Interview with James Blankespoor (1)

MHH:  It is November 28, 2009.  I’m at the residence of Mr. James Blankespoor in Lansing, Illinois.  We are going to hear today the story of Mr. Blankespoor’s childhood and youth up until the end of the 1940s.


MHH:  Mr. Blankespoor, where and when were you born?

JB:  1917.

MHH:  And where did you come into the world?

JB:  It was on the farm north of Rock Valley, about six miles north.  My dad had bought that farm.  That farm was bought quite a while before I was born, but anyway, that’s where I was born.  Shortly after that we moved to Rock Valley because he went into the elevator business.

We were there maybe a year and a half.  Then he moved to Hull because the partners separated in the elevator business and then he bought one in Hull.

I was going to be baptized in Rock Valley.  I think we probably went by car. I can’t tell you that for sure because I wouldn’t know.  But according to my brother, the question was, what they were going name me?  You see, my mother’s parenthood was Drok, kind of an unusual name in Dutch, and her father’s name was Koop.  There was quite a few Koops in those days.  My dad didn’t like that name.  He said, “It’s never going to happen.  So they were on the way to church.  He said that they still hadn’t agreed what they were going to name me because all the Blankespoors, which was quite common in those days, would be named after their father.  My brother was Henry John.  He only had one name, but they always called him Henry John.  The other ones were Henry G. and Henry E.  They finally decided on Jacoba, which, of course, is James.  And that’s still my name today.  That’s the history there.

We went to catechism at a very young age.  By that time I was in Rock Valley because we moved about the time I was going to go to school also.  Everything was in the Dutch language.  The trouble was that I really couldn’t speak American very well either.  But the neighbor was Americans—Oort was their name.  They had a girl exactly the same age as I was.  We would be visiting across the fence, and she’d talk in American and I’d talk in Dutch.  It wasn’t too long after that, she was talking some Dutch and I was talking some American, that is, better American, if you want to call it that.  I don’t suppose I’m doing so well today.  (Laughter)

Anyway, then he [JB’s father] decided to move to Hull.  So I had some catechism and one year of school in Rock Valley.  Then we moved to Hull and I went to the Christian school there.  We also had catechism there also.  They had it on Friday afternoons, and they would have an elder teaching us.  It was a big class, and we guys were no angels either, of course. We liked to shoot paper wads, you know.  But this elder would ask, “How many questions do you know?”  “Oh, three.”  So he asked three.  I was not forced [to learn all the answers], but I never had any problem with it anyway.  We were always taught, you learn the whole lesson.  And I could give the answer and then quite often also quote the question. He’d get to my desk and I’d get to answer all 10 of them.  You can imagine how that went.  Maybe four, five rows of students.  And, like I said, we boys were no angels. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to answer the question.  But of course, they couldn’t look in the book because he’s right by the desk and he’d stand almost right on the top of the desk. It got to be a drawn-out affair.  Finally the boys would get sick of that and they’d say, “Mr. Rice,I have to go the bathroom.”  “Yup, that’s fine.  You just go to the bathroom.”  What was behind it was that we had no clock.  He’d come back in and he said, “Mr. Rice, they’re all gone home!  There’s nobody here.”  “Oh, oh, well.”  We’d get five minutes of discussion and that was the end of it.  So we didn’t get very good catechism.

My father decided to go back to the farm. Then I went to the Christian school in Rock Valley, with horse and buggy with my sister.  My brother graduated in Hull already. So I had three months (from March till the end of the season) I went to school in the horse and buggy with my sister.

