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Interview with Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Jonker (2)

MHH:  Now, Aunt Truda [my aunt by marriage to Cornelius, my uncle], you were mentioning and discussing a little bit about the radio choir and about singing in general.  Is there anything that you have to add to what you have already said?

TJ:  I do remember some of the things about the radio choir.  We didn’t always have the choir each week, so we sang trios. Lois Kregel and Ann Bylsma and myself would sing trios. With my husband I sang a number of times—duets—on the broadcast.

CJ:  Just to ad lib a little bit here, I remember the first time Trudy and I sang on the radio.  We were hardly done singing and the church door flew open. There came your Truda’s aunt, Margerite Hofman .  She heard someone singing on the radio and she didn’t know who that was. She was so inquisitive that she burst into the church and found out that it was us.  Subsequently, I sang duets with Ed Ophoff on the Reformed Witness Hour, and a few times my sister Thelma, her husband Chuck, and Trudy and I sang mixed quartet on the radio, and I sang with the Men’s Chorus.  So we’ve done a lot with that.  I served also on the Radio Committee for at least a couple of terms.

MHH:  So your life has been in many ways wrapped up with music?

CJ:  Very much, and it still is.  One little anecdote. I remember when I was quite young, one Sunday morning in church, before the service began, I noticed that my mother and my two sisters were snickering a little bit. I wondered why.  And it just seemed that they were having a hard job controlling themselves.  Well, I found out after the service that my younger sister still had her nightie on under her dress.  (laughter).

People then, as they are now, were creatures of habit.  We always sat about three rows behind the elders and deacons. The ladies all wore hats to church.  The Marjo Hat Shop did a thriving business with the PR ladies. But woe to the ones that sat behind the ladies with big brims on the hats.  It created a sort of impossible barrier to see the pastor (laughter). In First Church, some of the old men would like to smoke cigars.  They did a lot of walking to church.  They’d smoke a cigar to church.  And, of course, being thrifty Dutchmen, they just sort of put it out a little bit before they entered the sanctuary and place it on a little stone ledge before they entered.  Afterward they picked them up again, but sometimes they were a little bit rearranged beforehand (laughter).

MHH:  Not to get anyone in trouble, but who possibly could it have been who did some rearrangement?

CJ:   I plead the fifth[amendment]. I think there were some rascals in my age category. Speaking of smoke (laughter), I didn’t really get into the inner sanctum of the consistory until later.  But, upon making confession of faith at 18, shortly before I went into the army, I entered a room that was long and narrow and smoke-filled. I think others testified to that fact when they came for baptism slips.  Thankfully later on, before I became deacon, that situation was remedied with a “no smoking.” (laughter).  But there was a lot of smoke in that room.

MHH:  They had to smoke in order to deliberate.

CJ:  Well, I know that my father was a heavy smoker.  He liked cigars at night.  But he would smoke during the day.  In fact, it was such a crutch that before he could answer the phone or go to the door to answer the doorbell, he had to light up. I thought he was a slave to it. I think it was a contributing factor to his early death at 61.  So I was convinced that I had to quit my habit when I was in the army.  I smoked when I was in the army, but no more.  And I’m thankful that I don’t.

MHH:  It certainly has been to your benefit.

CJ:  You’re right.

MHH:  What other recollections do you have in a general way regarding the life and activities of the church?

CJ:  I remember society life.  I think I attended David Society (that was the young boys).  The young girls, I think, had Esther Society.  I might add that the English Men’s Society had a custom to hold a banquet at the end of the season in the spring.  They would invite two delegates from each society to attend, and there would be food and speeches. I was one of the delegates from David, and it so happened that my future wife was a delegate from Esther.  Providentially we sat across from each other. I had known the family, but I never paid much attention until then. They had plates of a certain type of colored mints that were there for the taking, and she felt obligated to feed me those in profusion that night.  To this day I really don’t care for them anymore.  But I still love her (laughter). Eventually we dated.  Our first date was on a Sunday night at First Church. She had to be in at 10:30.  So I dutifully brought her to her home at 10:30.  However, her folks were out visiting, so it was a nice opportunity to sit on their front porch until quite a little later.  When her folks drove up the driveway, I descended the front steps and drove away (laughter).

I recall one other incident.  That was at the close of the service. The minister (I think it was Rev. Hoeksema) announced the closing number. Nothing happened. We looked up to where the organist was sitting. Apparently he dozed off  (laughter).  So Rev. Hoeksema asked somebody to arouse him, which he did.  I think he was quite embarrassed.  I won’t mention his name, but I know who he was  (laughter).  So that was a rather humorous little thing.

Oh, and quite regularly, I remember that Rev. Hoeksema, during the congregational prayer would touchingly confess to the fact that he himself was an unworthy sinner, adding, “Thou knowest it, he knows it, and we all know it.” That just seemed to echo.  And he would say that so often.  It was a rather endearing phrase.

MHH:  You got married, when?

CJ:  We were married June 2 in First Church (a Monday night because my father had to leave the following morning for synod in Iowa).

MHH:  What year was this?

