His Early Years
At the time George graduated from grade school, there was as yet no Christian high school. Calvin College, located on the corner of Franklin and Madison, incorporated various high school subjects into its curriculum. Although Calvin College was primarily dedicated to the instruction of future teachers and ministers, anyone who wanted a Christian high school education had to go to this school. Nevertheless, in those days even high school was chiefly for those who sought a career in the leaching or preaching profession. It was with his mind set upon being a minister that George enrolled in the school on Madison and Franklin. From this school he graduated in 1909 at the age of 18.
His schooling was interrupted after high school, probably because of lack of finances in the family. A similar interruption took place between George’s college and seminary education. It seems as if these years were spent working for Consumer’s Ice Company. We are including a picture taken at that time, which will give our readers some idea of the work in which George was engaged. This work occupied George’s time from 1909 to 1911, a period of two years. In 1911 his schooling was resumed and he spent the normal four years in Calvin College still determined upon his calling as a minister.
After graduating from Calvin, George’s studies were once, again interrupted; and once again he worked for Consumer’s Ice Company. During this interval, which lasted about two years, an event took place which was to have a profound effect upon his life.
The old Professor Hemkes, the story of whose life we narrated in an earlier article, lived alone on the comer of Henry and Bates Street on the southeast end of town, near Bates Street Christian Reformed Church. Prof. Hemkes had served with distinction as professor in Calvin Seminary and had retired. In 1916, when George was 25 years old, Prof. Hemkes broke his hip in a fall. This is always a serious thing with older people, but in those days it was even more serious, for modern advances in bone surgery were unknown. Prof. Hemkes never walked again.
Someone had to take care of him. The lot fell upon George. There were probably two reasons for this. One reason was that he was the oldest in the family, and the care of the invalid grandfather fell upon him. Another reason was that in the quietness of his grandfather’s home he could find the peace and serenity for study which had escaped him in the busy hustle and bustle of his own family life. George left home to live on Henry and Bates with his grandfather, and he did not return again to the home of his parents.
The influence of Prof. Hemkes was great. Not only could George’s grandfather give him the encouragement that he needed to pursue his studies for the ministry, but Prof. Hemkes could also give him the knowledge of the Reformed faith and the traditions of the churches of the Afsheiding which were dear to his heart. Although George worked for a couple of years yet, resumed his studies, and worked about the house of his grandfather, there were many hours of quietness in which the two could discuss the faith which they loved. These were good years in which George was strengthened and broadened in the knowledge of the truth of the Scripture.
In 1918, at the age of 27, George entered Calvin Seminary. There are, it seems, especially two events which took place during these years which are important enough to be related.
The first event was the death of George’s father. Frederick Ophoff worked at the Rex Reed Furniture Factory in downtown Grand Rapids. In 1919, shortly after George began his studies in the seminary, an explosion tore apart the factory where George’s father worked. The explosion took place in a part of the shop sufficiently distant from the place where Frederick Ophoff worked so that he could escape from the inferno unharmed. But he worked in the painting and varnishing department. After escaping from the building, he remembered a very precious watch which he had laid on the bench and, in his haste, had left behind. Calculating that he could enter his department and rescue the watch before the flames hit that part of the shop, he plunged back into the building against the advice of onlookers and his fellow employees. He did not succeed in his endeavor. An explosion also tore apart that part of the shop, and Frederick Ophoff was badly burned. He died that same day at the age of 52. The tragedy in the family was great, for he left a widow and eight children. Their only means of support from that time on was a small pension from the shop which could not possibly be stretched to cover the needs of the family. But the children were growing up and they were able to find work to add to the family income. George, however, already embarked upon his seminary studies and living with his grandfather, was not expected to contribute to the family support. Here, too, is evidence of the providential hand of God determining events according to His good pleasure, and leading His servant on in such a way that the ministry would be his vocation in spite of the tragedy which befell the Ophoff family. We shall have to wait with the second incident until our next article, the Lord willing.