Mrs. Kregel, a member of Grandville PRC, is a daughter of Herman Hoeksema.

This is an intensely personal story. A glimpse behind the walls of the parsonage at 1139 Franklin Street where I grew up, walls which were already made of glass, as any preacher’s kid could testify, does not necessarily constitute Standard Bearer material.

It was not our family, however, but my father in his relationship to it, no doubt, that sparked the interest in this article and gave rise to the request for it. He was not an ordinary man, although to us he was and to himself, too. When occasionally, as he was out for one of his many walks, someone that he did not know would greet him as “Dr. Hoeksema” or “Prof. Hoeksema,” he thought it was a huge joke.

What was extraordinary about him was his total commitment to telling the truth about God: it was not simply truth, nor the desire to be right, but the truth about God. That drive he balanced with his love for his family, and this is the story of how it all worked out.

I was the youngest of five children, and of the time before I was born I know only from allusions to it. My father used to reminisce fondly about walks downtown to the Karmel Kitchen with my two older sisters. They were happy times, although the storm clouds of 1924 were already on the horizon.

It was also around this time, in 1920, that Etta Kooistra, our dear housekeeper, came to help my mother, whose health was always rather precarious. Etta did the heavier work, the washing, the cleaning and scrubbing, while my mother cooked and sewed, knitted and crocheted—and disciplined us: she never saved that for my father.

After we lost the court case in December of 1925, our family moved to temporary quarters in a house on Sherman Street until the new parsonage was ready. That new parsonage was big: upstairs were four bedrooms, a study, and a bath and a half. Downstairs were a living room, dining room, kitchen, breakfast room, large pantry, sun room, office, half bath, and a room that at various times was a playroom, sewing room, and den. Besides, there was a large attic and a basement that was divided into washroom, coal bin, fruit cellar, and another large area where Dad installed his blacksmith shop.

In those early days after 1924 my father was often away from home, lecturing, organizing churches, meeting with interested people. When he could, he took his family with him.

Most of the time Dad traveled by train, but once in a while one of the few people with a car drove him. One of these men was Nick Yonker of Muskegon, who was a faithful friend all his life. Another was Jake VanderWal; he and his wife Dena were always ready to chauffeur my parents in their Hudson Super Six.

I do remember when my father’s mother died; my mother set me on the davenport and told me that I had to be very quiet, because “Papa was sad.” Later she said it was the only time she had seen him cry. We all loved “Chicago Grandma.”

The Depression was upon us in the thirties. Dad had taken his savings out of the bank to buy his first car when the “bank holiday” was declared, but many people lost everything. I lost five dollars, and it was a long time before I had that much money again. The owners of that bank remained on Dad’s blacklist for a long time. Years later, if he took our two oldest daughters for a walk and passed a certain house, he would tell them they could pick all the lilacs that hung over the sidewalk, because they were public property. They did not know it, but that house belonged to one of those owners.

The traveling continued into the thirties. When Orange City was organized, Homer and I went along, again, because we were the youngest. I remember meetings, and going to various homes for coffee afterwards; there was always lots of cigar smoke. At one of these coffees there was an old man who shook very badly. They said he had quaking palsy. For many years I thought the man who had been let down through the roof to be healed must have been like that. I remember, too, a wild ride on a horse, Homer and I riding bareback behind one of the local farmers.

My father had to go to California when Redlands was organized. He sent me many picture postcards on that trip, always calling me his “chum.” I wish I had saved them. He always brought back presents. From that trip I have a little teakwood box.

He had to go to California yet again in the thirties, when Bellflower was organized, but this time he took the whole family. We all missed school for three or four weeks. Two of us were in Baxter Christian, two were in Christian High, and one in Calvin College. We piled in the car early one February morning, in the middle of a snowstorm. Every few minutes we had to stop to clean the windshield with a little cloth bag of salt; there were no defrosters in those days. We got as far as Moline, and could go no farther. After waiting in a garage until the roads were semi-clear, we went on. We made Kalamazoo by noon, and after that the roads were better. In California the family spent most of the time in Redlands. Rev. Vos was pastor at that time.

One summer we took a short trip to the Upper Peninsula. We rode the Toonerville Trolley, took a boat to the Tahquamenon Falls—the usual tourist things. In those days, however, they were not “usual.” Few of the roads were paved; the cabins were tiny. (Once in a while you can spot some of those cabins today. They look like outhouses.) Our car was equipped with “free wheeling.” Dad was going to demonstrate that to us, so at the top of a long hill he put the car in free wheeling, and we coasted to the bottom and stalled. The carburetor was flooded. I was scared and thought we would have to walk out. We had seen a bear at Tahquamenon. After we waited for a while, however, the car started, much to my relief.

