Interview with Eleanore Bol

It is March 20, 2008, and I am at the home of Eleanore Bol.


MHH:  Can you tell me, Mrs. Bol, where and when you born?

EB:  I was born August 23, 1924. My parents lived on Baxter or Bemis, right near Eastern Avenue [Christian Reformed] Church.

MHH: Where did you grow up?

EB:  We moved to Burton Street, near Kalamazoo Avenue, when I was about 2½ .  My parents built a new house there—out in the sticks. It was an old farm property.

MHH:  So that would have been in the late 1920s.

EB: Right.

MHH:  How long did you live on Burton Street?

EG:  I got married in 1944, but then my husband was in the service. When he came back there wasn’t any place to live, so we stayed living with my parents. My mother had had a baby in ’44 and I had a baby in ’45, so we had two little babies. My parents built an extra room on the house. I lived there for about 25 years.

MHH:  When you were growing up, what was your church affiliation?

EB:  I was in the last group of babies to be baptized in Eastern Avenue [Christian Reformed] Church.  I don’t know who else, but my parents always said we were the last ones to be baptized in Eastern Avenue Church.

MHH:  So they were members of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed when you were a baby.

EB:  Right. My father came from the Netherlands Reformed Church.  But he had no problems at all coming to our church.

MHH:  When you say “our church,” what do you mean by that?

EB:  At that time it was Rev. Hoeksema’s church (laughter). That’s what everybody else called it.  But anyway, it was the PR church.  It was still during the controversy.

MHH:  Did your father and mother leave Eastern Ave. and go with the dissenting group at that time?

EB:  Correct.

MHH:  Obviously you had to go along with them; you were born and raised in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

EB:  That’s right.  My grandparents went too—my mother’s parents—Peter and Alice Visser.

MHH:  Were you members of First Protestant Reformed ?

EB:  Yes, we went to the new church.  My brother Dave was baptized in the basement.  They didn’t have the whole church finished yet.

MHH:  What are your earliest memories of the church?

EB:  Well, it was a big church. I remember my Dad being in the consistory most of the time because my mother and us kids sat under the balcony on the south side, and my Dad was probably one of the younger [consistory members]. My mother put the naughtiest boys (laughter) on the aisle so they were right across from my Dad. That’s one of the things that stands out in my mind.

MHH:  Was the church often full?

EB:  Oh yes! I don’t remember when I was very young, but when we got older, it just seemed like it was packed to the back balcony. I remember Mr. Dertien, the detective back there for naughty boys (and girls, too, maybe), and I heard stories about what went on up there.  But it was funny at that time that the parents let the children sit up in the back balcony alone when they got older, instead of sitting with their families. I felt pretty grown up when I could do that.  But I didn’t really feel comfortable sitting up there.

MHH:  Is it fair to say that there was maybe a little bit of misbehavior going on at the same time?

EB:  Well, I didn’t sit in that very back part. We sat on the edge of the balcony or on the sides. That was big stuff to sit by yourself.  But, like I said, I wasn’t comfortable doing that.

MHH:  Why do you think they did that?

EB:  I have no idea.  A growing-up custom, I guess.  That doesn’t seem right in my thinking now.  And I’m glad that they don’t do it today. Even the married couples come and sit by their parents.

MHH:  Did you also attend catechism classes?

EB:  Oh, yes.  And that was austere (laughter).  In the old seminary room. I remember all the big bookcases around that big room. I enjoyed catechism, but there were naughty kids there too.

MHH:  What do you mean by austere?

EB:  I think just the atmosphere.  You couldn’t see out (laughter).  No windows.

MHH:  And who taught the catechism?

EB:  Oh, I remember some of the seminary students, like Blankespoor. He stands out in my mind.  But I had Rev. Hoeksema too, probably in the teenage years.

MHH:  You probably had him for some of the doctrine classes?

EB:  Probably.

MHH:  You got married in what year?

EB:  June 16 of 1944. My Dad, with Pete Zuidema and Pete Koster (I think those three) started Fourth Church [later called Southeast Church] because, my Dad, being in the consistory, saw how the church was so big that you hardly knew the people. And people were moving out farther to the southeast, and so that’s how come we started Fourth Church. They worshiped in what had formerly been a gas station and a garage. It was two stories; we had classes upstairs and it was crude.  My brother Dave and Helene [Hager] got married there. To come down the aisle she had to go through the coal room. (laughter)

MHH:  Where was this located?

