Interview with Elsie Verhey (1)

It is March 2, 2009, and I am at the residence of Mrs. Elsie Verhey in Edgerton, Minnesota.


MHH:  Mrs. Verhey, where and when were you born?

EV:  I was born in Murray County, which is about 8 miles east of here. I was born at home.

MHH:  And what was your date of birth?

EV:  1/4/38.

MHH: Can you tell me a little bit about your family, who your parents were, what your life was like when you were young and growing up, what your church affiliation was?

EV:  OK.  We lived on a farm, where my parents had fifteen children.  I was the second to the youngest.  We went to a one-room country school.  We went to the Reformed church in Leota.  That’s where I was baptized and raised.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents moved to Edgerton, and I finished high school there.  We went to the Reformed Church here in Edgerton.  And it wasn’t until I was going with Art [her husband, deceased at this time] for quite a while that I started going to the PR Church.  At first it was just occasionally.  So when we were engaged and decided that we were getting married, then I went more to the PR church.  But I didn’t have my papers transferred until after we were married.

MHH:  And when did you get married?

EV:  In 1956.

MHH:  What are your recollections about growing up in the Reformed Church?

EV:  The first year I lived in Edgerton, during my sophomore/junior year, I went to Bible camp at Medicine Lake, near the city. That was the first time I heard of the three forms of unity.  Perhaps it was preached when I was a child—the morning services were still in Dutch in Leota.  Some of the older people were angry when they finally decided to have one service in English.  But, hey, this is America!

So, actually, as a child, I really got nothing out of the morning service.

MHH:  You didn’t understand the Dutch?

EV:  Not a word, no.  I mean, I can speak “Dutch” Dutch, but not the theological words.

In fact, my dad read the Bible in Dutch for years.  So, well, we got our catechism and the Sunday School in English, and our personal reading, but otherwise, like by the table, it was Dutch.

MHH:  But you had not heard of the three forms of unity?

EV:  Until I went to that Bible Camp.

MHH:  So the Heidelberg Catechism was never preached.

EV:  Maybe it was in the Dutch in the morning.  Maybe it was.  But later on, when they had the English all the way…I don’t recall. When we moved to Edgerton here, then I know they didn’t have the Heidelberg Catechism.

MHH:  So, this Bible camp was apparently somewhat of a revelation to you?

EV:  It was!  I remember—Heidelberg Catechism, you know, and then digging into it, but it was just never taught us as kids.

MHH:  Did you go to catechism classes at all?

EV:  We called it question school because that’s about what it amounted to. We had catechism, but it was nothing like anything Reformed Dogmatics or anything like that.  It was just basically Bible stories.

MHH:  So you probably had a fair amount to learn when you began to go to the Protestant Reformed Church?  Because they obviously were having Heidelberg Catechism preaching.  You recall who the minister was at that time?

EV:  Oh, yes.  Rev.  [Herman] Veldman.  He was a good one to get you really enthused in it. I really learned a lot from him.

I think [Rev. B.] Woudenberg was our next minister.

MHH:  So those are early memories of the Protestant Reformed Church.  Can you tell me a little bit about your family?

EV:  My children?

MHH:  Yes, your family and your recollections of your married life here.

EV:  My oldest daughter is Joan.  Then Melanie.  They went to the Free Christian School [the Protestant Reformed school in Edgerton].  There were quite a few students at that time.  I remember when Rev. Veldman baptized Melanie, I thought he was going to drown her.  I thought, “What is this?  Immersion?”  I think I was just as startled as she was.  He just kind of stood there and grinned.

Then Colleen and Jim.  They all four moved to Colorado at once.  Joan and Colleen were in Denver, and Melanie and Jim in Loveland, CO. So I had no children around here.  I thought, at least they’re all in the same direction.  They’re not some here and some there.

They, of course, learned the Heidelberg Catechism.  I remember sometimes, when they went to Southwest [Christian School], once Joan said that she asked the teacher (it was study hall) if she could go to her locker and get her catechism book. Then she memorized the Lord’s Day.  And, “You memorized that?”  They were really shocked that they memorized the Lord’s Days for catechism.

MHH:  If you got married in 1956, then you didn’t live through the schism of 1953. Was there still fall-out going on?  What is your knowledge of 1953?

EV:  No, the ones who were going to leave, left.  But there was bitterness. Families were divided.  Art’s parents went to this church, his brother-in-laws’ parents left.

MHH:  So did you or your husband lose friends with whom you had grown up and gone to school?

EV:  Oh, my husband did—a lot of them.  You see, he was in the service at the time. He was discharged from the service—and he come home and there was not a single one left in the church of his friends.  In fact, when we got married, there was a big gap between the ones that were our age, and for a long time we were just like kids there in our church.  Everybody was way, way older. Later on, finally a couple of younger ones got married.  But it was really hard on him, really hard, because as young people they did a lot of things together.  Then all of a sudden you come home from the service and ….  In fact, one of his buddies was in Marines with him, and his family left, too, you know.  And they always ….

MHH:  What has been important to you in your church experiences and your church life?

EV: For one thing, the fellowship of the saints—mingling in with the fellow church members.  Of course, the preaching is the top, and societies, and the school—all put together.  But I think it’s being able to have friends with those of like faith. My family is all from the Reformed or Christian Reformed Church. So you associate with them, but it’s not the same as when you have everything in common, you know? They think if you have to go here or there on Sunday, what’s the big deal?  You don’t like to do that on Sunday.

MHH:  How would you characterize Edgerton as a congregation?  Is it, in your opinion, a close congregation; not so close?  Obviously Edgerton in its history has gone through a number of struggles together—not being a large congregation.  I’m just curious what your thoughts are.

EV:  Well, it seems like there are divisions.  I suppose you have that in every congregation.  You have your friends, your close friends. But that’s my opinion—that it just could be more unified.

MHH:  What part do you think that the Free Christian School has played in Edgerton’s history, or maybe even in your own personal history?

EV:  As far as Edgerton’s history, I don’t know.  They kind of looked down on everybody else—that little school, how come they’re still open?  There are so few students.  How can they keep going?  But I was certainly glad that I had the school here for the children.  When our kids were in school, they had the ninth grade too, so they didn’t go to Southwest until they were sophomores, which was nice.  By that time, you’d be surprised how established they are, even that one extra year.

But I was just really, really happy for the school.  Back then, the teacher was always right. Rev. Veldman always said, “The teacher may be so wrong, but to a child, the teacher is always right.”  You never, ever say that the teacher is wrong.”  That was one of Rev. Veldman’s tidbits (laughter).

MHH:  And he had a few of those.

EV:  Oh, yes, he did.

MHH:  He was a strong character.

EV:  He was.  I never knew his brother Richard, did you?

MHH:  Yes.  Rev. Veldman is, I should probably say, was relation to me, through the Hoeksema side.  Not real close, but he was a cousin of some variety.

To be continued…