When he was home, Dad took occasional breaks from his study. He did a lot of roughhousing with my brothers, while my mother, fearful of damage to the furniture, tried to calm things down. He made rings and a trapeze in his basement blacksmith shop, and competed with us in “chinning” ourselves. He made things for my mother: a kitchen cabinet, a sewing cabinet, and a dresser for my room. He also made Homer and me each a pair of stilts, carefully fashioned, sanded, and painted. I still have them. Our children played with them, too.

Sometimes he would desert his desk and his typewriter for a while and take out his oil paints. His palette was encrusted, and one day I surprised him with a new one, made out of a piece of plywood. He thanked me heartily and never used it.

At times he regaled us with stories of his childhood as an urchin in Groningen, while “Ma” would caution disapprovingly, “Not that one, Harm.” (At such times she called him “Harm.” To us she called him “papa.” That is what we called him also, until we were older. Then it was “Dad.” To the members of the congregation my mother referred to him as “Mr. Hoeksema.” He called her “Ma,” and sometimes “Nellie.”)

My mother must have been afraid we would emulate Dad’s escapades, but we would “egg” him on. We knew all of his stories, and had our favorites. We could laugh at his pranks, many of which were the result of being “dirt poor” and hungry.

Out of his poverty-stricken childhood arose a lasting sympathy for the poor. He condemned the labor unions in his sermons, but usually had a stern reproof for the selfish employer also. Once a man came to our door asking for money to do mission work among the poor of the city. “The poor?” Dad chided, “Why don’t you go to Madison Avenue?” He felt the rich were more in need of mission work.

Our meals were almost always together, and Dad was quick to tell my mother how good everything tasted. The Depression lasted through most of the thirties, and my mother turned every penny over twice before she spent it. Our breakfasts were cooked cereal, made out of wheat that my parents bought by the bushel and ground themselves. We chewed on it a long time. Meat, when we had it, was hamburger. When one of my brothers was sent to Pastoor’s Market, he would be greeted with, “Two pounds of hamburger today?” Sometimes we were given part of a cow or pig that had been butchered by a member of the congregation. My mother would can the meat.

Meal times, however, were for more than food. We had our family devotions, Scripture reading, and prayer. My mother ably took over when Dad was not there. At meal times we also talked about school, and the teacher was always right, with one exception: sometimes, when the real culprit could not be found, a teacher would punish the whole class, perhaps by withholding some privilege. On that Dad would comment, “He/she should read Abraham’s prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah; God would have spared the whole city for ten righteous.”

Often, as we volunteered our comments, our grammar was gently corrected with “but you should say.” We learned to distinguish between subjective and objective pronouns, “him” and “her” for example; we learned not to say “that much” for “as much as that,” “like” for “as if,” and never, never to use a double negative. We all grew up with a keen sense of grammar.

Our schoolwork was totally unsupervised, unless we needed help with a math problem. Good grades were simply expected of us, and the report card told the tale. My parents saw no reason to study for a test, or even an exam, since we had already learned the material.

The same casual attitude toward catechism prevailed. I do not recall ever being taught my catechism questions, from Borstius’ Primer on. We could all read, and we were expected to know our questions.

We did a lot of memorizing. Every Sunday afternoon, for a good many years, Homer and I (and I think Herm, too, for a while) were assigned five to eight verses of Scripture. At 4:00 p.m. we had to be ready to recite them. Once we had learned them we were free to read, play Bible cards, sometimes with a neighbor, or take a walk. My older sisters in their childhood learned the whole Heidelberg Catechism.

My father was strict. However, I don’t recall ever being spanked. He had “The Look,” as we referred to it in later years. That was enough. When we began to date, our curfew was 11:00 p.m. That did not mean 11:01. There were no exceptions. In high school we did not attend basketball games. Dad did not approve of Christian High’s membership in the City League; he regarded it as a form of amalgamation with the world. Besides, he did not want our evening meal interrupted. We did not attend school plays: drama was frowned upon. We went to symphony concerts occasionally, but there were many in the congregation who disapproved, and sometimes let my parents know.

In retrospect, I believe that my father spent more time with his family than most fathers, who went to work in the morning and came home at night. How he could do that and still focus on that all-consuming purpose of his life is not always clear. It is well known, and there is no need to spell it out here, that he accomplished a prodigious amount of work. At the same time, he was almost always ready for a game when he was home. Sometimes it was an invented one, such as throwing a tennis ball at a circular design in the peak of the house. (That was just above my bedroom windows, and there were accidents.)

Neighbors used to remark that his study light was always on at night. I know that if I studied late, or if I awakened at night, I would hear the thump of his Remington typewriter. He composed at his typewriter and never revised: his first draft was his only one.

Preaching was his first love. He would make a broad outline on a single sheet of paper folded in half; he wrote horizontally on it. Then he would pace the floor of his study, or take a walk while he meditated on it. He used to say that he studied “on the hoof.” When he preached, he left his outline home. No doubt God blessed him with a keen mind, which was able to retain what he read or thought about. That is probably why he thought it foolish to study for exams.

