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Alumni Profile: Groen grandchildren carry on a tradition

By Andrew De Young

It's not surprising that many of these students resemble one another.  They're cousins.  Pictured from left to right are Josh Groen, Eric Vande Griend, Ryan Groen, Alicia Groen, Angela Koppendraayer, Heather Groen, Amy Groen, Nick Groen, Lisa Groen, Ryan Swanson, and Darrin Koppendraayer.

It's not surprising that many of these students resemble one another. They're cousins. Pictured from left to right are Josh Groen, Eric Vande Griend, Ryan Groen, Alicia Groen, Angela Koppendraayer, Heather Groen, Amy Groen, Nick Groen, Lisa Groen, Ryan Swanson, and Darrin Koppendraayer.

The first year of college can sometimes be a tough one. Living away from home for the first time can be hard on new students. But freshman Eric Vande Griend doesn’t seem to mind.

“There is a sense of family here at Dordt,” he explains. “It’s a good feeling, because you know you’re not alone here.”

Eric has good reason to feel at home on campus—after all, members of his family have been calling Dordt home for more than thirty years. Currently, he has ten cousins on campus to help add to that “family feeling,” and is one of forty-three members of his extended family who have either attended Dordt in the past or are attending currently. They all trace their ancestry, and their commitment to Christian education, back to Gertha Groen of Prinsburg, Minnesota.

Ironically, Gertha never quite understood the concept of Christian higher education when she was alive. Roger Groen (’73), the first of Gertha’s grandchildren to go to Dordt, admits that it was hard to explain college life to his grandma.

“I would try to talk to Grandma about dorm life, or about eating at the Commons,” he says. “She just didn’t understand.”

Still, she unfailingly supported her grandchildren who went to Dordt. Dawn (Ledeboer) Seward (’88) remembers the letters her grandma would send her, and the money that she always included inside.

“She put words on paper just like she was talking to you,” she says. “At the end of her letters she’d always tell me to say hi to my roommates and friends, even though she had never met them.”

Although the world of Christian higher education was somewhat foreign to her, says Roger, Gertha understood the vision of Dordt College. “She always thought the world of Christian education,” he says.

In fact, her husband, George, was instrumental in getting Central Christian School in Prinsburg started, and both of them made sure that their children and grandchildren had the opportunity to go there. Unfortunately, none of George and Gertha’s children had the opportunity to go to Dordt, but eighteen of their grandchildren did, Roger among them. The next generation saw that number increase to twenty-five, eleven of which are currently attending. Will that number grow again by the time the next generation rolls around?

Roger certainly hopes so. “It’s a heritage,” he says, “a covenantal promise that we all want to follow through on.”

Gertha’s grandchildren, at least, understand that heritage—in addition to the many who have supported Christian education by sending their children to Christian schools, there are a few who have lent their support by working as teachers and administrators. Roger himself taught Bible at a Christian school, and his brother Steve Groen (’78) is currently serving as principal at Calvin Christian School in Edina, Minnesota.

“I didn’t really value that heritage as much while I was in school,” Roger explains. “Later, it became real to me. I’ll go to my deathbed supporting Christian education.”

Like Roger, it may take Gertha Groen’s great-grandchildren a while to understand that heritage, the covenantal promise that prompted their parents to send them to Christian schools from the time they were young. By the looks of things, however, they are beginning to understand already.

“I was not forced to come to Dordt College,” says Eric. “I chose to. My grandmother started something very special with her strong commitment to Christian education, and I’m going to try my best to pass that commitment on to my own children.”