EB:  Orville and Kalamazoo Avenue—Southeast Church.  They changed the name and built the brick church.  And that’s there today yet.

MHH:  And that happened in the mid or late forties, perhaps?

EB:  No, that church was built later because we left Fourth Church when Rich Veldman was preaching because we felt that he was on the fence.  He didn’t come out with the controversy that was going on.  And there were other things—it just got too uncomfortable being in church there, so we went back to First Church.

MHH:  But the church had been built by that time?

EB:  No, no.  We never attended that new building.

MHH:  Explain your comments a little bit about why you left, in connection with Rich Veldman and what was going on at that time as far as the church was concerned?

EB:  Well, there were rumblings amongst the people in the congregation.  There were sides.  We were working against each other.  Maybe I was just as guilty, because I had to make a paper one time and I likened it to something that was going on in the church, and somebody said, “Do you mean that?”  And I said “Yes.”  It wasn’t comfortable.  Our former friends were getting polarized.

MHH:  Over what?

EB:  Because of the business with Kok and DeJong trying to sell us to get those people from the Netherlands that were in Canada—they caused trouble with H. Veldman, and then they were going to just cover up our differences so that our church would grow with all these people coming from the Netherlands.

MHH:  And what do you feel the differences involved?  What was the issue?

EB:  Well, the whole Schilder issue.

MHH:  The conditional covenant.

EB:  Right.

MHH:  That had its beginnings some years prior to 1953 then?

EB:  Right.  When that first Standard Bearer article had just come out and Rev. Ophoff had exposed what was going on. That was a turbulent visit at that time because my friends thought that that was awful, the way that Rev. Ophoff had exposed [what was happening].  And we felt that he had done the right thing.

MHH:  And that was in terms of the covenant views of the Liberated in Canada?

EB:  Right.  And Kok and DeJong were responsible for that.

MHH:  In what way?

EB:  Because they tried to cover up and make it easy for those people to come to our church—to gloss over the differences.  I think essentially that is what happened.

MHH:  Did they have influence in Fourth Church, then, as well as others?

EB:  Why, sure.  Every church had sides—people that agreed or disagreed with what was going on.

MHH:  And you found yourself standing where?

EB:  Ostracized, because most of the people (it seemed like) were going along with the Kok and DeJong business.

MHH:  And you didn’t?

EB:  Yes.

MHH:  How long do you think this was brewing prior to 1953?

EB:  Oh, let’s see. That would have been 1948 when it must have started—the late forties. I would say roughly five years.

MHH:  As history shows, things came to a head in 1953 with a division in the churches.  What are your memories of that?

EB:  Well, I went to some of the synod meetings, and they were very turbulent.  There were some things that I today think were not right.  I know my mother would talk with other ladies. There were times when there was too much talking going on, I think.  It didn’t help the issue, because that just polarized everybody more yet. I recall Lam Doezema’s [Rev. Lambert Doezema] remark in the basement of First Church at synod. I don’t remember what the issue was anymore, but he said, “I don’t care if the angels came down from heaven, such and such and such” (laughter).  Oh, that just shattered me.  I shouldn’t have gone to those meetings because it was too upsetting.  Women can’t take that kind of stuff.

MHH:  To your knowledge, what effect did the division in the churches have on families and friendships?

EB:  It was really rough because it changed your life. The people you had visited before—that didn’t continue.  But then, I was used to being criticized because when I was in high school yet, I had Rev. Stewart for a Bible teacher. I was maybe too bold in what I said sometimes, because when they made the Memoir [the class yearbook], they put in your qualifications or your character.  One of the things they said about me was that I was argumentative. That wasn’t my thing, but in Bible I did [argue]. I can show you the Memoir today (laughter). That is the kind of thing that went on.

MHH:  So you were not hesitant to speak your mind in this

EB:  No, it was such a part of our life, that we were indoctrinated, so these other people just thought I was arguing.  They didn’t have any discussions like that.  They didn’t know what I was talking about.

