PRC Archives: Rev. C. Hanko’s Recollection of the 1918-19 Pandemic

Our PRC Archives item this Thursday relates to the present pandemic sweeping the world, COVID-19. But in 1918-19 a far greater pandemic swept the world, taking away one fifth of the wold’s population. How did this affect the life of God’s people and His church then?

Less_Than_the_least-CHanko-2017Rev. Cornelius Hanko’s book of memoirs contains his personal remembrance of the disastrous worldwide flu (Spanish influenza) of 1918-19. Hear his story as the church and her saints dealt with a great affliction in those days too:

And then, to make matters worse, the influenza epidemic hit in the winter of 1918-1919. Once more schools and churches were closed for six weeks. Almost no one went to work. Nearly every home had one or more sick with the flu. Doctors could not keep up with the calls that came in. They worked day and night. But the worst of all was that they knew no cure. They tried the usual medicines, and they tried the most caustic medicines, all to no avail. Hundreds died. Funeral services were held outside. Very few went to the cemetery.

A little girl in our neighborhood died also. Her coffin was placed by the front window for the neighbors to see. The minister preached the funeral sermon in the street.

A gloom hung over all. Everyone wondered, ‘Will it strike us next?’ There were some homes in which the whole family was stricken, and one home in which there were five deaths. My future mother-in-law, Mrs. Alida Griffioen, gave birth to a child in a room shut off by sheets while others in the family had the flu.

Ministers were in a quandary as to what to do. Rev. Groen was so afraid of catching the flu that he refused to visit any one. Rev. Peter Jonker Jr. of Dennis Avenue Christian Reformed Church was out almost day and night visiting the sick. He would place a ladder next to an upstairs window in order to visit someone upstairs. He wore himself out to the point where he could hardly preach. The consistory allowed him to preach old sermons for awhile.

Our family was spared. We sat at home, trying to seek a bit of entertainment amongst ourselves. But sitting home day after day can grow very wearisome. I remember walking along Wealthy Street just to get out, but the streets were void of pedestrians. The street was ‘like a painted ship on a painted ocean.’ [a line from a poem of Samuel T. Coleridge] It hardly seemed real. The break came on Sunday when we had our home service in the morning. To prevent further spreading of the sickness, no more than seven people were allowed to meet together; but we did invite in a few neighbors. These were times when prayer was no longer a mere formality, but a cry of the anxious soul pleading for the sick and bereaved.

As the nation struggled to deal with this public health disaster, it also had to contend with sick and crippled men returning from the front.

Taken from Less Than the Least: Memoirs of Cornelius Hanko, 2nd ed. (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, pp. 42-43.

It may be necessary to note that though I begin this post with the title “PRC Archives” because C. Hanko became a Protestant Reformed Churches’ member and minister of the Word, the history recalled and recorded here is really “pre-PRC” (the PRC did not begin until 1924-25) and took place when Cornelius was a lad of 11/12 years old (he was born in 1907) and still a member by baptism in the Christian Reformed Church. Hence, the reference to the CRC ministers also.

Exciting Ice Fishing (But not on Sunday!)

Mom and Dad, though, insisted that Sunday was always for church. I grumbled somewhat but went along with them and Laverne to Central Methodist Church on South Cass Street [in Traverse City]. From the top of the steps it was possible to see the bay [Grand Traverse] though, and one Sunday as we came out I noticed the ice out there doing strange things. I convinced Dad that we should walk over to check on our shanty.

While the bay was still frozen, an extremely strong north wind was blowing toward Traverse City. Far up the bay, the ice had broken up and waves were actually rolling under the remaining ice coating. Oddly, it had not yet broken up at the south end but was bending and groaning under the unusual stresses being exerted against it.

It was obvious the bay was about to break up. As we stood there glumly watching, a lad came by. ‘I’ll go out and get your shanty for a dollar,’ he offered. Dad declined, saying he wouldn’t risk anyone’s life like that for any price.

Sadly, we watched as one after another of the cluster of shanties tipped and fell into open water that soon appeared as the ice gradually gave way. Not wanting to see our beloved casket box [his dad worked as a wooden casket maker] meet a similar fate, we turned and walked on home.

Next day, I just had to get back there to see if anything could be seen of our little fishing structure. I was shocked and delighted to find it still sitting jauntily on the ice that was, once again, firmly joined together by an unusually low temperature during the night.

