Story Published in Jan 2016 | Interview conducted in April and August 2015
Louis Dries is the president of the Belgian American club of Chicago. He has lived outside of Belgium for the last 48 years: 24 years in Canada and 24 in the USA.
Louis comes from a little German speaking town called Sankt Vith. He studied Business at Universite de Liege. After his graduation, he wanted to move to North America because of greater job opportunities. He was interested in moving to the USA but at that time, it was easier to get a visa in Canada and he did not speak English very well. So he moved to Quebec in 1967 and started a degree in Industrial Engineering, which he completed in 1968. He worked all across Canada before settling in Ontario, where he met his future wife, Joan.
In 1969, Louis started to study for the CCLP (CITT-Certified Logistics Professionals). It is the highest and hardest certification in the industry of supply chains and logistics. It took him 5 years of evening study to complete all the courses. At the same time, Louis became a Canadian Citizen in 1970 and married Joan in 1971. Together, they have four sons: Andy, Eric, John-Paul, and Stephen.
Louis's hard work and personal sacrifices to get his certification paid off. It opened up fascinating opportunities. In the early 70's, containerization started to revolutionize global shipping methods. Louis started to arrange shipping steel products all around the world. He remembers shipping 500 prefab steel buildings to Iran in 1974: "It was a fascinating exercise for a 26 years old! We had to arrange hundreds of truckloads to a harbor and charter a ship. Then we had to haul thousands of tons of materials in Iran! I was hooked!". He was later promoted to Manager of Transportation.
In 1985, Louis was hired by Nalco, a leading company in his industry. His responsibility involved finding solutions to transport all kinds of goods across Canada. In 1991, Louis was promoted to Director of Logistics. Louis and his family relocated to Naperville, Illinois where Nalco's headquarters are located. Louis started to organize very complicated shipment of goods across the globe such as delivering chemicals to mines in Australia or shipping paper mills in Chile. There was never a dull day. "The satisfaction we felt with my team when we had delivered was very gratifying and kept us going".
Louis’s expertise in supply chain and warehouse management gave him opportunities to work and travel all around the world. Louis's house has many objects reminding them of their rich lives. They have a room with all their memories from Asia, as well as a "North American room". Belgian memories can be found throughout the house, including this gorgeous panting of the house where Louis grew up:
This is a painting of the house where Louis grew up. It is hung in his hallway. It was painted by a soldier recovering from his injuries in 1944. His brother still lives there.
In 1999, the whole family became dual citizen (Canada/United States). Louis retired from Nalco in 2011. However, he continues to provide consulting service for them.
The city of Saint Charles, IL where Louis now lives
Louis's sons have all grown up and started a family of their own. Louis now has 13 grandkids. "I am a full time grandparent" Louis jokes around. "Our schedule is full of family events. We need to write everything on our calendar to keep track” Joan explains proudly, showing me her Google calendar, that was indeed very packed. "Christmas shopping can become very intense, so I usually let my wife take care of it" Louis smiles.
Louis and his family sign the car in Lenexa, KS a few months after our first encounter
Family is very important to Louis. He is the 5th out of 9 children. He has 3 sisters and 5 brothers. One brother and sister have passed onto heaven, one sister lives in Italy and everyone else is in Belgium. After 48 years out of the country, Louis still feels his Belgian root. “We are a very close knit family. The fact that my brothers and sisters also have large families of their own, maintains the links to the homeland”. Louis usually visit one to three times a year and tries to never miss any important event (such as weddings, special birthdays and marriage anniversaries).
Louis and Joan with all their sons, grandchildren and daughters-in law. Photo Credit to Carole Meeter Photography
Louis's brother still lives in the familial residence in Wiesenbach, St. Vith, BE. Here is a view from 2012.
Here is the same view of Louis's family domain in 1944. It was painted by a soldier recovering from his injuries.
Louis with his siblings in September 15. The family gathered to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of his brother.
Outside of work and family, Louis is very involved within the Belgian Community in the Chicago area. He became the president of the Belgian American Club of Chicago (BACC) in 2011. The club celebrated its 100th anniversary last year! Its story is very fascinating and sheds a light on Belgian-American history.
The BACC initially started as a Janitor organization. At the end of the 19th century, a land shortage in Belgium made emigration to the New Continent necessary for survival. Thus the first wave of Belgian immigrants in Chicago were unqualified but extremely hardworking. Most of them found employment in the Windy City as janitors. The Belgian community soon organized itself and founded the Belgian Janitor Union of Chicago. They also founded a Belgian Janitor Club. Whoever joined the Union would also join the club.
The history of the Belgian American Club
After World War II more than 10 000 Belgian immigrated to Chicago and the community was thriving. At his heyday, the Belgian American (Janitor) Club had more than 500 members, its own Hall Building and offered many services to help Belgian Newcomers. The Belgian population declined in the 90's and the Belgian Janitor club closed its door.
In the 2000's, the club founded the Belgian American Club of Chicago as a simpler version of what it used to be. Nowadays, the BACC usually has about 6 events per year including a Belgian mussels and frites fest in the spring, a picnic in August and the St. Nicolas family party in December. Louis helps organizing events and coordinates volunteers and resources. Two other SignMyCar! participants are also involved with the club: Leentje De Leeuw and Paul Van Halteren.
After almost 50 years outside of Belgium, Louis still misses the food: “nothing beats the charcuterie and the patisserie”. He always feels at home when he visits. “I feel Belgian, Canadian and American. But the United States is where I feel the most comfortable now as all my children and grandchildren are here”.
Lincoln Park in Chicago