Mr. James Holstege, member of Southeast PRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan and
administrator at Eastside Christian School in Grand Rapids, Michigan

[A hearty thank you to all who have been and are working on the research and writing of their family history, for the benefit of us who are readers of the Standard Bearer. As we consider the past and look to the future, may God’s grace shine through, for our encouragement and blessing.] 

Jim Regnerus, the author of the following history, is principal of Trinity Christian HS in Hull, IA, elder in Doon PRC, husband of Brenda, and father of six children, including Rev. Stephan Regnerus, soon-to-be new pastor of Hull PRC. 

A study of the Regnerus family history in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA) is not only a look back but, from various points in history and even yet today, is a look forward in anticipation of what is coming. Hence, the curious title of this article. 

It may help to understand the title if one first understands a few things about my parents. First, my dad was a rather loyal defender of my mom. Secondly, the two of them knew some Dutch. So as supper would be winding down, Dad might start wondering about dessert. However, to ask mom outright whether she had made a dessert was too risky in front of us kids. The answer might be no, and Dad worried that such could reflect negatively on mom. So the question was put in Dutch, Komt te achter aan?, or something like that. Crudely translated, it means, “Have you thought about something good that comes later?” While the ploy only faked us kids out for a meal or two, the phrase lives on in my mind as a bit of a snapshot of our family history. Komt te achter aan?1 Have you thought about the coming good? While the family history includes shipwreck, epidemics, deposition, and a Protestant Reformed church that most of the current generation never even heard of, it is still a story of God’s covenant faithfulness. But I am getting way ahead of myself. Join me in a trip back through the years of God’s way always being good, even when His people could not see that goodness coming. 

Friesland to the Americas 

The Regnerus2 family history starts in the Dutch province of Friesland. My great-grandparents, Louis and Gertrude Regnerus, resided in the area of Marrum, Friesland. This was in the 1880s. They had a number of children and were quite Reformed in their outlook. They had many spiritual blessings, but they were also extremely poor materially. Louis worked as a hired man for an area farmer. The opportunity for career and economic advancement was completely zero at this time in Friesland. Louis knew this. He would never rise above being a hired hand. For that matter, neither would his sons nor his sons’ sons. That is the way it was. Louis was usually content with this, but one can also imagine that sometimes Louis wondered what it would be like elsewhere, to live in a land of opportunity. 

Indeed, the opportunity came! An agent came to Friesland who was recruiting men, especially men with sons, to relocate to a Dutch settlement in South America. South America, mind you! Land was cheap and fertile in Argentina. A ship was leaving soon for Buenos Aires, and one could join the other Dutchmen who were already gathering in the bounty of this new land. Louis made a decision driven by economics. He sold what little he had and bought passage for his young family on the SS Leerdam I (photo below). My grandfather, Reindert Regnerus, was two years old at this time. Born in 1887, it was 1889 when his parents were on the move. Argentina, here we come! 

And then, the fatherly hand of God showed that Argentina was not His plan. The Leerdam was hardly at sea when calamity struck. In the thick fog that can envelop the North Sea, the Leerdam collided with a British merchant ship. The two vessels, impaled together, began their slow descent into the cold waters. The Leerdam is at the absolute bottom of the North Sea to this very day. No more Argentina. God had a different goodness planned for the family.

The passengers on the Leerdam, rescued by the French Emma and brought back to the harbor from which they had just departed, faced this hardship with strong resolve. The Regnerus’ minimal existence resumed as it had before, albeit now with even less money. Louis did not shake his fist at the sky over his waylaid plans, although he did have some advice for his children. His advice was that as soon as they reached an age when they could subsist on their own, they get out of the Netherlands and live somewhere that offered more opportunity, even if it meant leaving one at a time for faraway lands.

My grandfather Reindert listened to his father. He eventually got out of the Netherlands. Although, this time North America was the destination.

The Ellis Island record shows that Reindert Regnerus immigrated in 1916. That would make him about age 29. He settled in the southwest Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn, IL, at that time a rather rural setting. Reindert was an active member in the Oak Lawn Christian Reformed Church. Dora Leistra became his bride. As with the case of many Chicago Dutchmen, Reindert’s first jobs were in the garbage industry. Later, he rented a twenty-acre vegetable farm near the intersection of 87th and Ridgeland Ave. from a relative, and that is how and where he raised his family the rest of his working days. He was content.3 Yet, while God had trials for Reindert and Dora, God also had a great goodness in store for them. Achter aan.