What was I going to do the next year, because she graduated and then I’d have to go six miles through that cold weather all alone.  They didn’t think that was good.  So there’s the country school.  In the country school the teacher was Roman Catholic.  They were our neighbors, and one of their daughters was also there.  We had a pretty nice basement with heat.  We’d play down the basement.  Well, what are you going to play?  This girl started saying, “We got to play church.”  Being young, we didn’t think so much of that.  So we were playing church. I was nominated preacher.  I got to read the Bible. She said, “When you get to the corner, you got to bend down and kneel.”  At that age, I thought, now what in the world!  We don’t have anything like that in church.  I said, “I can’t do that.”  Well, I should have asked my parents because they didn’t really know that was going on.  But it was funny that nobody else realized that!  So this lady was actually introducing us to the Roman Catholic church.  That was the end of that, of course.

Then the bus came through, so I went to the Christian school in Rock Valley.  It was Christian Reformed in one way or another.  But, at any rate, things were stirring up quite a bit already that we were already in the Protestant Reformed Church.

My father never made too much of that.  He was more opposed to the common grace theory, the offer.  That was not real clear to me yet at that time., but I was taking quite an interest in everything.  I always liked Bible, very much so, even Bible stories in school.

So, anyway, that was the standing. I could hear the folks talking about it different times.  They started doing a little church hopping, if you want to call it that.  They went to the Reformed church.  And I figured that’s where we would end up.  They had a minister there by the name of Rev. Edverson (?).  He was a very clear speaker and I would say for that day he was really quite Reformed.  He would sometimes spoil it in the last sentence of the sermon.  But I figured that’s where it would end.

But it didn’t.  The folks didn’t quite seem to find it. I suppose [the reason] was the Reformed church in Rock Valley was really opposed to the Christian schools, and my folks always wanted the Christian school.

I went to the Christian school in Rock Valley.  We had Bennink(?), and he was really pretty sound. Looking back now, he was one of the older men.  He finally got too old, so we got a different principal—Grasman was his name.  He was a regular Janssen man.  Of course I didn’t understand what Janssen was at that time.

Well, it got to the ears of one of the boys of Rock Valley Protestant Reformed Church, and it looked like it was going to explode the whole school.  But that principal really had it in for us.  Whenever he could find something wrong with us…but I didn’t realize that at the time.  And so, he said that where Joshua said that “sun stand thou still in the dale,” I can’t think of the right word now, that was not a miracle.  It was just a phenomenon in history.  That’s what started the whole business.

Anyway, I graduated from the Christian school in Rock Valley.  By that time we had a church started because the folks were very unhappy (if I use the word right) about the sermon they had heard. So they decided in the afternoon to go to Doon to see once how that minister is.  We never did that before, not once.  But I remember very well that we went to church in Doon. But the very same elder from Rock Valley read to the Doon church because they were without a minister that day, and they heard the very same sermon.  So they were really very disgusted. So they were going to go back to the farm.  And there was a man there with a little different cap that most of them had.  He came and talked to my folks and invited them for coffee.  And so, as they were having coffee, they got to discussing the things that were going on, and they did not agree.  So they thought they better call Hoeksema up and have him to come and lecture.  That’s what started it in the[Protestant Reformed] church:  two families.

The difference was this:  The Blankespoor family was only three offsprings, while the Kuiper had quite a large family.  We were meeting in the Baptist church because there was no money at that time, so they rented that.  And no minister, either, of course.

Vos and Verhil [Protestan Reformed ministers] were going to school because they realized in the East that something had to be done.  In between that, the whole Danhof case arose. Danhof tried to take over in Hull because he wanted his boys to really be authority, too.  He had two boys, not his own—I think they were nephews—but anyway, there was a Ralph, and I don’t know who the other one was.  They spoke a lot in Doon, and they were pretty good preachers, too. At least I thought so. I suppose I was making a distinction already what’s good and what isn’t good.

Then Hull went head over heels and built a new church and a new parsonage.  Then the whole thing split apart and I believe there were about seven or eight families left, and they sat with a big mortgage, too.  So it looked like they wasn’t going to last too long.

