The Voice: Spring 2003
Who was Harry Kuhl?
Harry Kuhl had many connections to Dordt College, but in a community where
the majority of people belonged to either a Reformed Church in America congregation
or a Christian Reformed one, his loyalties were sometimes divided. Harry attended a
Reformed congregation and Dordt College is closely associated with the Christian Reformed Church.
In the end he supported both in his will. Although his estate went
to his church and its local college, Northwestern in Orange City, he stipulated
that Dordt College be able to buy his property at what was a
He had always led us to believe that we would get the land
someday, but he didnt tell us exactly how, says Bernie De Wit, the
former vice president for business affairs who dealt with Kuhl for years.
This recent purchase of the Kuhl farm was not the first time Dordt
and Kuhl had done business. Although the founders of Dordt College purchased the
original property from a small mink farm on the corner of Seventh Street
and Fourth Avenue, Kuhls property lay directly to the east of the land
upon which the first buildings were built.
Harry used to farm right around the classroom building, says De Wit. In
fact, he was known to wave to students sitting in class as he
went by on his tractor.
As enrollment climbed and Dordt College needed to add facilities, the college went
to Kuhl to purchase more land. He sold ten-acre plots to the college
twice, says Arlan Nederhoff, current vice president for business affairs. Most of the
colleges buildings from the science building east were built on former Kuhl property.
We owe the Kuhls a debt of gratitude for providing much of the
ground in the center of campus, Nederhoff says. Each sale was made very
agreeably and at reasonable prices, with low interest rates and flexible payment schedules.
We visited him every year as we delivered these payments, says De Wit.
We wanted to make sure he knew we were interested in buying his
property someday, adds former president, Dr. John Hulst, who also came to know
Kuhl well. Dordt was landlocked. We knew that, and he knew that. Over
the years a relationship developed, and Kuhl came to appreciate the fact that
Hulst and De Wit shared his view of the land as more than
just something to sell or build on. The Kuhl farm had been in
the family for over a century, but the Kuhls didnt have any children.
And although he did not stipulate how Dordt College should use the land,
Kuhl did make it clear that he appreciated the fact that Dordt saw
it from a stewardship and ecological point of view and would not allow
it to be turned into lots for housing, says Hulst.
An avid basketball fan, Kuhl also strengthened his ties to Dordt College by
attending basketball games. For years, he pushed his disabled wife in her wheelchair
to the same spot in the corner of the gymnasium, and they sat
and enjoyed the weekly games.
De Wits and Hulsts visits and basketball games were not Kuhls only Dordt
College connection. During the seventies and eighties the most regular contacts were with
the children of faculty families who lived nearby.
The kids would jump on their bikes and race to Mr. Kuhls as
fast as they could after school so they wouldnt miss helping out with
chores, says Susan Van Dyk, who lived next door to the Kuhls for
years and served as executor for the estate. Her husband, John, has taught
at Dordt College since 1966. The barn, the meadow, and the waterway that
flows through the property provided hours of entertainment for children from a half
dozen Dordt faculty families. In fact, it was the children who initiated a
big surprise party in the barn for Harry Kuhls sixtieth birthday in the
The Kuhls became part of the bigger Dordt family, says Hulst. In the
early nineties, Dordt College put together a proposal for establishing a life estate
for the Kuhls that would preserve their century farm and the grove/waterway area,
give them possession of the house and buildings as long as they lived,
pay them an annual income, and, upon their death, pay cash gifts to
any organizations they wished. Kuhl, being pressed by several organizations at the time,
decided he did not want to talk about what would happen to his
property any more.
Youll find out in my will, he told several people. Yet he always
assured us he thought wed be happy with his decision, says De Wit.
Hulst, who continued to visit him occasionally even after leaving the presidency, says
he is convinced that part of the reason Kuhl made the provision he
did in his will was because he felt Dordt College would value the
land as he did, as a gift of God to steward and care
for. He knew some people wanted to buy his land for housing development.
But he saw proposals for different use of the land from people in
the Dordt College biology department. And he read a senior biology project proposal
done by Wendy Van Dyk, daughter of Susan and John, when she was
a student, that listed the hundreds of different birds, insects, and plants that
had lived or were living on the farm and described how the property
could be integrated into the Dordt College campus and curriculum.
Dr. Carl Zylstra, current president, says that although Kuhl specifically did not want
to stipulate how Dordt College should use the land, in one of his
last visits with Zylstra, Kuhl talked again about not wanting his land to
turn into a housing development.
It was an important place for him, and the farm was in his
family for over 100 years. We need to respect that, he says.