It is June 14, 2008, and I am interviewing Mr. Everett VanVoorthuysen [EVV] of Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Redlands, CA. His wife, Audrey Van Voorthuysen [AVV] has also made substantial contributions to this interview.
MHH: Mr. VanVoorthuysen, where and when were you born, and who were your parents?
EVV: I was born in Redlands in 1926, November 5, and my parents are Al and Lizzy VanVoorthuysen.
MHH: Did you live and grow up in the Redlands area?
EVV: My whole life.
MHH: Tell me something about your family, about your youth, your childhood.
EVV: Well, my dad and my mother came here from Holland. She was born in Holland. She came with her parents when she was nine years old. They lived in Muskegon, Michigan. My dad came to America when he was 18—all by himself. He worked on a dairy in New York area someplace and then he heard about a lot of Dutch people who lived in Muskegon. So he moved there, and that’s where my parents met each other. They were married in a Christian Reformed Church in Muskegon. They had three children: Christine, Betty, and Andy. They later sold their house and went back to Holland just for a trip, with the idea that when they came back to America they were going to go all the way to Redlands, California.
They arrived in Redlands in the early 1900s, about 1920. They were members of the Christian Reformed Church there and that’s where I was born, in 1926, and my younger sister in 1929—Mary Jean. So I’ve been in Redlands my whole life.
MHH: What did your father do for a living? What did you do, where did you go to school—anything you’d like to tell me.
EVV: Well, my father was a gardener. There were several wealthy people that lived in Redlands. They had big estate houses up on the hill that overlooked all of Redlands. There were several people who had lots of money. At the time they say there were 30 millionaires in Redlands. My father worked for one of those. He was a gardener, and he had two of those places that were his main job. Then he even got another one. He had three places that he worked at for forty years.
To start with, I went to kindergarten and first grade in the Christian Reformed Christian school. Then in 1933, when our church started, we were one of the first Protestant Reformed Churches to have their own Christian school. That’s where I went from second grade through the eighth. I graduated with Bill Feenstra, Marilyn Vos (Rev. [Gerrit] Vos’ daughter), Clarice Gritters, who was Clarice Gaastra at that time (she is Professor Barry [Gritters’] mother), and two or three other people. Then in the ninth grade I went back to that same Christian school and had my ninth grade there. That was in Redlands high school—the public school. I graduated in 1945.
When I was just barely got out of school, I was drafted into the Army, and I spent a year and a half in the Army, most of that time in Hawaii. I really had a beautiful place for my Army career (chuckles). After I got out of the Army, I took a trip to Michigan with my parents. I remember that’s the first time I was ever in First Church. Rev.[Herman] Hoeksema walked in and four and twenty elders. I couldn’t believe how many men that was. And the size of that church! Just amazing! I was just overwhelmed with the looks of that. Anyway, it was wonderful to hear Rev. Hoeksema in First Church. Later on, after Audrey and I married, we had children. Our next to the oldest daughter met her husband-to-be, Ken Kamps, and they married and lived in Michigan. Then our youngest daughter, Barb went to visit her and that’s where she met her husband-to-be, Ron Schut. Now we have fifteen grandchildren, and eight of them live in Michigan. That’s why we come here [to Michigan] every year, sometimes twice. Is that good enough?
MHH: That’s wonderful.
EVV: I was six years old when the Protestant Reformed Church started in Redlands. That’s really about all I remember. Going to the Christian Reformed Church, I remember slightly. But my first real memory of the church was in 1933. I was six years old. Our first minister was Rev. [Gerrit] Vos, and I remember how I really enjoyed his preaching. He was unique in a lot of ways. I had all my catechism with him. Rev. Vos was a wonderful minister.
While Rev. Vos was our minister (this was in 1941) is when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I remember that Sunday he even had a sermon connected with that. At the time we had to cover all our windows of the church. We could not have any light shining out of any window. So all our windows were covered for a year or two.
Another thing. When Rev. Vos was in Redlands, he became an American citizen. He was not an American citizen till he was our minister in Redlands. In a court there, and a judge asked him, “Rev. Vos, have you ever been arrested?” He said, “Yes, your honor, I cannot lie. I’ve been arrested seven times.” “What for?” “For speeding” (laughter). So he was a very fast driver. Some people called him “Jehu.”
Another story about Rev. Vos. He and his son Peter went with my brother-in-law and me fishing in a lake, and he had no fishing license. My brother-in-law had a fish on the line, and he said, “Here, Rev., why don’t you reel it in?” “No. I don’t wanna break the law. I don’t have a license. I can’t do that.” So anyway, he had a consistory meeting that night, and he broke every traffic law there was in order to get back in time (laughter). But, all in all, Rev. Vos was one fantastic minister. Like I said, I had all my catechism with him, from the beginning to the end—even the adult catechisms.