Behind my father stood a woman of wisdom who protected his time. She screened his callers as well as his mail—not that she ever opened his mail, but if she spotted what she knew to be a “hate letter” it went into “File 13” without his ever seeing it.

My mother did not play games with us. Often in the evening she sat in her living room chair, knitting and sometimes reading at the same time. She taught all of the girls to sew, knit, crochet, and cook. I had to learn one new skill each summer, as I grew up.

Even Homer learned to embroider. When we were both laid up with scarlet fever for many weeks, my mother traced animal pictures from a book onto muslin squares, and we embroidered them in red for a quilt. In those days we were quarantined; Dad could stay in his study, but could not visit us. My mother sent his meals up the clothes chute on a dumb waiter.

My mother took her place in the congregation, too, leading a large Ladies’ Aid Society for many years, Bible discussion and all. She had only an eighth grade education, to her lasting regret. She had a kind of quiet wisdom, and was able to settle minor disputes with her “Now, ladies.” She was an avid reader, and I often saw her poring over a well-worn copy of Barnes Notes on Acts, in preparation.

The budgeting of the household income was her task also; handling money was not Dad’s long suit. He did buy coal in the summer, when it was cheaper, and filled the coal bin. He shoveled a lot of coal to keep that big house warm. In those days we paid our own utilities, except for the telephone, and even personal telephone expenses, few as they were, Dad paid himself.

In the early days of the Depression Dad volunteered to have his salary cut—in half, as I recall. Many were jobless; many lost their homes, and we were not in danger of that. He did not want to live above the level of the people of his congregation. In spite of all this, and I do not know how it was possible, they sent us all to college. My parents firmly believed in a college education, for girls, too. It was not in order to get a better job, or to earn more money, but for the sake of learning itself. We did not always have the greatest food, or attractive wardrobes, but we all went to college.One Sunday morning after church it was strangely subdued at our house. Dad did not sit down at the old pump organ, as was his wont. That morning, while reading the baptism form, he had had his very first attack of nerves. Thereafter the same thing happened every time he had to read, Sunday after Sunday. The more he tried to fight it, the worse it became. The stress of his life had caught up with him.

Finally, with the blessing of his consistory, he took a six-week vacation and we all headed for the ocean. Dad made a car-top carrier, a trunk (the car did not come with one), and a bench to set between the front and back seats. Homer and I sat on the bench. We carried our first day’s dinner in a pot, which my mother wrapped in newspapers and set by her feet. We stayed in cabins; our limit was fifty cents per person.

We had three drivers besides Dad. In those days boys could drive at fourteen, girls at sixteen. (Talk about discrimination!) We sang and scrapped and hinted for treats, and finally came to a little town at the mouth of the Saco River in Maine. There we found a ramshackle house across from a beach of sorts. It was owned by two women who were Christian Scientists; they had many books, and were fans of E. Phillips Oppenheim. We read all of the books, as well as the poetry on the walls of the outhouse.

My parents never worried about water safety. My brothers had access to a small rowboat, and they would go down the river into the ocean at ebb tide and fish for mackerel. There were no life jackets. We could all swim, and it did not matter how far out into the ocean we went. Dad used to swim out to some rocks, and the seals swam along side of him.

To this place we returned for several years. Dad’s nerves gradually healed—or he learned to forget them. Many years later I asked him if he still had those thoughts, to which he replied, “I’m too old to be nervous.” The consistory lightened the load of his pastoral work in 1939 by calling a second pastor, Rev. Richard Veldman. Dad went along with that, rather reluctantly, but it was necessary.

By 1936 Jo had graduated from Calvin and was teaching at Baxter Christian School. Although my father had often joked about the time he would shake the nest and the fledgling birds would fly away, when that began to happen he became rather depressed.

My oldest sister, Jo, married Lam Doezema in 1938, and after the wedding Dad sat in his chair in the living room and said, “I think this is a little bit of death.”

Soon afterwards, Dr. Schilder visited for the first time. There were many get-togethers at our house. In the morning the cigar smoke would still hang in the room.

Dr. Schilder was scheduled to speak in English at Westminister Seminary in Philadelphia, and my parents took him there. My brother Herm drove them, so that Dad could help Dr. Schilder translate his speech. They went by way of Washington, DC, in order to show him our Capital. Dr. Schilder was enjoying himself, and kept putting off that translation, but finally Dad insisted that they begin. They completed it just as they drove up to Westminster, and Dr. Schilder delivered it in English. The evening was a disappointment to them, and they left for home immediately afterwards; I do not know the reason for this.

