Interview with Ray Ezinga (1)

Mark H. Hoeksema (MHH):  Mr. Ezinga, where and when were you born?

Ray Ezinga (RE):  I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan about 1933.  I don’t know exactly where it was.  The first I remember I was on 1062 Bemis Street, right by Baxter School, where I went to school.

MHH:  Tell me a little bit more about who were your parents, where did you grow up.  Tell me a little bit about your childhood and your youth.

RE:  Well, Ryven Ezinga was my dad and Nell Ezinga was my mother.  She came from the old country.  I was raised there on Bemis Street.  At that time that was a real nice place to live.  The neighborhood was pretty well mixed.  There were a lot of people from our churches and other people.  And we had a good place to play ball and all that.  Had a pretty good childhood.  The only thing was, it was too restricted.  I was nuts about the bow and arrow.  I needed a bow and arrow, you know.  My uncle had one and I finally got one and that worked out real well, but when you shot at a squirrel on the neighbor’s house, why it arched over and went through the big window on the house on Baxter Street, which always was not real good (laughter).  We played cowboys and Indians like most kids did.  We had one kid there that his dad was real rich, so he had all kinds of guns.  We didn’t have any.  So, he’d distribute them out to us and we played cowboys and Indians. So I had a little bow and arrow, finally.  The most famous shot I ever made in my whole life was this one kid who was a loud-mouth.  He furnished the guns, he ran everything.  He came across the yard down a ways from me.  And I was waiting in ambush (laughter).  And I made a running shot at him at about, probably, if I remember right, twenty-five yards.  He had a cowboy hat on and it took the cowboy hat right off his head (laughter).  And after that they wouldn’t let me play Indian any more (laughter).

Went to Baxter School.  By the way, I can remember your dad being out in the hall.  He taught down there.  Remember that?

MHH:  I think he did for a short time.

RE:  I remember him there.  And the neat part of it was that at Baxter School you could see what teachers you were going to have for years to come because they stayed there pretty much.

School was never my favorite place to be.  They always told Mom and Dad, he could get straight As if really wanted to, but, aw, that didn’t really thrill me a lot because that just made it bad for me.  And there was a lady there, I think it was the third grade or fourth grade.  She looked a lot like the witch of Endor, and I was terrified of her.  And the next year I was going have her. I don’t know what there was about that woman, but she just was the most wonderful teacher in the school.  I still don’t understand it.  She did nothing special.  She was just real nice, and every kid in the class wanted to do the very best he could for her.  I got straight As all the way through school, which proved, of course, that I could do that.

The next teacher I had was one I didn’t like.  I went back to my usual Cs; now I’m in trouble, right?  ‘Cause Mom and Dad know I can get straight As.  I wasn’t getting them.  Fortunately, by the time I got into about the fifth grade, that would have been in the early 40s—I can remember the war.  Mom and Dad would read the papers: the Japs were making headway in this place.  I was sitting there, just a little kid, listening, just wondering if we’re going win the war.

We moved out to the farm, around 28th Street—about half a mile east of the East Beltline.  I think now there’s an Old Kent Bank setting right where the farm was.  That’s where I first became alive and started adding the joy of living to mere existing. Had a hundred acres there with swamps and cricks and everything a kid needs.  So I went to East Paris Christian School there, which was a real nice school.  Had one teacher that taught kindergarten through the eighth grade—thirty-some kids.  And I can still remember when it was recess time, the bell would ring—had a big bell, you’d pull a rope to ring.  In the winter all the older girls would help get the little snowsuits on the little kids, you know.  And by the time they had the last one out the door, why, they’d reach up, pull the bell (laughter), and all the kids would come in again.

We threw stones a lot.  Every country boy loved throwing stones.  Ya gotta remember it’s times of war.  So we don’t have stones, we have hand grenades. Well, Van Kampen lived just over the hill to the south.  He had chickens and we could just see the little chimney from the critter coop.  We came to school one year and they put all new stone all over there—all just perfect—hen-eggs sized rocks. Perfect for throwing.  They had a great big marten house in the place where the minister lived there, but nothing was ever in there but sparrows.  So one of the kids threw a rock and hit it and pieces flew off.  Well, it didn’t take long and the whole thing was leveled.  All that was left was a post with a platform on the top.  And all the rocks were all over in the parsonage yard.

