As a child who grew up in Hudsonville PRC, I have several memories of our old church building on School Street, now torn down and an empty lot. One of those memories, is watching old Mr. George Kamps, who was Grandpa Kamps to many of my classmates and friends. Sunday after Sunday, with the help of two close family members, Mr. Kamps was helped down the aisle and into a pew, Nellie following slowly behind. As we continue Remembering the days of old…the days and years leading up to and during the startup of the Protestant Reformed Churches…may God be praised. —J. H.
Much of this article was constructed from the written and gathered material of my uncle Marvin near the end of his earthly pilgrimage. His loving granddaughters, Sydney and Nicole Kamps, put the material into book form. —George Kamps, member of Zion PRC
My great-grandfather Willem (William) (1857-1937) was born to Geert Kamps (1819-1922) and Geesje Brink (1820-1886), his second wife. Two years before he married Geesje, Geert’s first wife, Jantje Fiening died. Willem grew up in Haren, Groningen in the Netherlands in a Reformed church family home. The Kamps were an Afscheiding (Secession) church family.
I am the youngest grandchild of my grandfather, Geert (“George”) Kamps and my grandmother, Pieternella Japje (Nellie) Nobel. George was born on January 25, 1891 to Willem Kamps and Geesje (Grace) Brink (1856-1940) in the Village of Onnen, Province of Groningen. Geesje (1856) was a niece to Geesje (1820). George was the second child born to Willem and Geesje. His older brother, also first named George (Geert), died just seven weeks before my grandpa George was born, sadly having drowned in a pit on the family farm. After George, Willem and Gessje were blessed with four more children.
On April 17, 1905, my great-grandparents Willem and Geesje, and their five children: Geert, Folkerdina, Hendrik, Geesje, and Lou immigrated to the United States. They disembarked from the ship Ryndam, arriving in the United States at Ellis Island on May 2, 1905. All of their Dutch names were immediately changed by immigration officials to American names: Willem (William), Geert (George), Geesje (Grace), Folkerdina (Dena), Hendrik (Henry), and Lukas (Louis). They left behind Willem’s father, Geert Kamps, who was already 85 years of age. Geert lived another 17 years nearly alone in the Netherlands because almost all of his children had immigrated to the United States. To commemorate his 100th birthday, the local newspaper crafted a small article along with a photo of my great-great-grandfather (see above photo). The article mentioned that Geert had 30 grandchildren and 80 great-grandchildren. The author of the article wrote about Geert, “The all important thing is, however, that he gives the honor to God for everything and hopes in the grace of God for eternal life.”
After leaving Ellis Island, Willem and Geesje arrived in Holland, Michigan near Lake Macatawa, eventually settling in Borculo, Michigan. From approximately 1906-1909, they rented a home and became members of the Borculo Christian Reformed Church (CRC). After Borculo, the Willem Kamps family moved to East Saugatuck, where they became members of the CRC there. While in East Saugatuck, my grandfather, George, and his brother Hank worked for a time on the Belvedere Farm. Today, that farm is the Belvedere Restaurant and Bed and Breakfast. Grandpa worked there as a teen, sleeping in the loft of the barn with the other hired hands. He preferred to stay home on the weekends.
The Kamps family, like many immigrants, lived in several rental properties and constantly moved because when Willem and Geesje fixed up a house and made it their home, the landlord would sell it. About 1915, the Willem Kamps family moved to Wayland, Michigan after purchasing nearly 80 acres. My grandfather, now 24 years of age, and his brother Lou led the cows behind the wagon of furniture from East Saugatuck to Wayland. The Kamps family then became members at the CRC mission station in Bradley, Michigan.
The Bradley CRC mission station did not have their own pastor. During the summer months the small congregation was favored regularly with excellent preaching by Calvin Seminary professors S. Volbeda and F. tenHoor, as well as other preachers who vacationed near Gun Lake and filled the pulpit on the Lord’s Day. Sometime before 1920, George was made deacon. However, this was met with some resistance, as his nomination was protested by an older man in the church. This protest was based on the fact that George Kamps “was not the husband of one wife” (he was not yet married) as is a requirement in Scripture. Single men supposedly could not be officebearers! The man’s protest was denied.
My maternal great-grandpa Cornelius Nobel (1863- 1938) was a member in the state church in the Netherlands. Cornelius was a keen follower of Dr. Abraham Kuyper’s leadership in the Heraut and De Standard and his other writings. He left the state church and joined the Gereformerde Kerk (GKN) and was one of the founding fathers with his wife in the Strijen GKN Church in the South Holland Province.
My grandma Nellie Nobel (“Nellie”) (1904-1984) and four of her siblings immigrated to the United States and arrived at Ellis Island on June 14, 1920 on the ship S.S. Finland with her parents Cornelius Nobel and his second wife Marie Groeneveld. Nellie’s birth mother Teuntje Verzijl died in childbearing in 1907. Cornelius Nobel then purchased a place almost adjacent to the Kamps family farm in the Wayland area. Nellie became a neighbor of George and a fellow church member in Bradley CRC. Nellie, then sixteen years old, found work as a domestic servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Franklin Ave. for a well off and established Dutch family. Nellie worked there throughout the week and on Sunday mornings she would help the lady of the house get her family ready for church. Finally, she would ready herself and walk to another nearby church, Eastern Ave. CRC. Nellie spoke with great admiration for her young enthusiastic minister, Herman Hoeksema, who recently took his second charge at Eastern Ave. CRC.
