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To the 3rd and 4th generations: First presidents see God's faithfulness as their grandchildren graduate

By Sally Jongsma

Andrew De Young is the first Hulst grandchild to graduate from Dordt College. Both Dr. and Mrs. Hulst were part of the faculty procession for Dordt College’s fiftieth commencement ceremony.

Andrew De Young is the first Hulst grandchild to graduate from Dordt College. Both Dr. and Mrs. Hulst were part of the faculty procession for Dordt College’s fiftieth commencement ceremony.

They can’t imagine that it’s been fifty years already, until they look at their grandchildren and think of all the events, joys, challenges, and stories they’ve accumulated—stories they’ve kept in their minds, stories they’ve put down on paper, and stories they’ve told dozens of times.

For Mrs. Deborah Haan and Dr. John and Mrs. Louise Hulst, Dordt College’s Jubilee year has been an opportunity to remember, share, and celebrate something they’ve not only helped shape, but something that has shaped them as well. Mrs. Haan is the wife of Dordt’s first president, Rev B.J. Haan, and Dr. John B. Hulst was the college’s second president.

It’s a special blessing that both the Haan and Hulst families had grandchildren graduating during this Jubilee year. The contact they have with their grandchildren has kept them close to the college.

“We’re so grateful not only to have had the opportunity to participate in the growth of Dordt College, but to be able to see God’s covenant faithfulness in the lives of our grandchildren,” say the Hulsts. They see the same faithfulness evident in other families connected with Dordt College.

“You always have high hopes and dreams for your children, but those feelings are almost stronger for your grandchildren because you have more time to think about them and what they’re doing,” says Louise Hulst. “While we were raising our own children, we were so busy we often didn’t have time to take the long view,” John Hulst adds. Referring again to his grandchildren, Hulst says, “We hope they do well academically, but we especially hope that they catch the vision to love and serve the Lord.”

The Haan family certainly felt the busyness that comes from building a young institution. Rev. Haan was only in his thirties when he held two jobs—pastor and acting president—while he tried to help build Dordt College. And he had a young family of five children. Deborah Haan was always intimately involved in everything her husband did.

“He tried out all of his ideas on me,” she says, grateful to have played a role in not only the beginnings of Dordt College, but also in her children’s and grandchildren’s education here.

How do they pass on the kind of commitment they have to Christian education and reforming culture?

All three say that it is by God’s grace and by living what they believe.

Haan calls it a “natural nurturing.” She tells stories about the past and she passes on to each grandchild a copy of her husband’s memoirs.

Mrs. Haan poses with her grandchildren who graduated in May: Dane Hibma and Bethany (Haan) Van Raalte  and Bethany’s husband, Donald Van Raalte.

Mrs. Haan poses with her grandchildren who graduated in May: Dane Hibma and Bethany (Haan) Van Raalte and Bethany’s husband, Donald Van Raalte.

“When [the grandchildren] come and talk to me, I try to show them what I believe and why,” says Haan. She talks about events in their lives, things they’re thinking about, and issues that they face.”

“Through conversation and, we hope, through example,” answers Louise Hulst, adding that conversations weren’t usually a conscious effort to pass something on but a way of living that grew out of an interest in and concern for issues and events.

Prior to their retirement, many table conversations focused on life at Dordt College and on what a reformational worldview meant.

“In fact sometimes we had to say, ‘We’re not going to talk about anything related to Dordt today.’” But life is of one piece and their views about politics and community were shaped by the same worldview as their work at Dordt College.

“When I was little, we always used to go to my grandparents’ house—the old president’s house—after church,” says Andrew De Young, who graduated this spring. “Grandpa and Dad would always talk about stuff that was going on at Dordt, and even though I didn’t understand what Dordt was all about, I had this sense that there was something really important going on.

“That has stuck with me all the way—even though Dordt is plopped in this tiny town and most of the people working there are just normal folks, I always have this feeling that something really special is going on. Thus, when there are controversies or when someone’s talking badly about a class or a professor, I’m the first one to jump to Dordt’s defense, because even though there’s a lot to criticize there’s also something really good underneath it all.”

Bethany (Haan) Van Raalte, another of this spring’s graduates, echoes De Young’s sentiments: “I always knew that Dordt College was something special. As a little girl, I felt like a celebrity having such a famous grandpa. I thought everyone in the world must know who B.J. Haan is. When I would hear him on the radio in the morning, I imagined him climbing to the top of the KDCR radio tower to give his morning address (I later found out he broadcasted from the studio). I felt and still feel a sense of pride that my family could be instrumental in the beginning of Dordt. I realize now that Dordt isn’t well-known to everybody and really I’m not so famous except to die-hard Dordt fans, but that doesn’t diminish the pride that I have in my grandpa and my Haan family.”

