Interview with Jean Buteyn (1)

It is April 11, 2008, and I am at the residence of Gary and Jean Buteyn in Randolph, WI. This is a joint interview with Jean Buteyn (JB)—the unofficial historian of the Randolph congregation—and Gary Buteyn (GB).

MHH:  Jean, can you tell me where and when you were born and a little bit about your childhood?

JB:  I was born on November 7, 1943 in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.  My parents lived on a farm about six miles north of Randolph.

The Protestant Reformed Church had been organized in August of 1942.  Of course, I don’t remember anything before that.

My first memories of the church would be in the old Congregational church in Randolph.  Rev. [George] Lubbers was our minister.

I remember that we had catechism in various homes around the area, and the adults had an adult Bible class—and different society meetings—at the homes of the people in the congregation.  They would take turns, and they would have coffee time afterwards.  Quite a few of the times when we had catechism, it would be at the home of Herman and Clara DeVries, which was out in the country. They lived on a farm, and they had nine boys in their family. Saturday was a pretty busy day for her, but she let us all come there. If it wasn’t our turn to have class (if it was decent weather) we’d play outside—the boys would have a baseball game. Clara would sometimes be busy baking in the kitchen and doing her Saturday work and we’d all go in the living room.  And then one little thing I remember is that the first time one of the boys went to catechism there and came home, his father asked him if there were a lot of kids in catechism. He said, “Oh, yeah.  A whole davenport full”  (laughter).  Rev. Lubbers would tell that little story just about every time he came.

I can remember having program practices at the parsonage because we rented that Congregational church, but we couldn’t use it for anything other than services (I think that we rented it for $5.00 a Sunday if there was no heat included.  If we needed heat, it was $7.00 a Sunday). And we could use the piano, but we could not use the organ. That was off limits. We might not even touch that.

Once in a while we would have something in there on an evening.  I kind of remember going down in the basement sometimes and they had coffee down there, but that was rare.  Most of the time everything took place either at homes or otherwise we would rent the library basement—they had a kitchen down there.

Rev. Lubbers was really interested in all the people in the congregation.  He would help people out if they were in trouble.  I can remember my mom telling me that one time there was a farmer who was sick, and he couldn’t get his milking done. Rev. Lubbers came out to help.  He really didn’t know a thing about milking a cow, but he did the best he could because he wanted to be helpful.  I think he really did care about this congregation because I got letters from him all through the years—he would write about my dear mother and others in the congregation and how much he thought about all of them.  Those were really nice years.

MHH:  How long did he stay there?

JB:  I think it says somewhere in here [in her records].  He must have stayed here until Rev. [Henry] Kuiper came in 1951.

MHH:  That information is available in the Acts as well.

GB:  Yes, we could check the Acts of Synod on that.  I think it was about four years.

JB:  I was the first baby baptized in Randolph Protestant Reformed Church, but I was not baptized by Rev. Lubbers.  I was baptized by Rev. Schipper.  Rev. Lubbers didn’t come here until later, probably in 1944, and he stayed here until June 1950. Then he went to Creston congregation in Grand Rapids.

I remember his family quite well.  I remember Agatha and Garretta and Cornelius and Lam.  We visited a lot back and forth.  They would come out to our house sometimes on Saturday afternoons—just drop in—and I have this really cute picture of them all standing out there—Garretta and Agatha with curlers in their hair and a bandana over their heads. We really thought a lot of Rev. Lubbers.

After he left, we had Rev. H.H. Kuiper.  I think it was during that time that we bought that basement church [a small rectangular building, half below grade and half above grade].  We had been in that old Congregational church for all those years.

MHH:  Was it used as a church at that time, or for some other purpose?

JB:  The Christian Reformed Church in Randolph had built that with the intention of building on top of it someday. But they grew so fast that it was really too small. They didn’t think it paid to put a top on there, so they decided to build a new church, and that basement was for sale. I think Rev. Kuiper knew about that and kind of encouraged the congregation to buy it.  They were really happy with that old basement.  It had theater seats in it and there wasn’t anything really beautiful about it at all. It had a wood floor and two posts in the middle. There was an old organ in there, and we played it a couple of times.  It didn’t have any foot pedals, and it had four stops on each side. But it was an organ. It had speakers in the wall in the back of church. It would get damp in there sometimes and those speakers would start making awful noises (laughter).  Then if you were playing the organ, you had to walk way to the front for the piano because you couldn’t stand that noise.

It was during that time that the 1953 controversy took place, when H.H. Kuiper was here.  I was only 10 years old, so I don’t remember a lot of details.  But I do remember people talking about it when they would visit with each other. My mom would talk about it to me—that there was trouble in the Protestant Reformed Churches and would kind of explain to me that it was Rev. [Hubert] DeWolf who had made some statements that he shouldn’t have made.