So, the next thing we had to do in our manual training was build another Marten house.  So we built this great big marten house—beautiful thing.  And it got martens in it, so, he came out way ahead (laughter).

One day, one of the kids winged a rock over that ridge where those chickens were, and the Japs made a lot of noise, a lot of fowl language (laughter).  The next thing, there was just a hail of rocks winged over there, and you could hear all these chickens down there tearin’ round—dust and dirt was flying up in the air.  Finally the bell rang.  We went in school.  Pretty soon there was a knock on the door and Mr. Van Kampen (we didn’t really know him too well, but we got to know him pretty good after that) said, “Would the boys who threw the rocks into my chicken coop come over and help me clean all the dead chickens so they won’t go to waste.”  (Oh!)  So we went down there.  And he’s the nicest old guy!  His wife came out and served cookies and lemonade.  We got the big boilers going and we cleaned the chickens— all the chickens were old ones anyway.  “We’re going get rid of them anyway, so let’s just do all of them.”  So we got all the chickens killed—and got them all ready to go in the freezer.  So he was real happy about that.

MHH:  During this time, where were you going to church?

RE:  We were going to First Church. First Church was an enormous church.  Your grandpa was preaching there at that time.  I was a little tiny kid.  We used to walk from where we lived on Bemis Street up there.  But when we moved to the farm, we drove over there.

Later on, [First church] got so big that we started a church called the Fourth Church in Boston Square.  That’s where I first met Jean [Ray’s wife].  Later on they bought a gas station and remodeled it into a church.  That’s where we went to church when we got started going together.  Later on, they tore that down and made the Fourth Church, just before the split in ’53.

MHH:  Your parents and you participated in formation of Fourth Church then?

RE:  Well, I guess I didn’t remember being a participant in forming it as much as just being there.  My dad was always in the consistory.

MHH:  How old were you at the time of the split?  [Ray does not answer this question, but takes a side trip here]

RE:  Jean and I got married in that church.  [Rev.] Rich Veldman married us.  Nice guy.  I always loved  Rich Veldman.  He was a great guy to teach catechism.  So it kind tore all the families all up. The thing that got me was they didn’t seem to worry about where was the truth so much as who was doing this and who was going to go this way or who was going go that way.

So it tore up the whole family, and when we got all done with it, why, Jean and [her sister] Helene were the only ones left in her family.  I was the only one left in my family in the Protestant Reformed Church.  So it really tore things up, and it made things complicated.  You couldn’t have family get-togethers much anymore because right away they were looking down on you because you’re still Protestant Reformed.

But the old church [First Church] was a beautiful place.  I went there for catechism and Sunday School when I was there.  I remember the railing that used to go around the top [the balcony]. One time after catechism, Andy Sjoerdsma and I thought, “We’ll go up there.”   So we got on that railing and we were running along the top of that railing.  We started up by the organ, went to the corner, and started back.  All of a sudden he slipped and fell and landed on the chairs down there.  He was going (deep, agonized breaths), so I thought he was going get killed. But he pulled out of it after a while.  We just figured an angel must have tipped him off there, and we’d better get out of there before we got in more trouble.

Another thing that was interesting.  There was a closet there with a ladder in it.  That old wooden ladder was so rickety, but we climbed up in there. You lifted it [a trapdoor] up and you were in the bell tower.  So we found out there was an old ax laying up there (I don’t know why that was).  Anyway, we could get up there in the winter and make snowballs and you could throw them at people going past.  They never did figure out where they came from (laughter).  Now years later, they sent me to synod.  That was at the time when [Rev.] RonVan Overloop had just taken a call to be a missionary.  So I was telling him about that.  I said, “I wonder if we can find that yet?”  So we went in there and sure enough, there was that old ladder still looking pretty rickety.  Well, we climbed up there.  We got up in that bell tower and that old ax was still laying up there. I said to him, “Boy, look at this.”  And I was telling him that the church has a slate roof on it.  You can get out of the bell tower and stand right on top of the peak.  I said, “Tell you what, you get out and stand on the peak, I’ll go down and take a picture of you and say, ‘Here’s our missionary.  He’s right on top of things, you know.’”  (laughter)  So he did.  I took pictures of him up there.

