THE HAPPY WAR­RIOR

He’s on a mis­sion to make the world smile, even New York­ers.

Metro USA (New York) - - Front Page - KIM­BERLY M. AQUILINA @MetroNewYork let­ters@metro.us

Af­ter work­ing with dis­abled chil­dren and adults for the last 30 years, Ben Oude Kamphuis de­cided to take the trav­els he pep­pers his life with and make them his main course.

Oude Kamphuis turned 55 on June 7, re­tired from his job with the city of San Fran­cisco, drove across the United States and stopped in New York be­fore he shipped his ’55 Chevy, Nel­lie Jane, to Africa, where he plans to help his friend build a school. In an age of in­tol­er­ance, Oude Kamphuis is try­ing to bring smiles and un­der­stand­ing — even to jaded New York­ers.

He didn’t in­tend to go to Ghana ini­tially. He just planned to see the United States, stop­ping at schools for the deaf and dis­abled along the way so the kids could ex­pe­ri­ence Nel­lie Jane, his spe­cially tricked­out truck with a gi­ant half globe in the back, toys and other items at­tached to the hood and a smi­ley face for hub­caps. He in­stantly at­tracted a crowd near Penn Sta­tion re­cently when he stopped and let strangers take pic­tures and ask ques­tions about Nel­lie Jane.

“I grew up in a free country,” he said. “I came to a free country. I feel like the lucky one. I saved a lit­tle money. I cre­ated an old car that I have fun with and it makes peo­ple talk and smile, so I feel like the lucky one that I can do it.”

Oude Kamphuis said he be­lieves in love, peace and har­mony, but he never takes the credit for bring­ing hap­pi­ness. In­stead, he gives all the praise to “old Nel­lie Jane.”

Nel­lie Jane is an Amer­i­can car, but Oude Kamphuis was born in Hol­land in a small farm­ing

com­mu­nity. He lived with his mom and sib­lings on a farm. As the sec­ond-youngest in the brood, Oude Kamphuis was used to hand-medown cloth­ing and toys. His nonat­tach­ment to ma­te­rial ob­jects is still ev­i­dent to­day. He doesn’t have a house. He doesn’t care for fancy clothes. All of his money, he said, goes to Nel­lie Jane.

“The way I choose to live my life makes it look like, ‘Oh, this guy is just swim­ming in the money.’ That’s not the case,” Oude Kamphuis said pas­sion­ately. “I sleep in the back of my truck. I eat. I don’t care about clothes. I love my ’55 Chevy and that’s where I put my money. And I saved some money over the 30 years that I worked and I don’t have a home. I don’t have any­thing.”

“That’s what I want to do with my money. You have a choice to do what you want with your money.”

When Oude Kamphuis was 15, he told his mom he wanted to see Paris. He saved his money from his gar­den­ing jobs. His mom not only gave her bless­ing, she en­cour­aged her son to go, spark­ing a long re­la­tion­ship with wan­der­lust. Manda­tory time in the Hol­land army was first, though.

“It’s not my be­lief,” Oude Kamphuis said. “I un­der­stand we need an army, but I’m way more of a hip­pie guy. Can we not get along with each other? I will come with flow­ers in­stead of a gun.”

A so­cial worker friend ce­mented the idea that Oude Kamphuis was go­ing to work with the dis­abled. He flew to Indiana in 1987 to work at a camp for kids through the Univer­sity of Bloom­ing­ton. His cu­rios­ity took him to San Fran­cisco on a Grey­hound bus where he fell in love with the West Coast.

Oude Kamphuis might have lived in Cal­i­for­nia, but he never re­ally set­tled. For the first seven years Oude Kamphuis lived a no­madic life, hop­ping from camps to Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tions to other camps help­ing kids and adults with dis­abil­i­ties. He then landed a job with the city of San Fran­cisco as an adap­tive recre­ation spe­cial­ist, where he said he has “never gone to work” one day of the 23 years he was there.

“It didn’t mat­ter if it was Wed­nes­day, Satur­day or Sun­day. It was al­ways a good day.”

Good days in­cluded the va­ca­tion time Oude Kamphuis saved up, which al­lowed him to travel while hold­ing a steady job. While in Utah about 16 years ago, he met Nel­lie Jane. Since then, he and his cus­tom an­tique auto have trav­eled the con­ti­nents.

Af­ter re­turn­ing from a road trip to Brazil in 2014, Oude Kamphuis en­listed the help of his stu­dents and gave Nel­lie Jane a makeover.

“The last art pro­ject was mak­ing old Nel­lie Jane into the Earth, you know, that we’re all the same peo­ple,” Oude Kamphuis ex­plained. “Kids and adults with dis­abil­i­ties have helped me paint it, dec­o­rate it and then it looks right now that the back all looks like the Earth … the idea with the truck is like, if I park it some­where or even to­day like in New York City, when I drive, peo­ple look at it and they all start smil­ing and ‘Hey, man, thumbs up. Let’s help each other and stop dis­crim­i­nat­ing and stop the hate and the vi­o­lence.’ So that’s kind of like roughly the idea with old Nel­lie Jane.”

Nel­lie Jane is now on her way to Africa. Af­ter wrap­ping things up in Cal­i­for­nia, Oude Kamphuis will be reunited with his truck with plans to stay for a few years drift­ing from com­mu­nity to com­mu­nity help­ing build, re­con­struct and grow.

“I’ll prob­a­bly stay in Ghana for a year or two just to help [my friend] work on [the school] … then maybe drive old Nel­lie Jane through Africa, South Africa and just see if there are dif­fer­ent projects that I can be in­volved in,” he said.

Wher­ever he goes, Oude Kamphuis seems most ex­cited about the joy Nel­lie Jane brings to peo­ple.

“I’m sick and tired of hate and vi­o­lence and I don’t wanna sit down and not do any­thing about it,” Oude Kamphuis said em­phat­i­cally. “I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity. And this is my lit­tle dream that I cooked up. How I see my life go­ing. I saved some money, and this is what I wanna do. Put a smile on peo­ple’s faces. Just by look­ing at the truck is go­ing to make them smile.”

“I’ve al­ways had a good time. It didn’t mat­ter if it was Wed­nes­day, Satur­day or Sun­day. It was al­ways a good day.” Oude Kamphuis

COUR­TESY OF BEN OUDE KAMPHUIS

COUR­TESY OF BEN OUDE KAMPHUIS

Ben Oude Kamphuis said he hopes to spread love and peace with his truck, Nel­lie Jane.

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