There were a few families, I think two , that left our congregation at that time.  But the other ones were all very much in agreement with Rev. [Herman] Hoeksema and thought that we shouldn’t leave the denomination.  I think Rev. H.H. Kuiper was really instrumental in that.  For years afterwards people still talked about it.  If people had relatives in Michigan who went along with the other side, it had an influence on them.  Maybe it wasn’t always good, but it was talked about for a long time.  We were always very thankful that we did what we did.  And those families never came back to our church again.  One family went to the Christian Reformed Church and pretty well stayed there.  The other family just kept looking around and moving from church to church.  They never really found it again, I don’t think.

Personal things.  I can remember Ruth Kuiper and I going up in the attic and playing together up there. We about cooked up in that old attic, but we had a lot of fun. I didn’t see her again for a long, long time.  When we had the 75th Anniversary [celebration], we were there. They found this banner from one of the conventions up in the bell tower of the old First Church, and they asked if whoever had been at that convention to come up to the front. So I did. We were all getting in line to have a picture taken.  Someone was standing next to me, and I said, “Who are you?”  She said, “I’m Ruth Kuiper.”  Oh, my.  What a time.  I hadn’t seen her in years!  It was nice to see her again after all that time.

I remember the closeness of the congregation, especially in the earlier years.  They did things together a lot.  In fact, I thought that the people in the congregation almost were like family because we did a lot of things together, because we came to each other’s homes like for the adult Bible class and all the societies.  We had a lot to do with each other.

One other thing is that they did not really completely break their relationships with people from outside of the Protestant Reformed Churches.  I know in a lot of areas there were a lot of family problems because of [membership in the PRC].  My parents still were friends with people in the community.  We went visiting with them, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of hard feelings.  We went to East Friesland Christian School, and I can’t remember that we ever, ever were teased because we went to that [Protestant Reformed] church, even though we were in the minority.  So we really still did have friends from outside, but we were really close to each other.

But it was a close congregation. No one was rich, that I know of.  Well, maybe one man in the congregation probably had a little more than the others, but we’d never have known it from the way he dressed or anything like that.  But we really were not all that well off. We had a hard time just making it, especially if you had kids in Christian school. I think sometimes they were a little bit hurt by people coming from the outside and making fun of that little basement church and criticizing, because they really thought it was pretty wonderful that we had that little church, even though it wasn’t much.

GB:  It wasn’t much because it didn’t even have any indoor plumbing first.  I was told that you had to put that in later on.  That was the first improvement that you made in the church building.

JB:  Speaking of that, every Halloween we had to put the outhouse back up again (laughter).  The kids in town would find that old outhouse and tip that thing over every year.

We had to have catechism, after we got the basement church, in the consistory room. There was a huge old furnace in the corner of that room, and the fan would come on and make so much noise.  Someone would always have to jump up and turn that fan off or you couldn’t hear the minster.

Then they were having trouble with the roof leaking.  Was it your dad who was here when we had pails standing on the floor (laughter)?

GB:  If it was a Sunday like yesterday when it rained all day, the water would run off the light that was above the pulpit.  It tilted just a little bit so the drip would come on this side and run all the way across and come down right onto the Bible.  In the morning service he moved the Bible over and laid his handkerchief there to catch the drips.  In the afternoon, the pulpit was moved over to the side and there were three, four, or five buckets standing there to catch the drips (laughter).  It was a very common thing that that roof had to be redone every so often. This was after 1965—about every two years they had to redo the roof. Then it got to the point where you couldn’t really fix the roof anymore because there was so much tar and tarpaper up there to seal up all the cracks that the roof was starting to sag a little bit, so there were pockets in it. Then we decided to go with the new building.

JB:  We also had a mouse problem in that church. You know the clock up in the front? A cord went down to the outlet, and the mice would climb up and down that cord during the services (laughter).  One time I was sitting next to my friend (Judy Abel)—we were teenagers, I think, at that time.  During long prayer, all of a sudden she started moving all over the place.  After the prayer was done she said to me, “There was a mouse running up my leg” (laughter).

It wasn’t the nicest church building, but I think that they were kind of proud of that church.

MHH:  But it was good for at least a little bit of entertainment along the way. It served the congregation for at least twenty years, didn’t it?

GB:  It was in ’72 that we started building the present building.  So it served for quite some time.

JB:  The old timers, even at the time we built the new church, really were not all that much in favor of that.  I know my mother was quite upset that we were planning to build a new church. She didn’t think that we could possibly afford to do something like that. They just thought that old one was good enough.  But I think other people at that time were advancing a little bit, getting a little bit more money; the younger ones had better incomes than some of the older ones did.  Most of them had gotten along with what they had in their own homes too.  We didn’t do a lot of remodeling or fixing up and getting new things.  So it was hard for them to think that we should remodel or have a better church because they had just always gotten along with what they had.