The Oak Lawn years

Reindert and Dora were blessed quickly with three young children, Margaret, Louis, and Evelyn. However, their early happiness was soon shaken to the core. An epidemic swept through the Chicago area. Louis and Evelyn contracted the dreaded disease in 1922 at ages 3 and 2. I am unsure which one perished first, but I do know that Reindert and Dora hardly dared to leave the bedside of the living to attend the funeral of the deceased. It was decided that Reindert would attend the funeral of the deceased child while Dora stayed with the ailing child. And then, while Dora sat alone with the ailing child, and Reindert buried the deceased child, the one under Dora’s care also fell into the sleep of death. Unutterable grief for this young couple. Two funerals in the span of a few days. That was 1922.

1923 started a whirlwind of events for Reindert and Dora.

First, the Lord who had taken away also gave. Twin sons! Jacob and Louis! Except Dora was not immediately saying, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” at least according to oral history. Her response almost seems unnatural, but can we find a little understanding for an anguished mother? There she stood twisting her hands together, her eyes moving back and forth between two shoe boxes, each containing a twin. Twins born at home. Preemie twins. Twins with a hernia. One twin with a severely crooked back. It is 1923, remember. Having buried two toddlers in just the year prior, and the two newborns not looking so great either, Dora anguished of how she could possibly face two more funerals.

Yet, God had something better ahead. Achter aan. Dora heeded the minister’s word of encouragement and eventually took to the twins. They did not die. In fact, they flourished and brought great joy to Reindert and Dora. The twins both enjoyed about fourscore years. Great joy! But we will get back to the twins in a bit.

The second big event going on for Reindert and Dora centered about their church life. This was not so joyful. Reindert was now an elder in the Oak Lawn CRC. Common grace, and the CRC adoption of the Three Points in 1924, was on everybody’s mind. Reindert was wrestling mightily. He was not in agreement with his denomination’s position on the matter. Such is not a comfortable spot to be in, and I can only imagine the turmoil in Reindert’s soul. 

I am unsure of the exact sequence of events, but I can figure out that three things happened starting in 1923 and spilling into 1924 and 1925. The first is that Reindert protested the Three Points to the CRC Synod. The second is that Reindert was part of a group that invited Rev. Herman Hoeksema to lecture in Oak Lawn, a lecture that Reindert attended. The third thing is that Reindert got deposed. 

Yet, once again, God had something better in store for Reindert and Dora. 

The Oak Lawn Protestant Reformed Church was organized in 1927. Reindert and Dora now had a church home that was small but sturdy. Oak Lawn was never a large church, but it was lively, spiritually strong, and even hosted the third Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention in 1941. The Oak Lawn church weathered the split of 1953 with minimal effect. It was in the Oak Lawn Protestant Reformed Church that my dad, Louis, married my mom, Martha Wierenga,4 and Dad’s twin brother, Jacob, married Rena Rutgers. All of the twins’ children, including myself, were baptized in the Oak Lawn church. Several of their older children made confession of Faith in Oak Lawn. It was a good church that the Regnerus clan loved. 

The church was spiritually-minded, as were the families. I list one exhibit of how it translated into family life. Some readers may be aware that the fare for supper on a Saturday night at a Regnerus home runs a fairly high likelihood of being hamburgers. While today it is maybe observed as tradition, Saturday night hamburgers started as a spiritual decision. You see, the next day is Sunday, and preparation for Sunday started Saturday afternoon. The Sunday noon meal was largely prepared to the point where it only needed to be placed in the oven. Sunday shoes were polished and lined up by the door so there would be no scramble to find them on Sunday morning. And the Saturday evening meal was going to be simple and predictable so that the mothers of the home were not burdened with any extra drukte. 5 Hamburgers it would be. 

Oak Lawn PRC was a sturdy church home for the Regnerus family. However, the church was not to last.

Sadly, the Oak Lawn church did not endure to see its 50th anniversary. One can look to three matters that contributed to its demise. First, the post-WWII economic boon skipped right over this little flock. If the reader ever reads Rev. C. Hanko’s memoirs, Less than the Least, they will remember how he vividly recounts the pre-war poverty that clung to Oak Lawn. When things did not change a lot after the war, the subsequent decades saw families move away in pursuit of a fresh start elsewhere. Secondly, a school controversy in the mid-1960’s rocked the church. And thirdly, hard on the heels of the school controversy came another controversy that would be the final blow to Oak Lawn. A became embroiled in a turmoil that scattered what was left of the little flock. 

