GB: When people talked about the singing not being very good in Randolph, I experienced that very much (laughter). I think that from 1965 on, some of the young men in the church (and Jean and I were married) bringing other spouses into the congregation—that helped the singing tremendously. It also kept the congregation close together. But being without a minister for a time, I missed that. Soon I was in the consistory. They were looking for additional men who could serve in the consistory. It was all new to me. I was very young when I became a deacon. I think I was 23 years old when I became a deacon. I think when I was 28 or 29 then I was elder. I felt kind of inexperienced in a lot of these things. But the Lord has blessed us through the years too. From ’65 on, I think there was a lot of growth in the church. Before that or around that time, Sunday School Christmas programs had about three kids in them. You can’t have much of a program with three kids—one has the welcome, another has the speech for the offertory, another has the farewell (laughter), and they certainly weren’t able to sing many songs because three of them…
JB: I think Connie DeVries and Marty DeVries and Leo DeVries were the only three who were really young enough for programs, so those three always had to do something together. When we’d have a singspiration, they’d have just a little piece in there. They didn’t even sing, I don’t think, because with three—it doesn’t work very well.
GB: Then, because the families were getting married, the children were coming and the church started growing quite fast. We increased our numbers and soon we were able to get off the [synodical] subsidy rolls. That helped us along toward building a new church too. We started that in ’72 when Rev. Bekkering came. Now Rev. Bekkering came after Rev. VanBaren, right Jean?
JB: No. In 1965, Rev. VanBaren left, and in 1967 Rev. Dale Kuiper came. At that time we bought a new parsonage. The parsonage had been standing empty for quite awhile again. Gary and I were living in a little apartment in Waupun. One day my mom said, “Well, why don’t you just come and live in the parsonage. They kind of want someone to live in there because it’s better that someone is in that house.” At first we didn’t really know if we really wanted to do that. But we decided that that was a good idea. We could live there rent-free. They just kind of wanted a little donation from us. So we would put a little more in the collection plate. We hadn’t been living there very long and Rev. Kuiper accepted the call. Oh, dear. We started looking for apartments. We couldn’t find anything in Randolph. We really didn’t want to move out of Randolph again because it was kind of handy living there, with the church being there. So we started looking. And it came up in one of the congregational meetings that maybe it would be a good idea to look into getting a different parsonage because they thought this one needed work, and the house that we have now was for sale. It was not all that expensive—I think it was $8,000 something? So they bought that and my dad bought the old parsonage, and we rented it from my dad for awhile. After he died we bought it from my mom. Rev. Dale Kuiper was here for two and a half years. Then he went to Pella.
Then we got Rev. Bekkering. That’s when they started talking about building a new church. It was dedicated on May 24, 1974, and that was a really big day for us. We had an open house, and we invited the community to come in the daytime, because everybody had been watching [the construction]. Everyone would come past and watch because there was so much volunteer work done. It took awhile to get it done. Everyone was really quite interested in that church. So we had that open house, and a lot of people came to see it. Then at night we had a dedication just for the congregation and people who had come from outside. Rev. [Cornelius] Hanko came and talked, and Rev. Lubbers gave a little speech.
GB: We decided to go with building a church that seemed to be quite a big event. We left the old church building standing, which is in the area where our parking lot is right now. We started digging the hole, the basement, and we ran into rock. We took out as much dirt as we possibly could. We had to raise the church building just a little bit. We wanted to have it a little bit lower down so we didn’t have to worry about steps. We were able to overcome that by using a ramp into the front entrance. But our church is built on a rock: we could not get the footings in deep enough. We had to air-hammer rock out as much as we possibly could, so part of the church is right on that rock. There was much volunteer labor. We did hire some men from Westra Construction who came on Saturdays to lay the block for the basement walls. Later on, some of the men from our own congregation laid up the intervals for the bathroom and furnace room area. Much volunteer labor. At the time we hired Jake Regnerus as general contractor, and he and Eugene Braaksma worked a 40-hour week. The church paid them wages to work during the day to get things prepared so that in the evenings and on Saturdays volunteer labor could come and help put up the floors and the walls and rafters and whatever. I was treasurer at that time, so I knew what the wages were for Jake and Gene Braaksma. Really a pittance compared to what it would be now today! Now that we’re considering building another addition onto our church, Gene Braaksma’s also on the steering committee for that new building. But he did help quite considerably on the first building as well. We considered getting a crane in to set up the rafters, but we decided to do it manually. That worked out pretty good. I know that on the east side, all the rafters were nailed down by myself. On the west side it was probably Jake Regnerus. I took a week of vacation and that’s what I did during my week of vacation.