MHH: He was there for quite a long time?
EVV: He was there for eleven years.
MHH: About how large, would you say, Redlands congregation was at that time?
EVV: Around 55–60 families.
MHH: Good sized.
EVV: Yes, it was. The biggest we ever were was 70–some when Rev. Vermeer was our minister.
MHH: Now, was Bellflower church in existence at that time? What’s the connection there?
EVV: I think Bellflower started shortly after that. But not too long.
MHH: Shortly after Redlands?
EVV: I can’t remember if Bellflower was before Redlands—no, I think Redlands was first. But Bellflower was in existence, when Rev. [Lambert] Doezema was the minister there. I think that was a few years after Redlands’ Church started.
MHH: Was there connection between Redlands and Bellflower?
EVV: Yes, in a way. There never was a real thick relationship. We used to get together, I forget what holiday. Redlands and Bellflower would meet in a park in Ontario, which was about half way between. I remember distinctly once Rev. Hoeksema having a speech there. They used to have that all the time with these picnics. There’d be a speech by one of the ministers. And we used to have all kinds of games. They’d make a high-jumping thing where we had to high jump over something. At one of those picnics, Audrey’s [Everett’s wife] folks were half-way home and they said, “Hey, we’re missing Donald” (laughter). So they had to go back. It was maybe two or three years that we got together with Bellflower. Our minister sometimes would exchange pulpits. In fact, Rev. [ Lambert] Doezema baptized our oldest child, Karen That was in the time of 1953, and Audrey and I were under censure for things that didn’t agree with Vermeer’s side. Anyway, we could have Karen baptized, but we couldn’t take communion.
MHH: Really? Let me explore a little bit some of that history. After Rev. Vos left, who became your next minister?
EVV: Rev. Peter DeBoer. He was there for four years.
MHH: And that would have been in the mid-1940s?
EVV: Yes, Rev. Vos left in ’44, and DeBoer came shortly after that. So he was there for four years, to about 1949.
MHH: And how would you characterize his ministry or the situation in Redlands during that time?
EVV: It was OK. But half of that time when he was our minister there, I was in the Army. I was not here. He was—I hate to say it—he was not a tremendous minister/preacher. But he was a very good man, and he had a nice family. I don’t think we had any trouble when he was our minister, as far as I know. Do you remember, Audrey?
AVV: [Everett’s wife Audrey joins the conversation here] No, there was just one thing: he never looked at the people, do you remember that? He never looked at you, never. And he had such a nice family. Also, we lived close to the parsonage, so I grew up with most of the people there. I remember that Rev. Vos spent many hours talking with Dad. He’d put both feet on the rim on the chair and they’d discuss the “histories of the nations.”
MHH: After Rev. DeBoer left, then who became your minister in Redlands?
EVV: Rev. [Leonard]Vermeer.
MHH: At that time, Doezema was in Bellflower?
MHH: Now, what can you tell me about that time-period and about Vermeer’s ministry there?
EVV: Rev. Vermeer, as far as being a preacher, was very good. In fact, the most members we had were during the early part of Rev. Vermeer’s ministry. Every Sunday, we had to haul in chairs. There was no room for people to sit. We were 70-some families at that time. He was a very good preacher, but he was not an honest man in lots of ways. That’s when our school problems started. I don’t remember exactly how that all went; I think Mr. [Edwin] Gritters could tell you the details of that.
MHH: OK. Nevertheless, tell me, if you will, your impressions. You refer to school problems. What school problems? How did the school and the church get intertwined or mixed up? What do you recall about any of that?
EVV: Go ahead, Audrey.
AVV: There were four families that were very against the rest of the people in our church.
MHH: In what sense?
AVV: I can’t remember the reason. They were kind of Dutchy people that came to Redlands, and it had to do with those people, that I can remember. Finally, we had to get Rev. [Herman] Hoeksema here. And we had a big meeting in the basement of church—all the men.
EVV: That wasn’t the whole thing, but…
MHH: You mentioned that Vermeer was not an honest man. What do you mean by that?
EVV: Well, with all the trouble, I know he really had it in for Audrey’s dad [Thys Feenstra].He wrote anonymous letters. I know Ed Gritters got one, and my mother did.
AVV: And my dad too.
EVV: The letters were derogatory. They were letters that were really telling him off, but he didn’t sign it who it was. They even went to a writing specialist. I think Rev. Schipper at the time was involved with that, when he was in Redlands. And they did get a clarity from a handwriting expert that it was Vermeer’s writing. There again, Ed Gritters can tell you exactly what that was all about.
MHH: OK, I’ll ask him. So now, we’re in the period immediately preceding the split of 1953. Were there doctrinal issues involved with either Vermeer or within the congregation, do you remember?