Doon didn’t have a parsonage. They didn’t even have a church.  No minister, either, except in the summer we’d have Vos.  Vos happened to be the minister. With his help they weren’t finished yet.  But in the meantime we had John DeJong, and I don’t know who else.  But Vos stayed by us a lot. Vos and Verhil would go back again and we’d be without a minister.  And the Danhofs they’d sprinkle in between.  And maybe we had C. Hanko once in a while.  But we really did an awful lot of reading.  People finally got tired of that.

By this time I was around 12 years old. I was born with a double hernia.  Well, they gave me trusses for years.  That didn’t seem to work, and it was getting worse.  Now there was an outfit in Sioux City that advertised, and they demonstrated a man that had a new type of truss.  It was kind of a pneumatic—with air, and it seemed to do the trick.  Well, my dad bought it, but he didn’t have the money.  So they said, “That’s all right.  We’ll send it to you C.O.D.”  There was another man there that my dad knew quite well.  He was in the Christian Reformed church, but quite outspoken.  And he had the money.  So he bought it for his son and paid for it—cash.  They had to order that thing from the company, wherever that was.  Finally we could pick it up in Rock Valley.  Well, I was really waiting for it because I was getting to the point if I pulled up on the crank on the engine it would go down on me.  That was painful, and dangerous besides.

We were ready to get in the car about 9:30 in the morning.  We were going to Rock Valley to pick it up.  It was about $160 or $180, which was a lot of money in those days.

This man came flying in the yard and said, “John, did you buy that thing?”  “No,” dad said, “we were ready to go get it.”  He said, “Don’t do it!”  Then he used a couple of Dutch words, which he meant to say, “It’s not worth it.”  The result was that we didn’t buy it, and we didn’t spend the money either.

Well then, what were they going do?  They knew they had to do something.  So they started investigating.  There was an outfit of doctors, I believe it was in Orange City.  They were doing that kind of surgery.  That was a death sentence in those days if you had to have surgery.  He wanted $300 for each side, so there was $600, which they didn’t have.

John Verburg was dating my sister by that time—just starting, I guess.  He had heard that Sioux Falls had a couple of doctors there that were doing it for a lot less money.  So we’d better investigate that first.  And we ended up with a Doctor Moe.  He was about 75 years old, but he had his own hospital and he was training his own nurses.  What it amounted to wasthat he was a retired doctor from Mayo Clinic.  We didn’t know that.  My folks had been to the Mayo Clinic when they were in Hull.  But, that’s beside the point now.  He examined me and he looked, and he said, “John,” he said, “he’s got to have surgery, no question about it.  You got to do it quick.”  Well, my dad says, “What do you get?”  “Well,” he says, “normally I get $100 for a side.”  “Well,” my dad says, “Better figure on it.  In the meantime,” he says, “I’ll get the money together.”  And I can still hear the old doctor, he says, “John, this boy needs surgery.  I’ll do it for nothing if you can’t come up with the money.”  And that’s what happened.  He got paid alright.  It wasn’t that my dad was trying to get out of it.  But he didn’t have that money.  Now I’m coming to the point of the church.

We had no minister, and we just had two elders by this time.

There was a lot of dissatisfaction.  The Kuiper family (there were four brothers—there was Henry, and Al, and John, and Frank),  and they had their children, so a some of them were married and had different names.  There were the Gorders, the Lenses, and Zylstra.

Well, they were getting into each other’s hair, which was nothing unusual.  But they [IDoon PR church] decided they’d probably better quit.  They didn’t have money to keep going.  The fact is they had a hard time getting enough money to buy coal.

But I was in the hospital, so I never got in on that.  They all thought they better disband, if I am making use of the right language.  But my mother hadn’t talked, yet.  You see, the women had to come [to the meeting] too.

One elder saw that she didn’t speak.  He said, “Mrs. Blankespoor, what do you say?”  She hemmed and hawed a little bit, and said she didn’t think it was proper.  But they said, “Yes, you speak.”  So she finally said, “Well, if you’re convinced that you’re standing for the truth, you have no business quitting.  You got to keep going.”  That’s what happened.