Interesting thing is that one of the local business men from Randolph, his name is Joe Bump—he’s Roman Catholic—just about every evening went for a walk and came past the church. He stopped in just to see how things were going along. Usually when he left to continue his walk, he would say, “I say a prayer for you every day.” Kind of interesting, coming from a Catholic. But there was a certain amount of men around. Yet, every Sunday, usually Sunday morning after the service, all the congregation would look over next door to see what was happening. The two buildings were only about six or seven feet apart. It was quite fun working together like that. A very profitable experience, because throughout the congregation we had an electrician, we had a mason, we had carpenters, we had men who were roofers. So we all worked together, and we saved a lot on labor.
I think we build that church building for about $50,000. Today, the addition that we plan to start on is going to be five or six times that amount.
JB: $700,000 is the estimate.
GB: It’s probably more than that. But we will not be able to put a basement under the new sanctuary now because the rock is so high it would be cost-prohibitive to get all that rock out of there. Over the years we’ve had to take some trees down to make room for a parking lot, and now we’re taking some more trees down so that we can make room for the new church building. Our congregation has worked together very well. Occasionally we had some misunderstandings, some difficulties, some congregational meetings in which some men became upset about the way we’re doing some things. But overall, our congregation has grown considerably to the point that we were able to start our own school fifteen years ago. Building that new school building, there was a lot of volunteer labor in there too. Without volunteer labor, it would be impossible for us to carry on as far as we did. I think Jean has something she wants to say now.
JB: I was going to get back to the dedication of our church. I can remember that Rev. Bekkering was really emotional that night. He could hardly talk when he went up there. Really excited about having that new church.
When Rev. Koole came, that’s when we really started talking about a new school again. There was a society, years back, but nothing had ever been done. They stopped taking collections for it. There was a little nest egg in the bank somewhere. I think the bank finally called and said that we should either take it out of there or add something to it because it was just sitting there. Rev. Koole started talking about it a little bit. And, oh, there was opposition right off the bat. No way were they ready.
JB: I do not know. We had all gone to various Christian schools in the area, and some of the people felt that that was good enough. It wasn’t as bad there as it could have been, I suppose. But it wasn’t getting better. It was getting worse in schools, but a lot of people just felt like they wanted to keep their kids there. I know some of them were afraid of what would happen if we started talking about [starting our own school], and it would get out into the public, so that our kids would start getting teased in school because of that. It was just these silly worries, so Rev. Koole kind of dropped it. He didn’t make too much of it, and it just kind of went by the wayside for awhile.
Rev. Slopsema came, and he tried to get it going again. It was the same thing. There were just too many who were opposed to it, and we really didn’t want a split in the congregation over it, either. So we kind of let it go again for awhile.
When Rev. Key came, he really started pushing for it. While he was here, Joe VanBaren was interested in starting his business. I don’t know who he talked to, but he said he wanted to come to start a business here. But he didn’t want to come unless there was a Protestant Reformed school here. I think we had kind of been talking about it a little bit more. We had started a society again. We were taking collections for it, and we had some money in the bank. He said that if he bought that business, we could use part of that building for a school. That was really what did it in people’s minds. If we have a building, that’s a big thing right there because you don’t always know how you’re going to be able to do it. And with better income, we were better off than we were before. But still, when you’re sending your kids to a Christian school, it’s still hard to keep it all going. I think they were worried that we just wouldn’t be able to do it. But having that building made a big difference.