MHH:  Were there hard feelings over this as well amongst family and friends?

EB:  Yes. It was our everyday life to have hard feelings. There were some people you were comfortable with and some you weren’t. I remember at a Ladies’ Society meeting we were having a luncheon and it just seemed like we were just on edge.  People would be quick to criticize if you made a comment about that there are few Christians in comparison to the wicked. Then this one lady said to me, “Yes, but there’s going to be 144 thousand” (laughter). Oh, it wasn’t comfortable.

MHH:  Do you recall meeting in the Grand Rapids Christian High [School]?

EB:  Oh, yes, we went there.  We moved to Randolph in October of 1953. That was prompted because Rev. Henry Kuiper worked at the shop where my Dad and brother and husband had started a furniture shop. Henry Kuiper was trying to get back into the ministry. While he was working there, he got the call to Randolph, Wisconsin. He remembered how my husband liked the farm, and he thought that was a good place for him to come. He made all the arrangements. Of course, he’d like to have more people in the congregation. Because I had a new baby, and so I didn’t have the stamina not to go, so we went.  We hated to leave because [EB’s oldest child]Dave was in the first kindergarten class to start at Adams School.  Of course the school was all disrupted too.  But Rev. Kuiper took away that concern because he said, “Oh, they got a school committee.  They’re going to have a school in Randolph.”  That was in 1953–54, which didn’t materialize for about 40 years (laughter). We were naïve. I felt that if my husband wanted to go, maybe he should get it out of his system, because he didn’t know what was going to happen, and he had never been on a dairy farm before.  That cinched it.  But that was quite an experience to move to a little basement church after being in big First Church. Then we had lost our baby [Stephen, who died of crib death]. Our life was kind of rough at that time. But there too in Randolph they had relatives that split up because of the split.  Now what was I going to say about Randolph?

MHH:  It was very small.

EB:  That’s for sure.  And then going to church morning and afternoon.  And things were distracting for me. For one thing, the men would go into the barn before they went to church, with their wool suits on, and they smelled like a barn in church (laughter). And they had the one cup for communion.  A certain gentleman knew that I didn’t like that—it wasn’t very sanitary. Somebody went with me and sat in the front seat, so at least I had another side of the cup (laughter). Because of having church in the afternoon, some of the parishioners were pretty sleepy. There was one family— she had a couple of little kids and she had a baby on her lap. The whole family was sleeping, and the baby slid off her lap (laughter). Rev. Ophoff came one time to preach and he was pounding on the pulpit. I thought, boy, he really hit that!  He kept preaching, but then he stopped: “Oh, I guess I hit that a little too hard (laughter). That was funny.  One time my husband had to stay home because the bull got the ring out of his nose, and I went to church with the kids and left my husband home. He was going to try and get that bull! Afterwards I thought, how did I ever leave him?  He could have been murdered.  But he managed.  He got some fresh greens out of the field and he put that by a window in the barn. Somehow he got his hand in there and got that ring in the snout. Another time he couldn’t go to church. One of us had to stay home with one of the sick children, I guess. [Rev. Gerald]Vanden Berg was preaching, and we had communion. He asked if my husband was going to be there in the afternoon. He served communion just for him! That really wasn’t legit.

MHH:  It’s unusual, to say the least.

EB: I think that later on somebody said that wasn’t really a legitimate way to do it.  So we all had to listen to the communion thing [Form] all over again.

MHH:  (laughter) For one person!

EB:  Yes.

MHH:  So you stayed in Randolph how long?

EB:  365 days!  That was our contract.  Then my husband was ready to go back [to Grand Rapids]. It [farming] didn’t work out financially. All the other young guys that came back from service could take over their fathers’ farms.  But he didn’t have any collateral to get started with. Besides, he was a disabled veteran.  Anyway, there were good times in Randolph too. We got to go to Madison, Wisconsin at least four times, and some of the natives there had never been there.  They didn’t know what the Wisconsin Dells was like. We would manage it in between milking. Dave had a good time in school there. He had a bicycle and could ride those steep hills over to Friesland (it was Friesland, but it was called Randolph Christian School), but his schooling wasn’t very good. His teacher had had one year of normal [school], and so he got behind.  But it was open country and he loved it there. The house wasn’t built for people that had been living in the city with conveniences, because we didn’t even have a drop of pure water.  The well was polluted. The owner of the place (Ray Alsum) belonged to our church, which made it very hard.  The people who had lived there before told us that they had the well tested and it wasn’t right, and he wouldn’t believe that.  When we were ready to leave a year later, then he had it tested. He never let us know how it turned out.  But our water supply was when we went to town on Saturday and got groceries.  We would go and buy gasoline, and we’d fill a milk can full of water at the gas station.  And [we had] outdoor privies (laughter). Then my husband would say, “Well, pioneer women made it all right.”  Yeah, but the men didn’t have a 1953 Chrysler sitting in the garage either (laughter).

