Route 66 Bucket List

The SchaapveldsThe first thing you may notice
about Edmond’s Schaapvelds is the car. Or van. Or motor home… or whatever it is.

A Ford Fusion pieced together to
create a small motor home, the unusual vehicle is M&M yellow, and down both
sides winds a map of the “Mother Road,” Route 66. Painted with landmarks and
cities along the famous American highway, it’s hard not to notice the sunshine
yellow custom-made travel wagon that the Schaapvelds travel in. “We drive down
the highway and people are taking pictures,” said Merry Bennett-Schaapveld.
“Everywhere we stop, people want pictures of the car and of us.”

The travel vehicle, while in
itself has a personality all its own, isn’t what the real story is. Behind the
yellow exterior and jaunty paint job is a love story that was both unexpected
and just what was needed for a couple who had both lost their spouses within
two months of each other. The “Route 66” carries a tale of an older couple in
their “last chapter” who share not only the understanding of grief, but a love
of the open road and all the mysteries, charm and quirkiness that America has
to offer.

A Match Made in…the Internet?

Three years ago, two grieving
spouses signed up on Match.com. Merry Bennett, a spry engaging woman with a
head of strawberry-blond hair, wasn’t looking to get married–she just wanted a
companion.

A Lawton resident, she had
formed Compassionate Friends in Lawton after losing her adult son, but she was
uncertain about the men she met on Match. Until Kenneth Schaapveld’s picture
came up. “I looked at his profile, and started to melt; I sent him an email to
say how I felt,” she wrote in a poem about their romance. “Only one problem,
that I could see; He was no ‘Spring Chicken,’ he was 73!”

Still, those pretty blue eyes
stared into her soul, and the couple met at a casino for their first date. “My
first impression was Wow! I fell in love real quick at the age of 73,” Kenneth
said. Ten hours of talking and laughing sealed the deal, and the two started
what they called “The Last Chapter,” an adventure in romance, travel and bucket
lists.

“She said she likes to ride, and
I like to drive, so we took our first trip,” said Kenneth. “We drove Route 66
to California, Reno, San Francisco and back down through Las Vegas. It took us
six weeks. That first trip was before the van was built.”

The two began shopping for a
motor home, but the price was just too high. Kenneth, who had built and rebuilt
custom vehicles in the past, decided he would just make what they needed.
“Route 66” was designed by the two and was built in four months. Completed in
May 2012, the van is a 2008 Ford Fusion front with a 2007 Ford Fusion rear
wheels and floor pan. The body in the back, which holds the bed and more, is a
1994 GMC Van body.

The van includes an all-wood
interior, a 20” flat screen TV, a built-in microwave, a sofa bed and more. “I
knew how to do body work, so I just built an inexpensive motor home for us,”
Kenneth said. “I built it for under $10,000, but it was just something to
travel in. We didn’t know we’d get so much attention.”

That van, with artwork from Rick
Knight, has since been featured in magazines, thousands of tourist photos and
took first place in both the Clinton car show and the Elkhorn National Van
Show. “We want to travel as long as one of us can drive,” Merry said.

Travel Forever

Route 66 VehicleSince the van was made, the
Schaapvelds have seen sights from Bangor, Maine to the Redwoods of California.
They choose Route 66 whenever they can, reliving their own childhood trips down
the iconic highway, but are also planning road trips to Canada and the south.
Since traveling together, the two can claim visitation to nearly all of the
lower 48 states. “To us, our van is just a car,” Merry said. “The first time we
noticed it attracted attention was when people would pull up alongside of us on
the highway to take pictures. We have a lot of people stop us to take
pictures.”

 If it weren’t for Merry trying to sell her
home in Lawton, the two would still be on the road traveling. The Schaapvelds
long ago decided they would complete their bucket list together, and all that
is left is Kenneth’s desire to have his van featured in a national magazine and
on Good Morning America. “My bucket list was to ride a train, which I did at
the Royal Gorge in Colorado,” said Merry. “I’ve done everything on my bucket list.
We are in our last chapter—we don’t have any obligations. When you travel, you
just get away from the real world. It’s different because the companionship is
wonderful.”

From the Grand Canyon to New York City, the
Schaapvelds take their yellow Route 66 van to explore America. And although
Merry never intended to marry again, she was convinced about their second
marriage based on understanding, love, adventure and travel.

“Every time we take a trip, it’s our honeymoon,”
said Kenneth.

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