Two former Hudson residents were among those remembered Wednesday as the Netherlands observed a national day of mourning for 154 Dutch victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over Ukraine.

Auke Dalstra, chief financial officer of VMI Group in Stow, and his wife, Aafke, were among the 298 passengers and crew who were killed July 17 when the Boeing 777 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down.

The Dalstras were heading toward a holiday destination.

"I knew him very well," said VMI Americas President Arie Kroeze from Stow, moments after watching two military transport planes carrying 40 coffins, filled with Dutch victims, land in Eindhoven, Netherlands. "It was just devastating."

Auke Dalstra was the former president of VMI Americas. The international company, headquartered in the Netherlands, supplies and services machinery for the tire and rubber industry. The company's sales and services offices are located at 4670 Allen Road in Stow.

Kroeze, of Cuyahoga Falls, was vice president of sales and projects while Auke Dalstra was assigned to the Stow offices.

"We all fly a lot and know there is danger in that, but to shoot something out of the air is unheard of," Kroeze said. "These people have done nothing wrong and they ended their lives."

Mr. Dalstra was president of VMI Americas from 2007-09, during which time he lived in Hudson. In 2010, Mr. Dalstra was appointed chief financial officer and returned to Holland with his family.

"VMI is shocked by this appalling news. Auke Dalstra was a beloved and well respected member of the Global Management Board of the VMI Group," stated a press release on the company's website. "With his drive, superb intelligence, plain honesty and inspiring leadership, he played a key role for VMI. As a warm-hearted and compassionate person, he was confidant and mentor for many employees within the VMI Group."

Bernardine VanKessel, formerly of the Netherlands, lives in Hudson and is the former Hudson economic development director. She knew Mr. Dalstra and his wife.

"They were just terrific people and this is very sad within the Dutch community," said VanKessel, director of international business attraction for Team NEO.

VanKessel was in Italy when she received a text about the Malaysian plane crash.

"I just could not believe it. It was just plain disbelief," VanKessel said. "No words can describe the magnitude of the impact of this disaster on the people of the Netherlands. It's an absolute tragedy."

Mr. Dalstra and his wife leave behind two children, VanKessel said. The names and ages of the children have not been released.

"That is just so heartbreaking. They were part of the Hudson community for a number of years," VanKessel said. "And today is the National Day of Mourning for the victims of MH17 in the Netherlands. And we remember everybody, but our hearts go out specifically to those we knew, Auke and his wife."

VanKessel also is president of the Netherlands American Chamber of Commerce/Great Lakes. VMI Group is a sponsor of an annual chamber event which honors the birthday of the king of the Netherlands.

"For many years they have sponsored this event and Auke Dalstra played a role in that," VanKessel said.

VanKessel compared the crash of the MH17 to a Dutch September 11.

"This is the 9/11 for the Netherlands, because we don't know yet what exactly took place. But, all signs look to be that this was an attack," VanKessel said. "This is so huge for us as a Dutch community in northeast Ohio, to lose people who used to be part of our Dutch community in such a tragic way."

VMI Group President and CEO Harm Voortman wrote in a press release, posted on the company website, that "VMI will be forever grateful to Auke for the many years he served the company and his unique contribution that helped shape VMI into the organization it is today.

"VMI extends its deepest sympathy to the family left behind in sorrow beyond description," Voortman added.

Contact this reporter at 330-541-9435 or

Facebook: TimTroglenRPC

Twitter: @Trog_RPC