Noordhoff Family Christmas Photo c. 1970
Connie Ma, Alumni and Community Outreach Officer

When Dr. M. Samuel Noordhoff passed away in December 2018 at the age of 91, he was mourned by the entire country of Taiwan. As a famed medical missionary who served in Taiwan for over 40 years, Dr. Noordhoff pioneered the field of craniofacial surgery in Taiwan, performing over 10,000 cleft lip and palate surgeries himself, and founded the Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation in 1989.

To Anne Noordhoff Lin ’80 and her three siblings, however, he was simply Dad. Upon his passing, Anne returned to Taipei recently in January 2019 to celebrate the life of her father with the friends and colleagues in Taiwan who knew him well, and to take on the mantle of the family legacy that her parents have passed on.

Original Mackay Memorial Hospital on Chung Shan N. Rd

Original Location of Mackay Memorial Hospital on Chung Shan N. Rd

The work of a wise man

Dr. M. Samuel and Lucy Noordhoff came to Taiwan in 1959 on the slow boat. “They sailed from San Francisco to Hawaii to Hong Kong, and then flew from Hong Kong to Taipei. The trip took about 28 or 30 days, which was pretty challenging to make with my older siblings Sam and Nancy who were toddlers,” Anne quips. Dr. Noordhoff came at the invitation of Mackay Memorial Hospital. He became best known by his Chinese name in Taiwan, Luo Huei-fu (羅慧夫), which means “wise man.” “At that time, MacKay was this little red brick hospital. It was very basic because they didn’t have a lot of money coming in. Zhongshan North Road was a two-way gravel road – it wasn’t even paved,” Anne remarks wryly.

Dr. Noordhoff went on to serve as the president of both Mackay Memorial Hospital and Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Linkou. In his 40 years of service, he modernized medical treatment and care in Taiwan for people with cleft lips and palates, burn injuries, those who needed intensive care, and more. In 1989, he founded the Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation (NCF) with US$100,000 of his own funds. Today, the NCF works with Chang Gung Memorial Hospital to train doctors from different countries on Dr. Noordhoff’s methods of cleft lip and palate surgery. 

Of her father’s role in Taiwanese medical history, Anne says humbly, “I don’t think my dad thought he was going to change the course of medicine in Taiwan. He just saw needs that he tried to address, so that’s why he established a suicide prevention hotline, burn units, ICU units, and mobile ER services for places like Hualien and Taitung.” Dr. Noordhoff also had a hand in the training of Taiwanese doctors. “At Chang Gung, he insisted that his doctors train in the US with specialists in the fields they wanted to specialize in,” explains Anne. “He would try to find the best specialist in hand surgery, for example, and he would have them train in the States on the condition that they had to return here and work here. That’s part of why the Taiwanese medical system is pretty good – the doctors that he trained and sent off are at the top of their field in Taiwan.”

Dr. Samuel and Lucy Noordhoff with Mackay Hospital Administrator Chang Kim Ma and Chang Dz Hwei

Dr. Samuel and Lucy Noordhoff with Mackay Hospital Administrator Chang Kim Ma and Chang Dz Hwei

Growing up in Taiwan

The Noordhoffs made Taiwan their home for many decades, raising their family here. The third of four siblings, Anne was born in Taiwan, as was her younger brother Dirck ’86. All of her siblings attended Bethany Christian School before transferring to TAS. Anne transferred in 9th grade and attended TAS through 12th grade, graduating in 1980. “There were only three friends at TAS who had been there from kindergarten through 12th grade,” remembers Anne. “As a Third Culture Kid, you get good at making friends, saying goodbye to people. Things you aren’t so good at is basic stuff like how to write a check or how to drive a car. But we did have a lot of the knowledge of the cultures that we grew up in, and we can do things like getting by on public transportation like nobody’s business!”

Central to the Noordhoffs’s life in Taiwan was the Taipei International Church, where Lucy Noordhoff became a mainstay. “We always had 12 people for lunch after church on Sunday,” Anne noted. “My mom would invite people she knew and even people she didn’t – if someone stood up in church that day and introduced themselves as visiting from Minneapolis, my mother would go up to them and bring them home to lunch afterward.”