When Dad got home from work, the two of us walked out to get our shanty. We found we had, unknowingly, put it on one of the thickest pieces of drift ice in the bay and that is what saved it.

Dad, however, had other ideas to explain the salvation of our beloved fish shanty. ‘See what happens when you go to church on Sundays’? he commented.

boy-bike-buster-charles-1995Taken from a new book I found (at a thrift store) and am reading about a boy growing up in Traverse City, Michigan in the 1930s. That lad is Gordon Charles, longtime outdoor editor of the Traverse City Record-Eagle and winner of over twenty writing awards. The book is titled A Boy, a Bike, and Buster: (his dog) Fishing and Hunting in Michigan’s Good Old Days and was published in 1995 by Traverse Outdoor Press. It’s a nice, easy read with lost of fishing and hinting tales – a good end-of-the-day read. I found this section of chapter 2 interesting, also reflecting the age in which he lived, when Sunday keeping was the norm, no matter what one’s church affiliation was.

Published in: on March 6, 2020 at 10:09 PM  Leave a Comment  

My Summer 2019 Baseball Read

EHarwell-my-life-2001As you may know by now, each summer I try to read a book with a baseball theme – sometimes history, sometimes humor – but always centered on America’s past time and my favorite summer enjoyment. My last one celebrated the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series championship! That was a great read and kept alive my memory of that historic victory by the “Cubbies”.

This year I am reading a book that is a collection of baseball stories from the pen of sports journalist and long-time Detroit Tigers baseball radio announcer Ernie Harwell. Found in a local thrift store this winter, the book is a 2001 Detroit Free Press publication and titled, Ernie Harwell: Stories from My Life in Baseball. (Harwell wrote a baseball column for the Detroit Free Press for many years and other of his stories have been published also.)

I grew up listening to him on the radio and have fond memories of his lively broadcasting (For example, after a player was called out on strikes, he would declare, “He stood there like a house by the side of the road!”).

This book contains Harwell’s short stories of baseball players, managers, and events and is written in the same lively and interesting style with which he announced the games. They are fun to read. Allow me to share one with you today involving a famous MLB pitcher who had Michigan roots, longed to play for the Tigers as a child, started with them, but was traded and became famous with another team [He is now a TV announcer for MLB.]. Here you go:

John Smoltz was destined to be a Tiger. His grandfather worked on the Tiger Stadium grounds crews. And as a Lansing [MI] sandlotter, John dreamed of the day when he would pitch for the Tigers.

He signed with Detroit on Sept.22, 1985, and began to pursue that dream. Then came the shock of his baseball life on Au.12, 1987.

‘I was in the dugout at Glen Falls [NY]’, he recalled. Somebody handed me two notes. One said, “Urgent. Call your father.” The other said to call Tiger Stadium.’

John called his dad first.

‘Have you heard?’ his father asked?

‘No, what?’

‘You’ve been traded to Atlanta. I saw it on the news.’

‘I couldn’t believe it, ‘ John said. ‘My dream of pitching for the Tigers was over. I called Tiger Stadium and Dave Miller confirmed the trade. Detroit was swapping me for Doyle Alexander. The Braves wanted me to report immediately to Richmond.’

…Since he was 7, Smoltz had loved the Tigers. He heard all their games on the radio. His dad and brothers would drive from Lansing to see the Tigers. His grandfather would interrupt his grounds crew duty, grab John by the hand, and introduce him to team executives Bill Lajoie and Jim Campbell.

‘Someday,’ his grandfather would say, ‘this young man will be pitching for you guys.’

…He was a Tiger for three years until the Alexander trade. Then he became a star with Atlanta.

But he will never forget Aug.12, 1987, and the trade that changed the career of a young pitcher who had been destined to be a Tiger. [pp.20-22]

Ann Arbor’s Wonderful Libraries


Last week Thursday and Friday my wife and I took a few days off to explore the city of Ann Arbor, a couple of hours east of Grand Rapids.


And while Ann Arbor is home to the mighty victors, the University of Michigan Wolverines, it is also home to a great study and research university, supported by its wonderful libraries, archives, and special collections.


Plus, the downtown area is packed with great eateries (Zingerman’s famous deli – our lunch stop!) and shops, including a few bookstores.


We spent time visiting several of the libraries, including the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, the sister center to the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids (both operated by the National Archives).



