In 1981, Vern and Donna Hellenbrand of Madison, Wisconsin came to St. Croix for the first time as part of a trip which included about 12 Caribbean islands to celebrate their 25th Wedding Anniversary. During their stay on St. Croix, they stayed at Hotel on the Cay and fell in love with both the island of St. Croix and Hotel on the Cay.
After their first trip, Vern and Donna started coming to St. Croix every year for vacation and ended up owning a timeshare at Hotel on the Cay. What started as a loving anniversary trip for two over thirty years ago has blossomed into an annual Hellenbrand family vacation! How did it turn into such a large family vacation you may ask? It is a VERY heartwarming story that we here at GoToStCroix.com couldn’t resist sharing!
In 2002, Vern (the patriarch of the Hellenbrand family) was very sick with esophageal cancer, but got permission from his doctor to make one last trip to St. Croix with Donna. Knowing that this would be Vern’s last trip to the island he loved, the five Hellenbrand children (Brad, Randy, Rod, Mike and Beth) along with their spouses (Patty, Cary, Karla, Janeen and Tim) decided they would ALL go to St. Croix, along with ALL of their children (ranging in age from 2 to 12), and surprise Vern by making his last trip to St. Croix a family affair! Two weeks after the decision was made, 22 Hellenbrand family members were on the same flights from Wisconsin to St. Croix to surprise Vern! They even managed to all stay at Hotel on the Cay so they could be with together. As they waited on the dock for the hotel shuttle to pick them and their luggage up, they all put on their custom-made ‘Hellenbrand Invasion of St. Croix’ t-shirts. As the shuttle pulled up to the dock, they saw Vern and Donna were on the boat. As you can imagine, Vern started to tear up as he realized that the huge group of people waiting on the dock were all his children and grandchildren!
While both Vern, and his son Brad have passed away since that first surprise family trip, the remainder of the Hellenbrand family continue the tradition of spending time in St. Croix each February. While all the family members can’t make it every year, 2014’s group of 22 is the smallest they have ever had! They have brought not only the original children, their spouses, and the grandchildren, but extended family, friends and even foreign exchange students with them in previous years. Donna’s new beau, Don, also joins in the fun family tradition, and 2015 marked the first four-generation trip as Donna’s great-grandson Elias joined them!
All of the Hellenbrand couples now own timeshares at Hotel on the Cay, and they talk about the staff there as if they are extended family members. They just cannot seem to say enough great things about the hotel, and their love of St. Croix. They enjoying just lounging on the beach and in the water, shopping, and dining out at some of the great local restaurants. When we asked them how St. Croix has changed over the years that the whole family has been coming to the island they informed us that they are very impressed with how much the cleanliness of the island has continually improved. They were very concerned about the locals when they found out that Hovensa was closing because they knew how integral the refinery was to the island’s economy. While they admitted that you could see the effects of the closing on the island, they are happy to see that so many of the shops, restaurants and businesses have managed to stay afloat. As if all of that wasn’t enough to show this family’s true love of St. Croix, Rod and Karla Hellenbrand have continued to come back to St. Croix after surviving Hurricane Hugo on their honeymoon in September of 1989!
Not only are the Hellenbrand family a shining example of close and loving family, but they are passionate in their love St. Croix like few visitors I have met. It was a pleasure to meet the Hellenbrand family and have them share their wonderful stories with us, we hope you enjoying reading their stories as much as we enjoyed hearing them! Thank you for sharing your story with us Hellenbrand family…see you in February!
– Jennie Ogden, Editor