CJ:  This was in 1947. It was difficult to find dates for marriages, to get the church reserved.  So many marriages were taking place with the army boys returning.  And so we had a rehearsal on Saturday and our marriage took place on Monday, and my father left the following morning.  Rev. Hubert DeWolf was assistant pastor, and he was also my wife’s uncle. This was really before there were rumblings of problems that came to their peak in 1953.  So, being my wife’s uncle, he officiated at our wedding.  And I might add, too, that she also had two other uncles that were Protestant Reformed ministers.  One was Rev. Peter DeBoer.  He had a pastorate out West.  And Rev. Leonard Vermeer.  Her family was quite well represented in the Protestant Reformed ministerial column.  So her mother was a Vermeer.  So Rev. DeWolf married Alice Vermeer, and  Rev. Peter DeBoer married Gertrude Vermeer.  And, of course, Leonard Vermeer was her brother, so there was quite a bit of relation. And that had quite a bit to do with the big split in 1953.

MHH:  What do you mean by that?  Describe to me the events leading up to 1953 as you see them.

CJ:  Well, we were in our early years of marriage, being married in 47. We didn’t really have our ear to the ground that much with the rumblings.  However, we also subscribed to the Concordia, which was a church publication, mostly produced by the ministers out West.  And so there was sort of a running debate between the Standard Bearer and the Concordia on various theological issues:  Rev. Petter would studiously look up anything that might support his position on conditional theology.  We read that with interest. Then we heard the rumblings. The statements [by Rev. De Wolf regarding conditions] were made, and my father was very much involved because he was in the consistory.  He had protests. Then there was a big controversy about the ministers ( Kok and DeJong) who went to the Netherlands, which really undermined the position of Rev. Hoeksema and the church.

MHH:  Do you think that that was done deliberately?

CJ:  I didn’t know at the time, but subsequently, I heartily believe it, especially when I read some of the memoirs of Rev. [Cornelius] Hanko when something came out.  Rev. DeWolf was asked, “Did you make those statements?  If you’d waited, you’d had more people on your side.”  So to me, that was deliberate.

MHH:  It was like evidence of a conspiracy?

CJ:  That’s what I believe. Just for what reasons, I don’t know.  But we were in the middle of it because my wife’s father, Henry Bastiaanse, was in the consistory at the time.

MHH:  In?

CJ:  First Church.  And all her family was supporting Rev. DeWolf, whereas my family was not.  So, that certainly had affect in our own family—my wife and I. We had endless debates and talks, and I remember she wanted to support her family.  And I could see that.  But I could not go along with it.  I remember, she was in church that one Sunday night (First Church) when Rev. DeWolf made his so-called apology. She came back so gratified.  She said, “Rev. DeWolf apologized!” I said, “What did he say?”  “Well, words to the effect that he’s sorry that you misunderstood his statements.”  I said, “That was no apology.  That’s really putting the blame on the people, rather than himself.”  I think she could see that, but she didn’t want to believe it.  And I can understand that.  In fact, finally I said, “Well, this is my position.  You know it, and it doesn’t do any more good just to rehash constantly.  I am staying with the truth.”  And the Sunday morning when we first met as a separate group (we had to meet at Christian High School in Grand Rapids— that was the group that stayed with Rev. Hoeksema), it was her turn to go to church and my turn to babysit the little ones at home.  I did not know where she was going, even at the time when she was ready to leave.  I said to her, “Where are you going?”  She said, “To Christian High.”  Well, I breathed a prayer of thanks!

MHH:  It’s obviously difficult when you remember these things, even though they happened so many years ago.  But your wife made the right decision.

TJ:  And she is thankful too (laughter).

MHH:  And so are the rest of us.  It must have been very stressful.

TJ:  I had a father who was very spiritual. I thought a lot of him.  I know that he was misled by my uncle, who kept saying, “Well, we really mean the same thing.”  And he wanted to go along with it.  Later on in my father’s life, he went to live near my older sister who lived in Grand Haven. Then later on he came here to the rest home.  But she told me that he could see the bad things that were happening in the church, how small the services as far as the sermons were. We at that time were not in the PR church, but he joined our church because he knew things were wrong. It was a very difficult time in my life, and it still is at times, because you lose the closeness to all your relation, even your sisters.  You love them as sisters.  But there is never that real close feeling when you’re not completely one in the faith. I see in so many of their families where their children have gone astray, and that church does not mean a lot to them.  I’m thankful that the Lord led me in the way he did.  Both for that reason, but for my own spiritual life, we’ve been one in the faith, and that means so much in your married life.

MHH:  But it was very traumatic when all of this happened for the simple reason that it was dividing friends and family.

TJ:  Oh, it was.  My family was extreme.  But it was in most families.  There was some division.

MHH:  I appreciate those comments. Is there anything else you’d like to mention, Mr. Jonker, regarding either the history surrounding 1953 and some of the difficulties or some of the issues that happened, or some of the positive things?  Or are there any other subjects that you would like to speak about?