There are terrific displays of Ford’s life and work, as a student-athlete at UM (he played football), as a long-time congressman from Grand Rapids, then as the Vice-president of the U.S. under R. Nixon, and then as President. The other side of the library features Ford’s influential wife Betty. It is worth your while to visit this important presidential library.


But there are other libraries that hold amazing treasures too. Probably my favorite is the William Clements Library, named after one of the university’s early regents who donated his collection of rare books, maps, etc. to UM and for which this library was built in 1923.


It is a beautiful old structure, designed with Italian renaissance style. And the holdings are truly amazing.


Another wonderful library was the Hatcher Graduate Library, especially its special collections. This included a room which held the desk of poet Robert Frost who taught at UM,  the rare St. John’s Bible, and a 2nd-3rd century Greek papyrus (P-46) of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians (chapters 11-12).



But the other libraries are wonderful too (all in a cluster in the central campus area), such as this one.



And so is the Museum of Art located in that same cluster.



One of the first rooms you enter is full of art with Christian and biblical themes – from the Flood to Esther, to St. John on Patmos.



And, of course, among the shops in town we visited was a classic old bookstore, and another store that had some neat book art.


But don’t worry, our trip was not just about libraries and bookstores. We also did some other shopping, spent a few hours at Ikea in nearby Canton, and played a round of golf on the way home. Two great days of relaxing while profiting from the world of books, archives, and history.20190607_100724-effects
The Lawyers Club at UM.

PRC Archives: Some New/ Old Pics – Two Churches and a Minister

Hope PRC (Walker, MI) donated some pictures to the PRC archives this week (along with some documents) and we have been enjoying them at seminary.

Many are from the 1980s and include several from PRC synods (hosted by First-GR, Hope, and SW PRCs), a PR Christian School convention (at Covenant CHS in Grand Rapids, MI), Hope’s early involvement in Singapore, and a PRYP’s Convention they hosted. There are also some individual photos of ministers and churches, and it is some of these I feature here today.

The minister is easily recognized – Rev. Marinus Schipper (1906-1985). He served the Protestant Reformed congregations of Grand Haven, MI, Second (later SW) in Wyoming, MI (twice), South Holland, IL, and SE in Grand Rapids, MI. Rev. Schipper was a powerful preacher and I remember well hearing him in my home church of Hope as a young man.

But perhaps we can make you guess which church he is in in the photo to the right below.


We also have two pictures of old PRC buildings, and these we will make into a mystery photo-guess for you. Here they are – see how you do!

I have to admit, I did not recognize either of them and had to receive help from a certain professor. If I mention him, it may give away the answers. That’s the only clue you get! 🙂


If you recognize them, let our readers know!

Published in: on March 14, 2019 at 8:28 PM  Comments (10)  

Michigan History, PRC Archives, and Maple Syrup *(Tree-tap Update!)


This morning I attended a special seminar on “Archives 101” at the headquarters of the Historical Society of Michigan (HSM) in our state capital of Lansing (in the Meijer Education Center). Having recently become a member of the society, I not only receive the Michigan History Magazine and other benefits, but also access to special seminars and workshops relating to our state’s history and archives. And lest we forget, much of that history includes her Christian churches, ministries, and missions, several of which were represented at this seminar.

Official Seal - BLUE-HSMich

Today’s seminar was a basic but profitable survey of how to do archiving. Being new to the position of archivist for our denomination, I want to learn from those who are experienced in the field. Not only was the presentation instructive (with many helpful handouts), but so also was the networking with the people in attendance.  As each of us introduced himself or herself and described our roles, I was struck by the fact that many of us are in the same positions and circumstances: serving in dual roles (librarian-archivist, or curator-archivist, or church secretary-historian) in small settings (small-town museums, collections, libraries) and facing quite similar needs (limited budgets, helpers, and space)! But that’s what makes it such a benefit to talk to one another about the what, how, and why of archiving. I was glad I took the time to go to this seminar.

Michigan-History-coverAnd I will take this opportunity to encourage our teachers and Christian schools in Michigan to take advantage of the manifold resources of the HSM, including the magazine and many history workshops and tours. The Society has a section on the website just for teachers and the MH Magazine also has a special children’s edition.

Speaking of Michigan history, did you that the famous Mackinac Island used to be one of our National Parks – the second one, in fact?



