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

What is published here and in the next issue are part of the history Mr. Cal Kalsbeek wrote originally and primarily for the benefit of the descendants of his father, the late Mr. John M. Kalsbeek (1913-2005). We thank him for sharing some of the history he has researched and written concerning his family.

Cal offered the following explanation to his family members: “It will soon become obvious to the reader that ‘Dad’ is the focus of what I have written. This happened largely because the vast majority of the material I had at my disposal was obtained from him in written or recorded form…. Readers should keep in mind that what you read is written from my perspective; thus when you read the words ‘Dad,’, ‘Mom,’ ‘Unc,’ etc., they are referring to those who are connected to me by that relationship.”

The Kalsbeek family’s Frisian roots are found in the deep, dark forests of Northern Europe. In the Lord’s wisdom, for many centuries our descendants were left in their gross idolatry. They worshiped gods named Woden and Thor. But the Lord in His infinite mercy sent them Christian missionaries. At first these messengers of the gospel were rejected. One such messenger, Boniface, and fifty-three of his companions were killed by the Frisians near the present city of Dokkum in 754. Yet in time the pagan Frisians were defeated by the irresistible power of the gospel. Thus the Frisians would be but one of many pagan peoples to fulfill what the psalmist foretold in Psalm 87. Psalter number 237 verses 2 and 3 express it this way:

Heathen lands and hostile peoples

Soon shall come the Lord to know;

Nations born again in Zion

Shall the Lord’s salvation show;

God Almighty shall on Zion’s strength bestow.

 

When the Lord shall count the nations,

Sons and daughters He shall see,

Born to endless life in Zion,

And their joyful song shall be,

“Blessed Zion, all our fountains are in thee.”

Read, or sing, those words again and consider what a merciful God the Kalsbeeks have! He could have just as well left us in our paganism. He certainly did not need us. Yet He dealt with us according as He has elected us in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks and all praise be to Him!

Immigration to America and early years in the Zeeland, Michigan area

While America may have been glamorized as a land of promise or a “land of opportunity,” it would not prove to be so, at least at first, for the Kalsbeeks.

After the trip across the Atlantic, Dad’s grandparents and mother (Anna Dantuma) traveled by train and settled in North Dakota where Anna’s sister lived. It is likely that as immigrants they needed a sponsor so they needed to live with or near their sponsor. For whatever reason, their stay in North Dakota was a brief one. Within a year they moved to Zeeland, Michigan, where Dad’s Uncle Jake Kalsbeek had settled in 1910 when he moved to America at age 17.

Hessel DeJong family Back row, left to right: Dad (John, married Henrietta Knoper), Jenny (married Henry Veltman), Chuck (married Ruth Hoffmeyer); Front row, left to right Anna, Grace (married John VanBeek), Hessel

Sadly, Dad’s father, Jan, was not able to come with his parents and future wife since he had to complete his service as an infantry sergeant in the Dutch military. Shortly before his parents came to America, Jan became engaged to Antje Dantuma (Anna), and it was decided that she would come to America with her future father and mother-in-law. Jan would join them in Zeeland the following year.

Soon after Anna’s arrival in Zeeland, Jan arrived, and on March 29, 1913 they were joined in holy matrimony during a regular church service in the First Christian Reformed Church of Zeeland, Michigan. Later that same year Dad was born on December 13. Dad’s father was quick to demonstrate what he believed to be important by joining the Christian School Society (even before the actual school was in existence) and by becoming a member the Men’s Society in the Christian Reformed Church in Zeeland.

Jan found work as a cabinet maker at the Michigan Star Furniture Company, and it looked like this young married couple were off to a happy beginning to life in America. However, before Jan even had time to learn the language of his newly adopted country, the Lord called him home. On his first anniversary (March 29, 1914) when his young son, John, was only three and a half months old, he died at the age of 26 and was buried in the Zeeland Cemetery. While his death certificate indicated that he died of “intestinal obstruction,” the family later concluded it was likely a burst appendix.

We can only speculate about how the young 26-year-old widow (Anna) and her infant son (John) coped with the tragic death of her husband. Certainly they had the support of Jan’s parents and Jan’s brother Jacob as well as the congregation of the First Christian Reformed Church of Zeeland, but no doubt it was a great trial for Anna.

At this time, in the Lord’s wisdom, the town of Zeeland also was home to Hessel DeJong, whose occupation was, according to his marriage license, “Rubber in Factory.” Hessel was married to Tettje Roosje and on December 27, 1914 the Lord gave them a son, Teddy Syske DeJong. However, on January 7, 1915 (less than two weeks after her son Teddy was born) the 25-yearold Tettje died of childbirth complications, leaving Hessel a widower. Then, on June 12, 1915, at less than six months old, Teddy followed his mother to the grave.

