brain disease stole her voice, personality, ability to eat and her body. However she continued working at the college, doing massages and volunteering until she was no longer physically able. She took on the challenges and set backs of this illness with the same determination and grit that made that mom of five a marathon runner and a world record weightlifter. She ran one heck of a race while she was here: 1 husband for 59 years, 5 kids, 17 grandkids and 6 great grandkids and then crossed her final “Finish line” into heaven June 4, 2020. She’s left a pretty big hole in our hearts, but she’s getting heaven warmed up for us and we look forward to seeing her soon!
A “Celebration of her Life” will be announced when it is safe to gather in groups again.
Memories may be shared at: www.tulocaycemetery.org
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