EVV: Not at the time. I really feel that we would have never had a split in Redlands as far as the DeWolf situation was concerned. We had a lot of internal problems, and that was a way out for Vermeer. He came and preached for DeWolf. There might a been a few, not many, that would have gone along with DeWolf. But I don’t think we would have, if everything was 100% in Redlands as far as trouble was concerned. I do not think Redlands congregation would have split. A big part of it would have gone along with Hoeksema. There would have been no problem that way. But that was a way out for some of these men.
MHH: But then Vermeer did not preach the conditional covenant?
EVV: No, not to start with. He preached very solid Reformed preaching when he first came. He was very good. There was no problem that way at all, that he was preaching false doctrine or anything. Not at all. But later on, he had it in tremendously for Audrey’s dad. Vermeer was using the preekstoel as a steekstoel [a Dutch expression that means to use the (preaching) pulpit as a personal bully pulpit]. In other words, he was getting at her dad and others through the preaching.
MHH: Now when the split happened, what happened in Redlands? What happened with Vermeer? What happened with the congregation?
EVV: Well, then we had to split. Whoever didn’t agree with Vermeer got out of there. But the big part of the congregation went along with him because a lot of them didn’t like her dad [Thys Feenstra] either. Her dad was the big reason why people went with Vermeer. Not that he was wrong. He was right. But there were so many, even elders, who went along with Vermeer. One of the main elders once said, “You have to uphold the minister.” Dad said, “You have to uphold the ministry. If a minister is wrong, you don’t agree with him. He had two elders who went along with him, because they were upholding the ministry. That was a big issue. But when it all came down to actually leaving the church, we started out again with 11 families. Your grandfather [Herman Hoeksema] came to Redlands. We all met in a contemporary club with whoever wanted to come in, and there were several of our people there. Hoeksema said, “We’re going to have a break now. Whoever comes back in will be the reconstituted Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands. When I saw who was going to be that nucleus of that church, I thought, man, is that going to be the heart of our church? And I didn’t go back in. And neither did my folks. And neither did Gaastras.
Anyway, the next week, when we had church, Audrey and I were there. There was another Christian Reformed Church in Redlands. Audrey stayed home with Karen, and I went there. I came home and I bawled. I said, “I can’t go there, either.” It was so bad in our church that when it was Sunday morning, you hated to go to church. Now that’s terrible. That’s how it was with a lot of our people because of Vermeer. Oh, it was just terrible.
Anyway, after Hoeksema was there and preached again, I think, the next Sunday, we became members again, with several others. Anyway, we started out again with eleven families, and then it built up pretty quick. There were several people that didn’t come along right away but later on did. When Rev.[Henry] Kuiper came (he was our first minister after ’53), I think we had about 30 families after maybe six months or a year. He was there for four years. The whole time he was there, we never had a church building. We met in the American Legion hall most of the time. We had our societies in our homes by turn. The whole time Rev. Kuiper was there, we never had a church building. We went to court, but we lost the church, the parsonage, the school—the whole works. We lost everything.
MHH: The school too?
EVV: The school too. After all this the school was so disrupted that Ed [Gritters] was out of a job. The school was no longer in operation. He took a job at the California Division of Highways, and he had a very good job.
MHH: So the bottom line is, you restarted with no school, no building, and about half your numbers.
EVV: Not even half. But then slowly on it started building up again.
MHH: Was there animosity between the people who went with Vermeer and DeWolf and the people who reconstituted the church?
EVV: Yes. There was at first. My sister was married then, and my dad really talked to her that she was really wrong going along this way. But she left then and never did come back. A lot of those people were still the Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands. They said they were, and Rev. Howerzyl was their first minister. They were still Protestant Reformed in a way. But later on, they became the third Christian Reformed Church in Redlands. It was called Bethel Christian Reformed (?) I think it was.
It never lasted. They got another man there, I forget what his name was, but he was way off the deep end. And they ended up becoming the Third Christian Reformed. That didn’t last very long. Finally they were down just to a little group. They sold the whole property, and that’s what really burned me up. They built a brand-new gym. That money was donated to the First Christian Reformed Church, and they built a brand-new gym at their school. My brother, who was in the Christian Reformed Church at the time, said every time he went in there, “I just felt terrible. Here’s the Protestant Reformed Church money right here.”
MHH: Converted to a gymnasium.
EVV: After ’53 when we lost our school, our kids had to go to a Christian school someplace. So all our kids except Barb went to the Christian Reformed Christian school. When we started our school again in 1976, she was a ninth grader, and she graduated from Hope Protestant Reformed Christian school ninth grade. Jon and Joanne Huisken were the teachers. They came one year and organized our school.Then we got John Kalsbeek. He was there for several years when we got our own school back again. That was a joyous occasion.
To be continued…