During the trying circumstances of having a young son to rear without a wife, Hessel hired the widow, Anna Kalsbeek, as his housekeeper, and within a year the 27-year-old Hessel married her on February 16, 1916. From this union three children were born as half siblings of Dad: Chuck, Jennie, and Grace.

When Dad was 4 years old, the Hessel DeJong family moved to Vriesland to live with his Uncle Nick (Dad’s mother’s brother, Nick Dantema). Dad remembered that their house was by M-21 near the railroad tracks and that they attended Zutphen Christian Reformed Church. Then in 1919 they moved “north of the muck” and went to Beaverdam Christian Reformed Church. Here they raised celery on a farm owned by a Mr. Vander Meulen. While living there, Dad attended Beaverdam Christian School with an older classmate named George Lubbers (the later Rev. George Lubbers).

Dad’s Byron Center years

In the Fall of 1921 when Dad was seven, they moved to Byron Center, Michigan where Hessel and Anna DeJong bought a farm on 92nd Street. It appears that a certain Mr. Van Solkema convinced Hessel that pastures were greener in the Byron Center area. Their subsequent years on 92nd Street would suggest however, that if the pastures were indeed greener, they were not much greener.

Dad’s family spent the next 16 years in the Byron area; from the time that Dad was 7 until he was 22. At his 1998 birthday party Dad had a few things to tell his grandchildren about his school years at Byron Center Christian School:

In 1921 we moved to a celery farm in Byron Center. Grandpa was in second grade that spring. At school we had an outhouse for the girls and one for the boys. A pitcher pump near the front entrance, with a tin cup for drinking water; and of course we walked to and from school. Two families lived near Dorr, five miles from school. These children came to school by horse and buggy. The horses were kept in the church barn during school hours. We carried our lunch to school in a Karo syrup pail or wrapped in a newspaper. The boys played ball, pom pom pull away, prisoner’s goal, bull in the ring, shinny, and when there was packing snow, chose up sides for snowball fights. The girls often played jump rope, hop scotch, or ball and jacks. Grandpa was one of four graduates for the 8th grade in 1927.

It is interesting to note that Dad was known as John DeJong while attending Byron Center Christian School; in fact, DeJong is the name on his 5th grade report card. Apparently, once Dad’s mother married Hessel DeJong Dad was called DeJong. Sometime before Dad graduated from 8th grade Dad’s step dad told him that he needed to take back his biological father’s name and start calling himself John Kalsbeek.

There can be no doubt that the church and church membership were front and center for the Hessel De- Jong family. When they moved to Byron in 1921, they joined the Christian Reformed Church.

Just a few years later a controversy over the doctrine of common grace began to simmer in Grand Rapids over Herman Hoeksema’s rejection of this doctrine in Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church. At his 1998 birthday party Dad had some things to tell us about that:

Now we must call to mind a most important event; one that explains the fact that we are a Protestant Reformed family today.

….The first indication grandpa (Dad) had of something unusual happening in Grand Rapids, was when his pa and ma (Hessel and Anna DeJong) seemed unusually interested in an article in the Grand Rapids Herald. It had to do with a certain Rev. H. Hoeksema whose picture was on the front page. But being only 11 years old it didn’t mean anything to grandpa (Dad). However, over the next couple of years, he began to hear much talk concerning the ousting of Rev. Hoeksema as minister of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church by his classis. Not only that, the Protesting Reformed Churches1 were being organized, also one in Byron Center.

It was in the latter part of 1926 that things pertaining to the church came to a head in our family. Grandpa (Dad) was 13 years of age and in the 8th grade at the time. One evening we received a visit from the consistory of our church (Byron Center CRC). In fact, it was the minister and one of the elders. Pa DeJong was asked why he had not presented his baby daughter for baptism. On November 12, grandpa’s (Dad) sister Grace was born. Probably several weeks had gone by and no request to schedule a date for baptism. What was the reason for this neglect? That was an important question. It was only proper according to the Church Order for the consistory to look into the matter. Pa DeJong had some explaining to do, there could be no beating around the bush. Pa DeJong answered to the consistorial committee that it was impossible for him to give an affirmative answer to the second question of the baptism form. The 2nd question asked of parents at baptism reads as follows: “Whether you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament and in the articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught in this church to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation?”

…it was grandpa Hessel DeJong’s conviction regarding the important question in the baptism form that explains why we are here tonight as members of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America.

Hessel DeJong could not in good conscience answer “yes” to the 2nd question of the Baptism Form because the Christian Reformed Church had adopted common grace as an official doctrine of the church and Hessel DeJong was convinced that it was false. Consequently, Hessel moved his family to the recently organized Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center where a short time later Grace was baptized. (to be continued)


1 The three (3) congregations that were removed from the CRC in 1925, namely Eastern Avenue, Hope, and Kalamazoo.