Our household changed rapidly in the forties. My oldest brother, Herm, married Annette Doezema and went to the University of Nebraska to pursue studies in chemistry. World War II broke out, and he received a commission in the Navy; he was sent to Panama. Jo and Lam moved to Bellflower, California, where Lam became pastor. Jeanette, who had been teaching at Baxter, met and married Bill Clason, also a teacher. He was in the Navy, too, and they moved away until after the war.

Now only Homer and I were at home. Homer was in seminary, and I was going to Calvin College.

It was in the forties that Mr. Wm. Eerdmans, Sr., an old college classmate and publisher, became interested in publishing some of Dad’s work. He came over one day, intending to look at his Heidelberg Catechism exposition. Dad took him up to the attic, where all his material—radio sermons, theological school notes, catechism notes—lay neatly organized on the floor. Mr. Eerdmans came back downstairs and left, and Dad remarked, “I think he’d like all of it.”

In 1944 Rev. DeWolf became our second pastor, replacing Rev. Veldman, who had taken a call to Fourth Protestant Reformed Church. Factions were building up in the congregation. My mother was aware of it; my father did not seem to be. There was an element in the congregation that thought the preaching was too strong, too doctrinal. They talked about it to one another, not to my father. Rev. DeWolf had friends who did not like him to be considered the second pastor. Dad was seemingly oblivious.

At home there was not the closeness of the days when we were all there. Homer and I were involved in our own studies. I think my parents were lonely. In 1946 Homer married Gertrude Jonker and they moved to an apartment. I had met my future husband, Charles Kregel, during my first year of college, but we had no plans to marry. In May of 1943 he was drafted into the army and sent overseas a few months later, and he did not return until December of 1945. I graduated from college in 1946, and we were married in May 1947.

This really concludes the story of growing up in that parsonage. There is a sequel, however. A few weeks after our wedding my father suffered a debilitating stroke. It happened as my parents were on their way to California, and followed a long and tense synod. When they were able to return home, Dad needed therapy, Ma needed help, and they both needed encouragement. Since Homer, Trude, Chuck, and I were the only family members living in Grand Rapids, much of the responsibility fell on our shoulders. We read in unison with Dad, walked with him, took him to therapy. We helped Ma with meals and encouraged her. The ever faithful Etta stood by, too, ready to do whatever was needed. So it was that the nurturers became the nurtured, and once again we become close.

In 1948 the consistory decided to call another pastor, and Rev. C. Hanko answered that call. He was a great support and comfort for Dad. In 1949 Homer took a call to Doon, Iowa.

By that time Dad was walking fairly well and preaching again, although he disliked his game leg and sometimes stumbled in his speech. He used to drive his car to our apartment and push Mary in her stroller, stopping in for a cup of coffee afterwards.

When the schism came in 1953, Dad was devastated, particularly because so many of the men he had taught as students had forsaken the truth—the truth about God. Once more my mother was his great support and comfort in his discouragement. One thing she refused to do, however, was to attend the many classis and synod meetings of those days. A group of women often urged her to join them. They would sometimes make a pot of soup to share for dinner, so that they could be away for the day. My mother called it “synod soup” and steadfastly refused to go, with my father’s approval.

That schism divided many families, ours as well. Our home became a sort of haven for my parents. Often the telephone would ring and I would hear, “Are you going to be home? How about a game of Scrabble?” There were frequent Sunday dinners, at which Dad sometimes expressed surprise that his youngest daughter had learned to cook. Sometimes Dad would watch a ball game on television with Chuck. That gave rise to the rumor that Dad was always watching TV. When that story reached Chuck’s ears, he said, deadpan, “Didn’t you hear? The consistory bought each of our ministers a set.”

Homer returned in 1959 to teach in the seminary. By this time my mother’s health was beginning to decline. Early one morning the telephone rang: it was Dad asking me to “fix Ma up or something; she just sits there and makes no sense.” She had had a slight stroke, but he thought she had lost her mind. Before long she was bedridden. Trude and I took care of her until it was clear that she had to be hospitalized. It was Rev. Hanko who helped persuade Dad to let her go. She lingered in the geriatric unit at Pine Rest for half a year, and Dad visited her every day, accompanied by one of us. The morning of September 23, 1963, Homer and I had to go to the parsonage to tell Dad that his beloved “Ma” had gone to glory.

Now Dad’s health began to fail. He still drove, and loved to take one or more of his grandchildren to the beach, or to Schnitzelbank. We were fearful, but hated to deny him company in his loneliness.

Finally the dreaded day came when his consistory had to tell him he could no longer preach: he was too confused. He had to give up driving also. He began to have small strokes, which became gradually worse. Finally he was hospitalized, and on September 2 he went to be with the Lord he had served.

That is my story. There is much, much more, of course, but these are the highlights. The memories are still vivid. I can picture that house and each item in it, in the place where it stood. More important than those images, however, is the legacy that Dad left all of us: his love of the truth about God. May we always hold it dear.