Marcel Alberic Defever says his decision to move to the United States came while he was a young teenager living on a farm near Merkem in the West Flanders region of Belgium under the occupation of Nazi Germany.
"In town, what got my attention the most was the memorial, and the name Defever was on there many times (including his uncle Alberic Defever, who was killed on the last day of the last battle of the infamous Flanders Fields in World War I). I asked myself, 'Will I be there too?' And I decided I want a good life, I want to be a free man in a great country."
Marcel Defever, a resident of Elmcroft of Loyalsock Senior Living Community, Montoursville, has compiled his life experiences, observations and reflections into an engaging book titled "Son of War and Peace: The Life and Times of a Flemish American."
The book tells the stories of his childhood and schooling, life during World War II, his own service in the Belgian Army in the early 1950s, marriage and family, his move to the United States, his participation in a rural leadership training program and his participation in community leadership.
Inspired by the book "A Seven Storied Mountain," by Thomas Merton, Defever refers to those topics as his "seven mountain climbing stories."
Defever's formal schooling ended when he was 14, shortly after the Germans surrendered. He began working on his family's farm until he was drafted into the Belgian Army at the age of 19 and stationed with Allied forces in post-war Germany, where he helped to supervise German office workers. He says he found it interesting that, like him, most of the military personnel working in the offices were farmers, while those from cities were sent to duties in the countryside.
After completing his military service, Defever married his wife Alice and the two moved to Michigan, where he began working on dairy farms - with a short break to take a job assembling cars - while he and Alice began raising a family.
"The weather is similar in Michigan and Belgium," says Defever, "but the difference in the farming is one of scale. Most of the farms here grow just corn and one or two other crops. On our farm in Belgium we grew many crops: Sugar beets, potatoes, beans, flax."
Defever's operations were highly respected, and in 1963 he was one of 20 people selected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture to receive "Michigan Farm Manager of the Year" awards.
Later that year he and Alice were able to buy their own farm near Davison, Mich. Then, in 1964, Defever was one of 30 young farmers selected to participate in a rural leadership program at Michigan State University sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation. The curriculum covered subjects from the history of Michigan to the philosophy of Aristotle.
Defever put his new leadership skills and knowledge into service beginning shortly after he completed the program, participating in a tour of American farmer-ambassadors through several nations in Europe and Asia. He served for many years on the local school board. He also counseled local politicians, and was a frequent contributor of editorial letters to newspapers. Eventually he moved out of farming, and for 22 years served as superintendant of a golf course before retiring.
Marcel and Alice Defever raised eight children, including son Guido, who serves as vice president, research, development and engineering at Lycoming Engines. Marcel moved to this area three years ago, after Alice passed away.
Marcel Defever turned his life story into a book "on the insistence of my friends, and as a legacy for my grandchildren."
He published "Son of War and Peace: The Life and Times of a Flemish American" in 2005, the culmination of nearly three years of writing. Written in a lively and colorful style, the stories will captivate readers of all backgrounds, especially anyone with roots in rural life. The book is published by AuthorHouse and is available in paperback through Amazon.com.
At the age of 82, and dealing with the challenges of Parkinson's disease, Marcel Defever no longer actively participates in politics and leadership, but that has not dampened his desire to keep abreast of the subjects.
"I read editorial columns in the newspaper and watch commentators on television. I read books about philosophy, history, stories about the lives of influential people."