CJ:  Shortly after the split, I was elected deacon.  And it was very fulfilling.  It was a busy time.  I had a young family.  At the same time, I was on the Adams [Christian] School Board, and the  Radio Committee.  I can look back and see where I should not have taken on all those things, because if I’m a member of something, I give it my all.  And I know my family had suffered because of it.  Now I understand that consistories have different policies.  But I had a busy life as a young father.  Shortly after I was out of the deacons, I was elected elder. I was the youngest elder.  At my very first meeting, I was put in the clerk’s position.  So I was a bit terrified.  I had the bulletin to take care of and all the minutes. It was such an august meeting that I felt inadequate.  But the Lord qualifies too, and it was fulfilling.

The one thing that the clerk did not have to do—and I missed that in First Church—he did not have to serve on committees or go on family visitation.

MHH:  He had enough to do.

CJ:  Yes, but I wanted that experience, so I did volunteer and I did go along with other elders and ministers at times, and I did serve on some committees.  I don’t know if that broke the ice a little bit, but I thought it was quite fulfilling.

I had one little comment when I was elected, right after the congregational meeting.  I had somebody tap me on the shoulder and say, “I hope you’re not going to be a 200 percenter.” (laughter).  Well, I didn’t quite know what that meant, but I gathered that he just didn’t want me to be too radical.  And I hope I wasn’t (laughter).

I know my father was president of the Holland Ladies’ Society for a number of years.  It was called, pardon my Dutch;  it was kind of a pet project for him.  At their annual social in the spring, they would present him with a gift—usually some article of furniture, a stuffed chair or end table or something. “Oh,” my mother said, “That doesn’t go with this.” So that really meant that we had to paint the walls a different color or get a different rug (laughter).

Another humorous memory.  I remember when Marvin Koerner, a seminary student, and Mae Bylsma were married by Rev. H. Hoeksema. His text was from Proverbs 18:22: “Whoso findeth a wife, findeth a good thing and obtaineth favor of the Lord.”  It was hard for Mae to live down that “thing” for awhile.  When their first child was born, it was a boy, and his name was really Daniel.  But the minister who baptized him read the mother’s name and baptized Daniel as Mae Ruth  (laughter).

One other incident at First Church was a wedding of Herm VanDyke and Kaye Bordyn).  I had to sing at that wedding.  I was in the basement with the wedding party. Mr. Peter Reitsma was the master of ceremonies.  The auditorium was filling up at First Church, and Rev.[Cornelius] Hanko was to be the officiating minister.  But he wasn’t there. A scheduled consistorial picture had to be taken downtown Grand Rapids, and they scheduled it early because of this wedding.  Well, it so happened that the picture was taken, and when Rev. Hanko was descending in the elevator, it malfunctioned and the elevator was stuck between floors.  Somehow some of the group got down and he must have told them to call the church.  They called the church.  I answered the phone, and someone said, “Rev. Hanko is stuck in an elevator downtown.”  So I said to the master of ceremonies, “You better go up and have the congregation informed. Maybe you can have them sing some Psalter numbers.  I’m going to try to find another minister.  Who can I find?  I’ll try Rev. Wally Hofman” (he lived maybe eight blocks from the church). I called their home.  His wife Verdine said, “He’s home, but he’s working in the garden.”  I explained as rapidly as I could.  She said, “I’ll have him change and come down.”  So, he came to the church after maybe fifteen or twenty minutes.  He got his book and he got the names, and he proceeded to go up the steps to the sanctuary. Just the time he got to the top of the steps, Rev. Hanko walked in (laughter) and officiated (laughter).  It made the news.

Maybe one of the last ones:  When I was a deacon, we obviously had to count the money . There was always an elder present, which is a custom today too.  Once in a while Rev. [George] Ophoff (GMO) had to take his turn.  We would usually assign a task to him of counting one-dollar bills, of which there was a copious amount.  We would put them in piles of fifty. When he would get maybe in the thirties or the forties, we’d ask him a question.  He’d think about it and answer it.  But then he’d forget how many dollar bills he had counted.  So then he had to restart (laughter).  So it happened that he was on this single wad all night. (laughter).

MHH:  I can see that happening.  When he asked questions when he got to approximately thirty dollars, could that have been intentional (laughter)?

CJ:  I hate to admit it, but it was(much laughter).

MHH:  Mrs. Jonker, you mentioned that catechism in the early days of the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches was held in more than one location.  What can you tell me about that?

TJ:  I, for my kindergarten through the ninth grade, went to Baldwin Christian School.  There were many Protestant Reformed people who went to that Christian school. We were quite a few miles from First Church.

MHH:  Where was Baldwin Christian School located at the time?

TJ:  It was on the corner of Baldwin and Fuller, which was about a block from Fulton Street, NE. We had our catechism after school, once a week, and usually, if I remember the teachers, they were students of our seminary who would teach us the catechism lessons.  If I remember, I had Blankespoor, and I had DeWolf. We had a number in our classes.  They would have more than one class for different age groups,  But that was to keep us from having to go so far to First Church to catechism.

MHH:  Which today is probably not a great distance, but in those days, if you had to do it on foot, it was a considerable distance.

TJ:  It was.