Dane Hibma, another Haan grandchild and 2005 graduate, says that even though he was only twelve when his grandfather died and never got to talk about issues with him, reading his memoirs, A Zeal for Christian Education, has made him respect, in a new way, his grandfather’s passion and commitment, and it has inspired him to try to continue it. He enjoys listening to his grandmother tell stories about what happened to them in Dordt’s early years, and he tries to understand what drove them to do what they did.

“I value the fact that she tells me what she thinks is right, without telling me what to think. She serves as a model, encouraging me to make my own decisions,” he says.

The Hulsts and Mrs. Haan realize that regardless of what they do, their grandchildren, like everyone else, need to make the faith and the perspective on life they have grown up with their own.

“Sometimes they’ll bait us into talking about an issue they’ve been discussing in the dorm when their friends are here, sometimes they’ll call and ask our opinion, even asking occasionally, ‘We don’t believe that do we?’” say the Hulsts. So they help them think it through, believing it is part of the process of nurturing self-consciously Christian adults.

“We’re thankful we’re here for that,” says Louise Hulst.

As they graduate, the Haan and Hulst grandchildren are appreciative of both the heritage and the daily support they’ve received.

“Now that I am a senior and have gotten to experience Dordt in all its richness, I feel even more strongly that Dordt College is a place to be proud of,” says Van Raalte. I realize that my grandpa did not waste his time. I have received the quality education I asked for, and then some. Sometimes I stop and look at my grandpa’s picture on the wall near the entrance to the B.J. Haan auditorium. I feel a lump in my throat as I wish that he were alive for me to share with him how much I love it at Dordt. I wish he could know that at Dordt I found a major that suits me, stretched myself intellectually and spiritually, met lifelong friends and a lifelong mate with whom I share common beliefs. I know he would be proud of me—he might’ve given me a ‘bop on the beezer’ to show his affection. I’m glad I can share it with my grandma, Deborah Haan. I know she was behind my grandpa all the way.”

“I think it’s wonderful to research and study in a library named after my grandparents. I was so proud of them when that happened,” says De Young. “And I think that my Grandpa, even though he doesn’t work for the college, has been one of my best teachers over the past four years here. He likes to talk about intellectual things with me—what I’m learning in my classes, current events, exciting ideas that either of us have read about—and his passion for bringing Christ’s redemption to the world is always so evident.”

Hibma has become more and more convinced that Christians need to wrestle with issues to work out what it means to live as a Christian—just as his grandfather did. He also likes the fact that, like him, his grandfather was a philosophy major.

The Hulsts continue to enjoy the conversations they have with their grandsons and their grandsons’ friends. Such conversations with students are one of the things they miss most in retirement. John Hulst was dean of students for many years and spent countless hours talking with students. As librarian, Louise Hulst also came to know many Dordt College students.

“They take care of me while I’m away from home, and they take care of my friends, too!” says De Young. “We’re all pretty busy, but we go to their house for Sunday dinner occasionally, and I think that my grandparents like to take my friends under their wing—Grandma always gives everyone a hug as they come in the door. They like my friends, but I think that they like to check up on us, too. They want to know that the vision they had for Dordt College is still around now that they’re gone, and they’re happy to see kids going out into the world with that vision in hand.”

But even though Mrs. Haan and the Hulsts are no longer on campus, they still have an impact. Mrs. Haan offered the commencement address in May, and Dr. Hulst presented one of eight academic Jubilee convocations this year.

De Young says his grandfather’s convocation address gave him a sense of peace about next year, even though he’s not quite sure where he will be.

“Grandpa said that we’re called to be stewards of the creation, specifically the part of creation God has entrusted us with. I think that sums up Dordt College’s vision in a nutshell, and it’s a vision that is both a challenge and a comfort. It tells me to reach for the stars, but it also implies that if I don’t quite make it that high, God will be happy if I am faithful with whatever I get.”

At that convocation Andrew De Young and his friends joined his grandmother in the pews in the B.J. Haan Auditorium. Andrew’s friends all told Dr. Hulst how much they appreciated his lecture.

Andrew’s brother Brian was the organist for the event. In a conversation afterward, Brian, an accomplished organist, echoed Andrew’s sentiment and said to his grandfather, “My friends all told me they thought you did a good job.” To which John Hulst replied, “And my friends all told me you did a good job.”

John and Louise Hulst smile as they tell the story, and say once more how thankful they are to be able to witness God’s faithfulness in the life of Dordt College and its students.