Northampton couple honors maternal and paternal grandparents with Toy Fund donation

  • Eddie and Birney Van Benschoten in South Amherst, 1987. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MATTHEW WHITE  

  • Leonard and Julia Narva are seen in Lake Worth, Florida, in 1983. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/ELIZABETH NOON 

  • Eddie Van Benschoten holds great-grandson Peter White in January of 2000. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MATTHEW WHITE 

  • Julia Narva holds great-grandchild Dan White in April of 2002. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MATTHEW WHITE 

  • Birney Van Benschoten is seen with his granddaughter-in-law, Tina White, and great-grandson, Peter White, in January of 2000. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MATTHEW WHITE  

Staff Writer
Published: 12/18/2019 11:29:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — For Tina and Matthew White, as for many people, memories of their grandparents are among their most beloved, inspiring them to donate $250 to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund in their names.

The grandparents honored in this way were Tina’s maternal grandparents, Julia and Leonard Narva, and Matthew’s paternal grandparents, Eddie Van Benschoten and Birney Van Benschoten.

“My mom’s parents were very joyful and loving,” said Tina White.

Julia and Leonard Narva, who were of Finnish descent, grew up in Rockford, Illinois. Finnish was their first language, and when Tina was very young the couple lived in Helsinki for two years while her grandfather studied at the University of Helsinki.

“Two winters in Helsinki was enough,” Tina said, noting that they later moved to Lake Worth, Florida.

Julia Narva worked as a surgical nurse, while Leonard Narva was a certified public accountant.

Matthew White said that Julia was “just delightful,” and that he would sit with her over the course of many years listening to her stories about being a nurse in the 1940s.

“She was a charming woman who had incredible energy,” said White. “It was really an honor to get to know her.”

Tina White said that her grandparents established small investment accounts for their grandchildren with a few thousand dollars in each. Her investment account came in handy in 1989, Tina said, when she and her future husband drove from Michigan to California so that he could go to grad school for economics. On the way, their car broke down.

“When our car died, it allowed us to get another one,” she said. “It felt like such a huge gift.”

Tina said that when she met Eddie and Birney Van Benschoten, her husband’s paternal grandparents, they were so excited for their grandson.

“It was just a wide-open welcome,” she said.

Their warm welcome “definitely helped us feel more committed to each other,” Matthew said.

Eddie Van Benschoten served as dean of students at the University of Southern California, while her husband was in the JAG Corps in World War II, where he helped develop the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and then served as a lawyer for oil companies in the middle east and Indonesia.

“He was quite a good negotiator,” she said.

Eddie was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, while Birney was from Michigan. They settled in New York and ended up moving to South Amherst for their retirement.

Although they died before Tina and Matthew moved to the area, Tina said that it was “very nostalgic” to move to the Pioneer Valley. Matthew works in Holyoke at a nonprofit engineering company, and Tina, who is a veterinarian, said that every time her husband drives up the hill to return from Holyoke he feels like he’s returning to his grandparents.

Matthew described driving with his parents down Interstate 91 in the 1970s and seeing the Valley open up after going through the last part of the Holyoke Range.

“I felt like, ‘Oh, I’m so close to my grandparents,’” said Matthew.

“I would see the sun on the hills,” Matthew continued. “It makes me think of them every day.”

Tina said the biggest lesson she learned from Eddie and Birney and Julia and Leonard is that “unconditional love is worth a lot.”

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression. Today, the fund distributes vouchers worth $40 to families for each child from age 1 to 14. Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury, and Leverett, and in Holyoke in Hampden County.

18 Degrees Family Services for Western Massachusetts at 59 Interstate Drive in West Springfield verifies families’ eligibility and the Gazette covers costs associated with the drive, freeing all donations to fund the vouchers.

The following stores are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., Northampton; JCPenney, 367 Russell St., Hadley (store only); The Toy Box, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Target, 367 Russell St. Hadley (store only); Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; Wilson’s Department Store, 258 Main St., Greenfield; World Eye Bookshop & Magical Child, 134 Main St., Greenfield; Holyoke Sporting Goods Co. 1584 Dwight St. #1, Holyoke; Children’s Museum at Holyoke, 444 Dwight St., Holyoke.

Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, P.O. Box 299, Northampton, MA, 01061, or made through Gazettenet at

Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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