George and Nellie were married May 24, 1921. They were married at the parsonage of Eastern Ave. CRC by Rev. H. Hoeksema. This wedding took place during the upheaval in the churches over the instruction in the seminary by Dr. R. Janssen. Why were George and Nellie, who were living in Wayland, married in Grand Rapids, and why specifically by Rev. H. Hoeksema? First, great-grandpa Willem and great-grandma Geesje and children knew Rev. H. Hoeksema and frequented the pews in his first charge, 14th Street CRC in Holland, from 1915-1920. They were impressed with the Groninger manner of Rev. H. Hoeksema’s personality and preaching: straightforward, direct, properly bold, relentless, yet dignified and consciously delivered scriptural truth in service of Christ Jesus. Second, the Kamps family lived in and among the church and read The Banner and De Wachter. Early in his ministry, Rev. Hoeksema was an associate editor of The Banner. Third, my grandpa George knew Rev. H. Hoeksema long before 1924. While in the Netherlands, George attended the local Christian grade school in the city of Groningen. This is the same grade school Herman Hoeksema was attending, although Herman was five years his senior.
In 1924-1925, the Kamps family became members in the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC). It was my great-grandpa Willem Kamps who said to his children, “Algemeene genade ist algemeene verzoening! (General [common] grace is general atonement!”) He did not want to hear that kind of unbilical preaching and thus stood with Reverends Hoeksema, H. Danhof, and G. M. Ophoff.
From 1922 until 1932 George and Nellie had seven children. In 1923, George’s brother Hank died of spinal meningitis, leaving behind two children and his wife. In 1929, their sixth child, my uncle George, was born with polio, no vaccination yet having been discovered. During this time they became members of the first Byron Center PRC. Rev. G. Ophoff would drive to the farm to give catechetical instruction to the children. Grandpa George did not have a suit for church. Due to the Depression era, he only had jeans that Nellie would launder on Saturday. Rev. Ophoff noticed his need and gave him one of his suits. Later, Rev. Ophoff inquired why George did not wear his suit. Well, simply put, George was six-feet three-inches tall and very slim built. Rev. Ophoff was much shorter and not such a thinly built man.
Then finally in 1932, George and Nellie were faced with having to give up the farm land to secure his father Willem’s farm. The bank also came to take the farm animals. The effects of the Great Depression hit the family hard. Grandpa sold his onions, which were raised on muck in the back of the farm property, to a company in Chicago. The onions were transported by rail, but George did not receive a check for his onions. Instead, he received a bill for the shipping. The onions were worthless on the market.
The George Kamps family moved six times over the course of the next 14 years and eventually had twelve children in all. In 1935, they moved to the city of Grand Rapids for work and became members of First PRC. Then in 1938, they moved to the west side of Grand Rapids and became members of Creston PRC, where Rev. H. Veldman served. About this time, George scratched his arm on a barbed wire fence at his home that eventually led to blood poisoning. This ailment left his hands deformed because penicillin was not yet formulated.
In 1939, the family moved out of the city to “apple orchard country,” north of Grand Rapids. It was here that the last two children (the twins), Leon (my Dad) and Marvin (my uncle), were born. This move removed the Kamps children from the Christian schools. The neighborhood was mostly non-Reformed people or Roman Catholics. George surely yearned to be out of the city, having been a farmer his whole life. Rev. H. Veldman had a message for George at family visitation, “George, you don’t belong here!” This was because George left the Reformed environment and specifically the Pine Street Christian School.
Not long after this admonition, George and Nellie moved back to the city with all twelve of their children, back to the Christian school and a more Reformed neighborhood. This move also benefited their second oldest son Hank, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1940. He could more easily get the medical care he needed. In 1944, at the young age of 21, Hank died from lung cancer that metastasized to his brain.
Then finally in 1947, the family moved to Hudsonville, Michigan into their first purchased home since the start of the Great Depression. On a Sunday, not long after moving there, a fire raged and burned a portion of the home. The Oostrink construction company that George was working for donated their time and effort for a couple of days to rebuild and restore the home. Hudsonville PRC’s diaconate helped financially. George and Nellie were profoundly grateful for this care of God’s people.
My uncle Marvin spoke of his father as a soft, kind, unassuming, sober, hardworking, and selfless man. He did not waste time with idle pursuits and self-seeking endeavors. “I learned more about spirituality from our father’s quiet submission to the Lord’s way, from his self-denying embrace of the church, and the individual saint, than I learned from most of the learned men and women that I met on life’s pathway. God used him to enrich our lives spiritually, if not intellectually, politically, and financially.”
It is evident by their challenging journey from the Netherlands to America, and ultimately into the PRC that it was only by God’s grace and mercy that the Kamps family was preserved. George and Nellie remained in Hudsonville PRC until their deaths. God blessed them with 77 grandchildren and over 230 great-grandchildren and today many, many great-great-grandchildren. Our God keeps His covenantal promises.
Presently, the majority of the George and Nellie family remain in the Western Michigan area. Our Protestant Reformed family has existed for nearly one hundred years. During its infancy, the Kamps family was led to this beautiful Reformed heritage. At the end of his book titled “Our Dad,” uncle Marvin said it well: “We had a grand rearing. We were given dedicated, loving, self-denying parents; we were placed into the church through baptism; we were instructed in the truth of the Reformed faith in catechism and the preaching and called upon to walk as God’s friends in the world. We often failed; our God never failed us but He was ever faithful.” For this we give thanks. May God graciously continue to preserve the Protestant Reformed Churches.