Noordhoff Family Christmas Photo c. 1970

Noordhoff Family Christmas Photo c. 1970

Looking back on her time in Taiwan, Anne loved her childhood here. “We lived in a lot of different houses in Taiwan,” Anne recalls. “When my parents first came, they lived in a sixteen-room house where Mackay Memorial Hospital is now. We also lived in Songshan, on Renai Road (where Howard Plaza is now), and then we moved out to Zhuwei, near the other location for Mackay Memorial Hospital. That was like your typical suburban upbringing. You would go out and play after school, and your mom would yell for you when it was dinnertime. We would run around in the grass and go snake-hunting in the paddies because one of our neighbors had a Taiwanese beauty snake as a pet.”

The Noordhoff family enjoyed Taiwan and all it had to offer. Dr. Noordhoff often took Anne’s brothers Sam and Dirck on long hikes in the mountains. On one memorable trip, they crossed the central mountain range before there was a true road, following the porters who carried cement and other materials for constructing the power lines that would carry electricity across the island. Almost every year, the entire family went on a week-long Christmas break to drive to Kenting, leaving from Taipei at 3 am on the one-lane freeway that went all the way south, and arriving at 6 pm. Anne recalled staying at the US FASD hostel there and eating pancakes and burgers for a whole week.

When she left Taipei, Anne enrolled at Seattle Pacific University, far away from her parents’ alma mater, Hope College, in Holland, MI: “I wanted to eke out my own personality, so I went to SPU on the West Coast. My aunt and uncle lived nearby, and when I first showed up at school a week after orientation, my aunt helped me shop for towels and sheets and typewriters!” Anne was well prepared for college, thanks to TAS. She went on to get a teaching credential for special needs children and even taught Grade 3 at TAS for several years. When she married her husband David, she returned to the US, got a master’s degree, and continued teaching special needs children, including severely mentally and emotionally disturbed children. Of her teaching career, Anne notes, “My parents really instilled in us that we pursue our passions. So I’m not passionate about doing surgery, but I knew I wanted to teach.” In fact, in Anne’s graduating yearbook, she listed her goal as, “To become a teacher of special people.”

Dr. Noordhoff and sons Sam and Dirck hiking over Yuan Shan

Dr. Noordhoff and sons Sam and Dirck hiking over Yuan Shan

Returning to a family legacy

In 1999, Dr. Noordhoff and his wife Lucy left Taiwan to retire, first in Naples, FL and later, in Grand Rapids, MI. They continued to visit Taiwan frequently until 2013, several years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In 2017, he received a Presidential Cultural Award from President Tsai Ing-Wen in recognition of his work in Taiwan. Dr. M. Samuel Noordhoff passed away on December 3, 2018 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Though she and her siblings saw little in person of their father’s work when they were young, Anne returned to Taiwan in January 2019 to celebrate her father’s life at the memorial service given by Chang Gung Memorial Hospital where Dr. Noordhoff worked for many years. At the memorial service, she received a warm reception from all the doctors and staff who had worked with her father for many years: “They told me such funny stories about my dad. They said my dad would ask them to do things, and no one would know how or what he wanted from them, but they just nodded and said yes and asked each other later how to figure out, because they knew he was serious about getting it done!”

Dr. Noordhoff and Former President Li Tung Hwei

Dr. Noordhoff and Former President Li Tung Hwei

Anne will also be sitting on the board of the Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation in the future. “Our family wants to make sure that NCF continues because it does good work. In Taiwan, we run summer camps and fund children’s surgeries, but more importantly, NCF knows how important it is to teach indigenous doctors from Cambodia or China how to do those surgeries,” Anne explains. “I hope to be a dot-connector on the NCF board, to bring in the people that my family and I know to help the foundation.”

When Dr. Noordhoff said farewell to Taiwan, one of his gifts from the doctors, staff, and friends who knew him best was a wooden sculpture of an oxcart laden with firewood. The sculpture conveyed the Chinese phrase《眾人拾柴火焰高》, which Dr. Noordhoff often said in response to those who praised him for his work: “We all do it together.”