And that leads into another great Michigan past time – making maple syrup. While more common in the northern portion of the state, it can be done wherever there are good maples trees – including on the PRC Seminary property. That’s right, this week (yesterday), one of our pre-seminary students, Doner Bartolon and his son Ian, tapped into some of our maple trees so as to experience firsthand the fine art of maple-syrup making.


So I took them around and we picked out some good hard maples; then Ian and his dad did the drilling and I helped Ian with the tapping; soon the sap started to flow into the jugs they made! With warmer weather in the forecast, it is a good time to start the process. We’ll see how the syrup turns out!

Jake Green |

MLive carried a story about Michigan’s maple-syrup industry this Wednesday (March 6). Check out that fascinating report here.

*UPDATE! I checked the trees today and guess what?! The jugs are filling and some are full! Check out these two on tree #1:




And, finally, we should give you a little update on the new archive addition going out the back of the library. As you can see, not much more had been done in the last few weeks, thanks to the frigid temps and snow-laden clouds in our neck of the woods.


But, there’s hope. Today was sunny and the temp finally climbed above freezing. Ice was melting and snow receding. Word is that Bosveld plans to return next week and finish enclosing the structure so that work can begin inside. That is good news!


Of Ice Storms, Michigan Skiing, and Things Bookish

While this Friday quickly slips away, we can still get in a “Friday Fun” post, featuring things related to this week’s ice storms in West Michigan, some old skiing pictures in our great state (thanks to MLive), and some great book items from Book Patrol.

First, a few pictures of the fruits of the ice storms that hit us Wednesday and Thursday mornings of this week. Last week the Lord’s snow left a trail of beauty; this week it was His ice. Here are a few pictures from around the seminary property.





The second item is also winter related. Today MLive news featured some vintage skiing pictures taken in various parts of our state, mostly in the north country, as you might guess. I love these old photos and give a few here. Find more at this news link.

And finally, Book Patrol has been having some great book-related posts lately, including this neat one featuring some new scroll books being published. Check these out at this link (here’s an example):

Another Michigan Winter Wonderland (Designed and Directed by Our Great God)


It has been a wintry, blustery, snowy, and icy week here in West Michigan. From Monday through Thursday we were under a winter storm warning, with steadily plummeting temperatures and heavy, driving snow – first from the east and then from the west, as a northern “polar vortex” enveloped us and triggered our lake-effect “snow machine.

Drift out the back door of seminary.

Caps on the phone and power boxes on the side of seminary.

We estimate we had close to if not over two feet of snow (yes, that’s 24 inches!) – and that doesn’t include the drifts. You will see a series of pictures I took out the front door this week, as the snow accumulated. I trust you will see the progression. 🙂


Due to the snow and icy roads, as well as the below-zero temperatures (-15 F plus windchill!) our faculty cancelled two days of classes (Wednesday and Thursday). Which means we squeezed in two days – Tuesday and today (Friday). For those who may not remember this, Mondays are reserved for practice preaching and catechism instruction by our professors and students.


Even the wild turkeys were thrown off on Wednesday, as the driving snow and bitter cold led them to roost in the trees by four in the afternoon already! Why they think going higher in a tree on a day like that is going to be warmer is beyond me. The Eskimos have it right: bury yourself in it to find shelter and warmth.


Obviously, no work could be done on the seminary addition (archives and offices).

20190130_135751Personally, I think the snow adds to the cozy decor of this future office. 🙂


But is often the case, after a few wild days, the skies clear and the sun comes out, and God’s handiwork in this season of the year stands out with a brilliant glory.

A beautiful Thursday morning greeted us, complete with a “sun dog” (formed by ice crystals in the air as the sun passes through them to create a unique rainbow).

A few images of our backyard and deck.

We know the seasons and these storms are prepared and directed by our Lord’s sovereign providence, and when you see the design of the snow mounds and drifts after such events, you stand in awe of the God who alone can design and create such wintry wonders. He is the God of infinite greatness and glory, and we are so small, so helpless before His power (and cold!), and yet so dependent on that power. He humbles us, teaching us to trust Him as our Father and live out of His almighty hand and merciful heart.


And in the midst of cold and snow, He gives us seasons of good food and warm fellowship, as we had at our special Friday lunch today. Among faculty, students, staff, and friends, Rev. Daniel and Sharon Kleyn joined us to talk about their life and work in the Philippines, especially the preparations being made for their own seminary. It was a blessed time.



And some of the little lambs of our seminary family made their own fun and friendship.