MHH:  At the end of that year, you moved back to Michigan?

EB:  Right.  And then we were going to rent a house in Cutlerville. We lived in Cutlerville for about a couple of months, I think. Then we bought a house right near Adams School—on Silver Creek. [The children] could walk to school.

MHH:  What church did you rejoin at that time?

EB:  We went back to First Church. As a teenager, I remember Rev. Hoeksema’s sermons on Revelation.  That was awesome.  I remember people sitting way up on the platform, it was so crowded. I was spellbound.  That has stayed with me all my life—the instruction that I had. It was hard to be patient with him after he had the stroke because he was so slow in speaking. I would take notes. I was a busy mother, and it was hard to be patient with him.  I chide myself for that now, because now I probably cause other people to get impatient with me.

MHH:  His speaking style changed considerably after his stroke?

EB:  Right. He was slow. For young people, the minister I have now [Rev. G. Eriks] is so lively.  And I think that’s good for these young people, because they’re probably worse today than I was then because of the day and age we are living in.

MHH:  What events or what history stands out in your mind—any specific incidents or customs or events—anything at all?

EB:  Well, the church picnics at Franklin Park—that was a big deal, because all the churches came there and we had lectures at a picnic!  (Laughter)  That just seems so strange. [Here Eleanore becomes involved in a convoluted discussion regarding her friends, colloquially called “Dutch bingo,”which is not germane to the discussion, and which I have redacted]

Thinking about church again. I took lessons from Mr. Ryskamp, one of the organists.  I took piano lessons first, and then I started taking organ lessons. All of a sudden he said that I could play in church.  I didn’t even graduate from grade school yet, and I just couldn’t figure that out that I could do that.  But I guess I didn’t have a nervous bone in my body at that time. I did it in 1939, because I graduated from grade school in ’39.  So I wasn’t even 15 years old yet.  Of course, I know someone else that was younger yet (laughter) [she refers here to MHH, though she is not entirely correct—I was about the same age when I began to play the organ in First Church]. When I think of it now, then later on it bothered me more—the time difference of the voices—you’d get mixed up if you’d listen to the voices.

MHH:  Yes, because they trailed the notes that you were playing.

EB:  Right. I played for Dutch service sometimes.  Rev. [Cornelius]Hanko had Dutch service in the afternoon. I couldn’t understand Dutch.  I remember one Dutch word that sounds like “peacemaker.”  That’s the one word that stood out in my mind.  I didn’t know when to play and when not to.  I don’t know how we managed, but that was something to play for a Dutch service.

MHH:  What other customs or events stand out in your mind?

EB:  I remember seeing my dad wearing this black patch band around his arm because one of our relatives had died.  That was the custom in those days.  I don’t think they did that very long, though, because in my later years we didn’t have that.  I must have been quite young at that time.  Maybe it happened when my aunt was killed in a train wreck when I was nine years old.  That was quite a traumatic thing to go through for me, as a child, that my aunt was killed and the police came to our house after midnight.  As a nine-year-old child I heard my mother crying. I thought she had appendicitis (laughter). What made it so hard was that my aunt and uncle were divorced. [My uncle]took all the stuff out of her house. My grandpa was a widower at that time and he wanted to see how she had left her house. We got there and there the movers were. I remember he was enraged. But that was quite an ordeal.  It was a scandal at that time.  Divorces at that time were few and far between.

MHH:  Very different from today!

EB:  Yes. They are not less traumatic today, but they aren’t as rare, sorry to say.

MHH:  This concludes my interview with Eleanore Bol.