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George M. Ophoff (9)

The years George spent in the Seminary were busy ones. Seminary studies in themselves are generally sufficient to keep a conscientious student busy during most of his waking hours and often long into the night. During the years in which George prepared for the minis­try, the Seminary of the Christian Reformed Church was perhaps one of the best Seminaries in the whole country from the viewpoint both of scholarly prepara­tion for the ministry and Reformed orthodoxy. There were many shining lights of the Christian Reformed Church who taught in the Seminary in those years. Men like Samuel Volbeda, Louis Berkhof, F.M. ten Hoor and the like were some of the greatest theologians which the Christian Reformed Church produced in all her history. It is true that the Seminary had just passed through the throes of the Jansen controversy, but this controversy had shown that both the Seminary and the Churches still possessed the strength to combat heresy when it arose and to put out of her fellowship those who taught such heresy, the controversy had, on the whole, been good for the Seminary. It is also true that the common grace controversy was being debated in the Churches; and the Seminary took a lively part in the debate. In fact, the faculty was divided on the issue. Nevertheless, for the most part, the leading thinkers in the Seminary generally opposed the idea of common grace. Seminary life was lively and interesting, but busy and time-consuming.

George did not withdraw from the life of the Seminary and live in isolation. He took an active part in the extra-curricular activities of the student body. He was a member of the student voluntary band and of the lecture class. He actively engaged in the “bull-sessions” which were then such an important part of student life. He was preaching as a student in the churches. He was courting his future wife. And he had, in addition to all this, the responsibility of the care of his grand­father, Prof. Hemkes, with whom he stayed and who was an invalid who could do little to help himself.

It was during his seminary years that George met and married Jane Boom. There are few people who knew her who would not agree that she was perhaps one of the most self-effacing women one could ever meet. We shall have to return to a discussion of this remarkable woman in some future article; but there are few women who understood as completely as Mrs. Ophoff what the Scriptures mean when they speak of a virtuous wife: “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands;…whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, called him Lord: whose daugh­ters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” I Peter 3:1-6.

Mrs. Ophoff was a woman who lived solely for her husband. We believe, (and the words are often spoken at a marriage ceremony), that God brings a man and woman together to be joined in marriage. When young couples see the hand of God in their lives and seek the guidance of the Lord in the choice of a wife, God brings together those who are best suited to each other that they may together fulfill their God-given role in God’s covenant and kingdom. This was eminently true of Rev. and Mrs. Ophoff. Rev. Ophoff was the kind of man who simply could not take care of himself. Mrs. Ophoff was the kind of woman who found her delight in taking care of the needs of her husband. This was her life. So much was this true that when Rev. Ophoff, at the end of his life, had no more direct need of her because he had to be cared for by others in his infirmities, she soon also had no purpose in life. Very shortly after he died, she too went on to glory.

I bring this matter up here because this very self-effacement of Mrs. Ophoff is probably the reason why no one living today seems to know anything about her early life. Even her own children know nothing about her prior to her marriage. All this must not be interpreted to mean that she was a kind of mousy character, a shadowy woman, a person without character and personality who sort of faded into the woodwork and went unobserved. She was not the kind of woman who without character of her own lived a colorless, drab, unnoticed life. Exactly the contrary was true. She had character and personality such as few have. My father tells about the time when he was visiting her in the hospital toward the end of her life. He was in the room with a nurse who was attending her, and he observed that the nurse was studying her closely, although from a distance. When my father raised a quizzical eyebrow to the nurse as if to ask why the nurse looked so intently at this old and sick woman, the nurse responded with the words: “1 have seldom, if ever, seen a woman with so much character written on her face.”

Jane Boom, the future Mrs. Ophoff, was born January 12, 1892. She lived with her family somewhere in the southwest part of Grand Rapids and was, with her family, a member of the Fifth Reformed Church. Her parents were charter mem­bers of this church, although her father, while he could probably be called a religious man in the very general sense of the word, rarely, if ever, attended church himself. Her mother however was an extremely pious and God-fearing Chris­tian. It was from her mother that she received most of her spiritual upbringing in the days of her childhood and youth. This training was effective, for Jane was well-versed in the Scriptures and under­stood the principles of the truth. This is evident from the fact that she did not hesitate to join the Christian Reformed Church when she married George: and she was a staunch supporter of her husband throughout the many years of controversy in which they lived. She did not support her husband, however, as one who did not understand what her husband was doing, as one who blindly followed him whom she dearly loved: she was rather always vitally interested in the issues which concerned him, was able to discuss these issues with him in such a way that his own thoughts were clarified, and was able to ask the penetrating and intelligent questions which served to crystalize his own thinking. Yet at the same time, though she was a supporter of her husband out of deep conviction, she was a supporter in the fullest sense of the word.

Jane Boom was working as a milliner (For those of this more modern generation who have no idea what a milliner is, it is probably necessary to explain that a milliner is one who makes hats.) in the Boston Store in downtown Grand Rapids at the time she met Rev. Ophoff. While it might be interesting to speculate how these two met, no one seems to know. That God brought them together is evident.

George Ophoff and Jane Boom were married on August 31. 1920, while George was still in the Seminary. Because the old Prof. Hemkes was still living and was still in need of care, George and his new wife moved in with the aged professor, and Mrs. Ophoff assumed responsibility for the care of her grandfather by marriage along with the responsibility for the care of her new husband.

It is interesting to note at this point that the marriage ceremony was per­formed by Rev. John Schaap. This point needs some emphasis because, although we shall return to this briefly a little later on. Rev. Schaap had a great deal of influence in the Ophoff family. He was an uncle of George because he had married a sister of George’s mother. He was a close friend of the family and often visited in the home. He was a well-respected minister in the denomination and was thoroughly informed about affairs in the Churches. Although this may involve a slight discourse, we may point out that Rev. Schaap was not the only minister in the Ophoff relation. Rev. Henry Schulze was Rev. Ophoffs brother-in-law. Rev. Schulze was a minister for a time in the Christian Reformed Church; but later became professor in Calvin College; and later still, was made president of the college. The point is that these two influential men were part of the close circle of the Ophoff family and had a great deal of influence in the family. This was especially true in the common grace controversy and in the split of 1924. Both men came out firmly in support of common grace, and Rev. Ophoff was forced to take his stand on the opposite side of the issue over against all his family and relation.

However all this may be, the care of Prof. Hemkes did not last too long. George and his wife were married in August of 1920. In December of 1920, Prof. Hemkes died. But George and his wife continued to live in the house of George’s grandfather until George was ordained in his first pastorate in Riverbend, Michigan in January of 1922. In the fall and winter of 1920 and in the winter and spring of 1921 George finished his last year in Seminary and graduated in May of 1921.