GB:  The beginning of the church was definitely a farm church.  Almost everybody was a farmer or worked in that trade, so they didn’t have the office people or other people like that—very few of those.  And the congregation was very small, about 14–15 families when they first started out, maybe not even that many. But by 1965 we were reaching around 20 families. Then we were able to start thinking a little more about building.

JB:  And the people had a little more income than they did before.  The younger members of the congregation and new families that were starting out were a little better off than our parents had been.  Most of them had been farmers. They had a few in the building trade and one plumber, but nobody was really all that well off.

Another thing was Randolph’s singing. It was kind of discussed around the denomination, I think.  One of the ministers, I don’t know who it was, said, “When Randolph sings the angels weep” (laughter). I thought it was kind of funny, but then later someone said to me, “Well, I know they’re always saying that, but I don’t think that’s so funny. We did the best we could.” And it was true.  We had a lot of people in the congregation who just couldn’t keep a tune, and I guess when you can’t keep a tune, you don’t sing so loud.  But it could get pretty bad sometimes, especially if the songs were unfamiliar. I started playing the organ when I was quite young, and I really wasn’t all that accomplished, either. I couldn’t count out the time real well, but there weren’t that many who could do it, so I said I would do it. If it was an unfamiliar song, I would play a solo, and I’d probably play it wrong (laughter).  But that’s improved a lot.

Then we had Rev. Emmanuel.  He came in 1954.  His wife never came along to our church. They had three boys, and they would sit in the front of the church so we could watch them.  But I don’t think she ever came in church, not even for any special occasions.  Apparently she had gone along with him to church at the beginning.  But when the 1953 split took place, she just couldn’t handle that for some reason. I don’t know if she agreed with the other side, or if it was just that she just couldn’t take that controversy, or what it was, but she never came.  Emmanuel was here about five years, but it was not a really happy time.  We did get preaching.  He preached all right, and he taught us catechism.  But it just didn’t feel right not to have a minister’s wife there.

MHH:  He was here for five years?

JB:  Five years, according to Hilda Tamminga’s [another long-time member] history here.  It says five years. Then he must have made some statements that members of the consistory thought weren’t totally Reformed.  I don’t think it ever even got as far as classis. I think he just left for another denomination when they confronted him with it.  He just left.

Then we were vacant for three years. Those were the years when I was in high school. Elders taught catechism, and we had a lot of reading services. I think that the congregation really became quite discouraged in those years.  They never gave up or ever talked about giving up.  But every time we’d get another decline, they would be so disappointed.

MHH:  This would have been in the early 1960s?

JB:  Emmanuel left in 1959 (Emmanuel must have been here from 1954–1959.)  I remember a little bit his accent.  He was from New York, I think, so he had a hard time speaking ours (laughter).  One day he was trying to say something about a ring on a finger.  And he said, “Now, when you put that ring around the finger…uh, fing on the ringer….” (laughter).  About that time my dad was almost rolling off the seat (laughter).  He was trying to say the word roar once, and he couldn’t get that out, either.  It was “woow”—you know, he just couldn’t get those r’s out.  That’s a little humorous thing I remember about him being here.

After that we were vacant for a while again, and then Rev. [Gise] VanBaren came. Before they moved here, they went to see the parsonage, and Mrs. VanBaren was really disappointed.  That parsonage was getting kind of bad too.  We had done a little remodeling in it before Rev. Emmanuel came.  We had put a bathroom upstairs, a full bath.  All that was in there before was a toilet down the basement.  So that bathroom was there, but the kitchen still had old cabinets with glass doors in them.  Probably somebody would like to have them now?  An open sink, with, you know nothing but a little skirt around the bottom to make it look a little bit nicer.  And it had stood empty for awhile, so the wallpaper was looking bad.  The floors were old painted floors and only around the edges, you know so where there had been a rug—no paint on the floor. She was really disappointed, so Rev. Van Baren wrote and asked if there was anything we could do to make that look a little bit better—maybe do some painting and some papering and stuff.  Well, we had people in the congregation who could do all those things, so we all got busy and did them. They decided to put in a whole new kitchen. They put nice cabinets in, put new floor covering on, and put another little half-bath downstairs. So she was quite happy when she came to see that. The kitchen was quite nice too.  The house was still very crooked.  We know that because we lived in it later.  But it looked a lot better than it had been.

When they came, I think they had three children.  And when they left, I think they had five.  Those were really good years when we had him. He was a really good preacher. It was so nice to have someone who could teach catechism again. The elders always did the best they could, but it was so much better when there was a minister there.  We enjoyed those years. He was the minister who performed our marriage ceremony. He left after that—in that same year yet—1965.

GB:  We were married in June and he left (in fact, he took his children to Michigan, I believe so they could start school there by Labor Day). I kind of missed him because I didn’t know what it was like, coming from the Christian Reformed Church, to be without a minister.

To be continued…