Brothers, still: Mentoring program brought them together 42 years ago

In a photo from March 29, 2017, Mike Visscher, left, and Dan Castillo pose in Holland, Mich. They have been friends for 42 years, ever since Visscher became Castillo's "big brother" in a mentoring program through Hope College in 1975. (Sarah Heth/The Holland Sentinel via AP)

By SARAH HETH
Holland Sentinel
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HOLLAND, Mich. — It was a grin that brought them together, and 42 years later, that grin is still holding.
Mike Visscher, 66, and Dan Castillo, 51, both of Holland, have been friends since 1975, when Visscher signed up to be a “big brother” through the now-disbanded Higher Horizons PALS program, facilitated through Hope College.
The Holland Sentinel reported that the program’s goal was to offer male role models to boys in single-parent families.
Visscher said the program coordinator handed him several photos of boys whose mothers had signed them up for the mentoring program.
“This guy had the biggest grin on his face, and I knew that was the guy,” he said.
Castillo’s parents were divorced, and his father lived in Texas.
They two met for the first time Aug. 4, 1975. Castillo was 9 — about to turn 10 — and Visscher was 24, going on 25.
“I was telling him all the things we were going to do, and most of them were sports-related,” Visscher said. “He was just grinning.”
After they were matched up, the two met at least once a week for a couple of hours — but they hit it off quickly, and most weeks they would meet several times. Back then, they would go bowling, miniature golfing, walking for March of Dimes and found other things to do around town or just hang out at Visscher’s house.
Mostly, though, they bonded over a love of sports, and they attended basketball and football games as often as they could.
“I think Mike really did affect me because Mike really got me into sports,” Castillo said. “I had no clue of sports when I was little. Next thing you know I’m playing rocket football, baseball, basketball … and really that was a testament to Mike getting me interested.”
For Visscher, this was a relief.
“I’m glad he liked sports, because after that, I didn’t know what to do with this kid,” he said with a chuckle.
“Sports was always a driving force for us to get together,” Castillo said. “It was nice to always see Mike in the stands because my mother didn’t really go to the games.”
And now, 42 years later, sports is still the glue that binds them. Though the mentoring program that brought them together is no longer in existence, their friendship remains strong.
The two men get together to watch every Hope College home basketball game they can — Castillo has season tickets.
“So all those years that I paid for things for him, he’s trying to make up for now,” Visscher said with a laugh. “I said, ‘You still haven’t caught up yet.'”
But it rarely ends with the game.
“We sit in the stands and talk for an hour after the game,” Visscher said.
Through the years, they became family. Castillo was an usher in Visscher’s wedding in 1978 — the same year they were featured in a Sentinel article touting the Higher Horizons PALS program. When Castillo joined the military after graduation, Visscher would write him regularly.
And through the years, as Castillo got married and both men’s families grew (each has three daughters and one son), they continued to make time for each other, catching games together as often as their schedules would allow.
Sometimes they would attend sports activities the other’s children were involved in. Castillo, who coached his children, also coached one of Visscher’s daughters.
“It’s like a good brother-friend relationship that has been a strong one,” Castillo said.
It’s something Castillo is grateful for, since his brother, who also was matched with a “big brother” in 1975, doesn’t share the same lasting bond with his former mentor.