MHH: It definitely would cut the cost.
JB: Oh, yes. They did quite a bit of remodeling in the building, but that was a whole lot less than if we had had to start building right away.
GB: I think for about twenty thousand we were able to renovate the building so that we could have classrooms in there. That included putting in bathrooms and meeting codes just to make it classroom accessible. It had two classrooms. Later we added another room that started out as a library, but became the kindergarten room. We had some donated materials and a lot of donated time. We had to tear all the existing walls out—a dirty, dusty mess—and put in a lot of insulation and do some repairs on windows and so on. But we were able to get that building started, and we were still scrambling the day before classes were to start. But we were able to get classes started at the right time and maybe do a few things later on.
That was a very good start for us. I don’t know if it was before we started building, or if it was shortly after that, the school purchased the property where the present building is standing now. That gave us potential for a lot to build on later on, and also provided playground area for the kids. That was a concern that many parents had: Well, what about a playground? We were able to buy that property quite reasonably.
JB: I think we had to ask the city to abandon the street that they were planning to…
GB: Yes, there were supposed to be two streets that went through. One was completed. The north/south street was completely abandoned, and the east/west street was left as it presently is, which was OK because it made it accessible for our church as well.
Now Joe VanBaren purchased and donated another that lot to the school so that it wouldn’t become a building lot, but it would make it easier for us to expand the present building if we want to expand or in the future to make parking lot area there.
As I said, working on this project of building a church and building a schools sure draws the congregation closer together. Not everybody worked at that, but many of us volunteered vacation time. A lot of Saturday work, a lot of evening work just to get a school building started and church building too.
MHH: When the decision to actually proceed with the school was finally taken, were most people on board with that, even though there had been some disagreement in prior years?
GB: About sixty percent were ready to go ahead with building. Within the next two or three years, more people started coming around. That was a big boost, because we needed that. There was some skepticism because they felt, oh, you’re taking on an awfully big project here; I don’t think you’re going to make it go. But after the bills were all paid and we had money left over, that was a big boost there for everybody. If you can come in under budget, that’s a big help. Then a lot of people said, “Well, who’s going to come to Randolph to be a teacher?” You have to start that process far enough ahead of time so you can get teachers. We were thankful that we had teachers. Between serving in the consistory, and being on the school board I have had very few years in between when I wasn’t in one place or the other. Right now I’m on the present school board. We’re thankful that we have what we have. But had not Joe VanBaren and some of his help moved here to Randolph, we wouldn’t have been able to get that school started.
I think back to when we were first married. Most of those older people who were in our congregation in ’65 have died. A lot of the children have left the congregation too. It wasn’t until our children who were born in, say, 1964–1965 on up that the church really started to grow. That’s why we had enough children to start classes too. We started with 21 or 22. I think we’re right at 43 now, and we have real good support.
JB: That’s what I was going to say. We virtually have a different congregation now than we did when I was a little girl. I had a lot of relation in the church at that time. There were a lot of Fishers and a lot of Huizengas in there. Some of the Fishers left. Not too many Huizengas any more.
MHH: The generations of the old people have drifted away from the church then?
JB: Some of them, yes.
MHH: Why do you think that is?
JB: I don’t know. I have one uncle who had five children, and every one of them left our church. One of them claims to be an agnostic in doctrine. One of them didn’t go to church for a long time, but now he goes to a church but I don’t know—Congregational or something like that. The other ones go to Reformed churches, but none of them ever came back to the Protestant Reformed Churches.
GB: If you were to look at those numbers and their children and grandchildren again, we would certainly have a congregation that would be, I would think, right around 80-90 families.
MHH: Wow. And you’re at what?
GB: 48, I believe.
JB: In my generation and then in the next generation, the children of some of the families that are parents our age left too.
GB: I think we can say that more people left than stayed. And that’s a thing that saddens me somewhat. But being in the consistory, you see that things like that are probably good. It would probably not been well to keep some of them in our congregation—it would have been a troublous congregation then—very troubled. So, this is the Lord’s will for us, too.
MHH: Thank you both for this interview.