Published in: on February 1, 2019 at 9:59 PM  Leave a Comment  

PRC Seminary Addition Finally Breaks Ground Today!


After months of hard work planning and preparing for the new addition to the PRC Seminary (new denominational archives room and two new offices during professor transitions, approved by this year’s PRC Synod), and months of delay waiting for approval from the city of Wyoming, the Building Committee of the Theological School Committee (led by Dave Bouwkamp) finally received the “green light” last Friday, Nov.16.


Yesterday contractor Michael Bosveld secured the building permit and today ground was broken, with excavator Jay Kuiper doing the honors of preparing the site for the pouring of the concrete footings (tomorrow) and floor (next week).


Yes, it is getting late in the season, and it has been quite cold and snowy the last few weeks (it stayed in low 30s and flakes were in the air today too!), but predictions are for a mild winter (El Nino!), so the project is going full steam ahead! Besides. the work needs to be completed by the summer of 2019!



Once the footings and floor are poured in the next week, the walls can start going up (Bouwkamp Masonry). The TSC-BC would like to get things closed in as soon as possible before the dead of winter hits (January/February).


Once the addition is enclosed, the focus can be on the interior work during the rest of winter and into next spring. Watch for more updates in the weeks ahead!

Published in: on November 20, 2018 at 10:25 PM  Comments (1)  

American Archives Month – What Are You Doing to Preserve History? (And a PRC Trivia Question)

Did you know that October is known in archivist circles as American Archives month? Don’t feel bad if you were not aware of this and were not celebrating with great exuberance. I probably wouldn’t have known either but for the email reminders I receive from various library and archive sources.

Information Today, Inc. is one such source, and it posted this interesting note to introduce us to what archives involve:

What Are Archives?

Our first thoughts when we reflect on archives, their mission, and their purpose may lead to likening them to a library. This makes sense—libraries are where we find ourselves inquiring about topics, learning, and gathering information. However, archives have a significant uniqueness when compared to a library. While you may pore through books to acquire information at a library, it is less likely that you will find primary sources (or first-account records) on the shelves for your perusal.

Archives are where primary sources bloom. Primary sources—letters, photographs, postcards, recordings, film, maps, and the like—are paramount to archival collections. Archives are a location (physical or digital) where we can connect with historical content as well as current records.

Archives play an integral role in preserving our cultural heritage, ensuring that we have reliable information assets to support individuals’, governments’, and societies’ increasing information needs, such as genealogical records and ledgers. The archive is the entrusted caretaker of these resources.

You may start to see the parallel between archival collections for public consumption and your own personal collections of items. As individuals, when we gather items that hold intrinsic value—for example, when we document occurrences and events in our life or the lives of those close to us—they form meaningful collections of artifacts. A personal collection of artifacts is an archive in its own right.

This is only an overview of what an archive is; the totality goes far deeper. If archives have piqued your interest, October is the time to discover the archival institutions in your area.

One of those wonderful archival institutions is our National Archives in Washington, D.C., a place I have never visited but hope to some day (when I also visit the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian 🙂 ). For more on this amazing archives and its resourceful website, visit the link below. The photo above is from the NA’s collection, showing archive assistants working to catalog items.

Photo: spring 2016 southern exterior view of the MLHC

And for our fellow Michiganders, don’t forget the Michigan Archives (History Center) in our state capitol of Lansing. They always have interesting events going on, along with displays and presentations.

And, as you know by now, the PRC also has her own archives, stored in the seminary’s basement, but soon to have a new home in the new addition off the library being readied for construction this week as we write (trees removed and AC units moved in the last few days). This new home will not only give us more room for our expanding collection, but will also make our denominational archives more accessible and create opportunities for displaying them for public viewing. I am extremely excited for this to become reality.

But for this week, let’s bring a small part of our PRC archives to the foreground and make her history come alive with a little trivia prompted by a question of a reader. That question is this: how tall is the bell tower in the old First PRC in Grand Rapids, MI? You see two images of it here – one from an old bulletin cover (1964) and the other from a more recent trip of church history classes from Covenant Christian High.

I have picked the brains of a few former First PRC members and have a fairly good estimate of the height of that bell tower but not a firm number, and so I would like to hear from you. Go ahead, take a guess! Or, if you have more information from your connection to this majestic church building, please share your knowledge!

Source: American Archives Month | National Archives

Published in: on October 18, 2018 at 10:30 PM  Leave a Comment