Concerning the Regnerus family, Jacob Regnerus moved his family to Randolph, WI, in 1968. The Oak Lawn congregation limped along a bit and then disbanded in 1971. The family of Louis Regnerus, my dad’s family, stayed around to the end. I was about nine years old at this time. I remember Rev. R. Decker coming over from South Holland PRC to lead the final worship service. And then the lights went out in what had been a good congregation. My parents grieved deeply. 

And still, in His covenant faithfulness, God again had something better for us. Achter aan

God’s faithfulness to the present 

With Oak Lawn’s disbanding, the Jacob Regnerus family continued to flourish up in Wisconsin while the Louis Regnerus family made preparations to move to South Holland, twenty miles to the south. 

There was a certain level of nervousness involved in this move to South Holland. It was not just the scariness of going to a new church and meeting new people. Nor was it even that the Regnerus clan thought of itself as rather plain, even borderline cruddy, and we wondered how we would ever fit in with what we thought were the suave and cosmopolitan people of South Holland. Our fear ran even deeper. The reader should understand how an embarrassing part of our history is that the school controversy of the 1960’s had been between Oak Lawn and South Holland. The controversy was over, but would South Holland still welcome us? 

In a great testimony of God’s healing mercy, and as a miraculous exhibit of people with big hearts and spiritual fortitude, the South Holland congregation welcomed us with open and loving arms! What followed were many years of a spiritual feast of solid preaching and a fully- orbed congregational life. We even found the saints there to be more like us than we had thought! What a blessing! 

From this point on the Regnerus family history in the PRCA gets too spread out to keep the reader’s mind clear. Generations grew old and were taken to glory, and new generations arose. Through marriage and career relocations, the Regnerus clan got more scattered. If Oak Lawn was the bastion of the clan in the early days, I would probably give the nod to Randolph PRC for the present. Most of the Jacob Regnerus family worships there, and also several of the Louis Regnerus family have migrated there. A portion of the family is still in the Illinois/Indiana area, and others of us have spread out to sundry spots across the denomination. We still love our church life. Our vocational callings are nothing unheard of. We drive dump trucks, raise families, make waffle mix, teach, preach, pound nails, wire houses, and so on. Komt te achter aan. So what’s coming next? 

Of course, only the Lord knows the future. However, we do not continue in fear. We stand with our fore- fathers in the principles of the Reformation. The truth of God’s church is strong and beautiful. We mark the bulwarks of the church. We consider her palaces. And we tell it to the generation following (Ps. 48). 

We love the instituted church. We are still in the age of the church. Congregations are a beautiful manifestation of the body of Christ, but even congregations rise and fall. Yet, God is always faithful. God did not abandon the Regnerus generations with the closing of the Oak Lawn congregation. Neither will God abandon His people when the age of the instituted church reaches its end. He will be with us until Christ returns on the clouds of glory. 

And then, finally, we will not say achter aan any more. Then we will live that glory with Him for eternity. 

1 In my upbringing, the Dutch phrase was only used in reference to a dessert after supper. Relocating to northwest Iowa later in life, I encountered other Dutchmen who were also familiar with the phrase. However, they did not use the phrase to refer to dessert. It was no small source of amusement to me that, rather, they referred to a situation where a family seemingly has reached the end of child-bearing years, and the quiver seems to be full, so to speak, when five or ten years later another baby is born. That is what my Iowa friends call an achter aan. I guess that is like a dessert as well! 

2 The name Regnerus does not sound very Dutch. It has no meaning in Dutch. However, take off the Latinate suffix –us and in French the name Regner means “to reign.” That is the first evi- dence that maybe, just maybe, we are of French Huguenot ancestry. The second evidence is that some of the persecuted Huguenots fleeing France at the time of the Reformation did actually find refuge in Friesland. The third, and flimsiest, evidence of French ancestry is that our pedigree is littered with family members with the common French first name of Louis. The name supposedly means “valiant warrior” in French, but there are still plenty of Dutchmen named Louis. 

3 In America’s agricultural economy, there is a desired progression where one might start as a hired hand for another farmer, then become a tenant farmer on rented land, and finally be a land-owning farmer. Reindert reached the level of being a tenant farmer and no more. The only plot of land in America to ever have his name on it is his burial plot. 

4 The Wierenga emigration to America differed from the Regnerus emigration, although both families ended up as neighboring farmers in Oak Lawn. The Wierenga emigration was later, happening in the late 1920’s. My mother, Martha, was born in Groningen and emigrated just in time for first grade. The Wierenga emigration was not for economic reasons, but for spiritual. Willem Wierenga, my grandfather, had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the church in the Netherlands. Hearing of the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America was the motive for the emigration. 

5 Dutch for “busyness.”