This was all going on while I was in the hospital.  In those days, car travel wasn’t near as fast, and Sioux Falls was forty miles from where we lived, so they didn’t come to see me too often.  I had to stay in bed thirteen days on my back.  They did both sides [repaired the hernias] at the same time.  I couldn’t lie on my sides, So I lay on my back.  So I learned to sleep on my back.

My sister did come one day.  How she came to get there I don’t remember.  And she said, “Yeah, the folks went to a fighting party last night.”  “Fighting party?”  I said, “What are you talking about?”  Then she told me the story of the meeting.

After thirteen and a half days, they decided I should be able to go home.  Oh, I was feeling like a million bucks, you know.  I thought there was nothing to that.  I’ll just jump out a bed.  I stepped off the edge of the bed and I went right on the floor.  (Laughter)  My legs wouldn’t hold me up. But I got over that and went home.

Things started getting a little bit better in the church then.  I think Vos and Verhil were released from the seminary for a certain length of time. By that time Sioux Center had organized, and Hull got the first chance to vote [for a minister].  Well, they voted for Verhil.  My dad was kinda happy about that because he enjoyed Verhil better than Vos.  I knew that.  He didn’t say it, but I knew that.  I was observing things at that time.  He figured that Doon would sure vote for Vos.  But they voted for Verhil!  And he was upset about that. Sioux Center was going to vote next, and they voted for Vos.  They got Vos and Doon got nothing  (Laughter).

So they [Doon] called John DeJong. John DeJong was (I would say, officially) considered very Reformed.  But he didn’t consider too much about the common grace theory, so he never really mentioned common grace.  Things went quite smooth because, like I said, it was pretty much of a mixed group, and DeJong never really hit any doctrinal issues.  So they were pretty much attached to DeJong.

Then we called [Rev. George] Lubbers.  Everybody thought that was pretty nice.  He took the call but he hadn’t come yet. [Here JB takes a lengthy side trip in which he describes the drowning of his sister on the occasion of a young people’s outing. The account is unclear and disjointed, and has therefore been omitted].

Then Lubbers came.  I thought he was a little too bold.  I’ll be honest.  I thought he was young, but I didn’t like him.  But I learned to like him very well, and   I supported him.

That’s when I finally did get some good catechism.  I didn’t get good catechism from DeJong, either, so I really had very little catechism. What you’d call the first class, I had that in the Christian Reformed church—that was still pretty good because they weren’t that far off at that time yet. My dad helped with some catechism.  With two elders, or three at the most, and no money and all that fighting, you can about imagine that I didn’t get much catechism.  Finally we got Rev. Lubbers, and he insisted that we have some of the Essentials [of Reformed Doctrine].  So I had a wee little bit of essentials.  Then Lubbers left because there was trouble.  They disliked him.  The trouble was that he was too Reformed.  That was really what it amounted to.

But they had it in for Lubbers.  Finally John Leverink, who was quite outspoken, said “We got to get rid of him.  If we can’t do anything else, we’ll starve him.”

My mother would never let that happen.  If she had anything to give, she’d give it.  So I carried gallons (to go to catechism—I could drive when I was twelve years old—I drove to catechism on my own—didn’t need a driver’s license), and I took gallons of milk and canned meat—no refrigeration, so it was canned meat.  We made our own cheese, so I took a lot of cheese.  And we made some sausage, so I took some sausage whenever that was possible, and vegetables and fruit, and what have you.  We had some apple trees.  So I took an awful lot of food.  They would have never starved. The town of Doon wouldn’t even allow that.  Even if they were of the world, they would have never allowed that.  But that’s what Leverink wanted.  He wanted to starve them.

He got that whole business together that we had to get rid of Lubbers.  It finally got so bad that he said, “If a car would run over Lubbers, I wouldn’t pick him off the ground until the second one would run over him.”  That’s pretty rough stuff in the church, especially in my youth. What I went through, you’d say, well, forget about the church!