MHH:  Now you were how old at the time of the split?  And when, in that context, did you get married?

RE:  We were married before ’53.

MHH:  You were married before the split.

RE:  Well, we got married in ’53.

MHH:  So you were twenty years old.

RE:  Yes, twenty years old.

We got married and we bought a lot for $400.00.  We went on our honeymoon and we saved dimes. Had a hundred and some dollars worth of dimes.  That’s what we went on our honeymoon with.  We started building that house on Moelker Avenue before we got married.  The land sloped down, so we could have a walk-out basement.  We had a nice cedar-lined basement living room with a fireplace and a knotty pine kitchen.  We lived down there while we saved money enough to work on the upstairs.  It took us eight years to build the house, and we had it all paid for.

I knew Dale Mensch,  He lived out here [Colorado].  He’d always said, “You have to come out sometime.”  I said to Jean, “Let’s go out to Colorado and take a trip.”  So we took a two-week trip out here and met Dale.  After two weeks out here, I said to Jean, “You know what?”  She said, “Yah, we built in  the wrong place, didn’t we?”  I said, “Yup.”  I went back and the first thing my dad said to me was, “When you moving?”  I said, “Well, I’d just as soon do it and get squared around.”  So we sold the land on a land-contract, the house with it.  Got fourteen thousand, five hundred dollars for it.  We thought we got a really good price; that was a lot of money back then.

So we moved out here and started from scratch all over again.  Bought land on the north end of the lake, paid a thousand dollars an acre for it when you could buy land all over for three hundred an acre.  People told us we were crazy, so I knew we were on the right track.  Then we moved an old house. We took the roof off.  It looked terrible.  Everybody told us we were really crazy.  But I always thought, if you want to be like other people, then you do like they do, right?  ‘Cause if that’s all you want out of life, that’s fine.

So we lived in that house, rebuilt that house, got it all real nice.  It was a great place for kids to live—they could swim.  I had horses and mules.  They had chickens and turkeys and all that.  All the stuff kids need to grow up normal, you know?  They’d take off to go swimming in the lake and the horse and mules would run right down in there with them.  They’d all be out there just having a big time out in the water.

When we came out to Colorado the first time there were only about just a few families in the church.  I think the school had six kids, and Ruth Kuiper was the teacher.

MHH:  Oh, they had the school already?

RE:  Oh yes.  They had school right off the bat, thanks to Rev. Kuiper.  The people were not real fired up about that school.  But it kind of got forced on them, more or less, they figured.  But it was the best thing that ever happened.  Anytime you start a church, you’d better start a school.  Just like in Spokane, right now.  We’re hoping today that they’re going to get the OK to be a church.  But the first thing you need up there is a school.  Otherwise nobody will want to go there.  School’s the most important thing.

Anyway, church was in the old schoolhouse, up on the corner, on 57th and 287th, on the southwest corner.  We had outhouses for facilities.  They stood up during the long prayer, and they all had communion out of the same glass, which, they didn’t think nothing of it.  We didn’t either.  But we were the first Hollanders amongst these Germans, and these Germans were real serious people.  You could tell them a joke, they couldn’t catch on for nothing (laughter).  You could tell them the answer and they’d give you this little courtesy laugh, and you knew they never did catch on to the whole thing.  We were brought up giving each other a hard time and saying things with two meanings all the time.  Forget it!

Now the kids that grew up with us and our kids, they’re real good at it.  I mean, they learned in a hurry.  But those old guys—they were kinda hopeless.

MHH:  What year was it that you moved here?

RE:  ’64. I remember the first time we came here was ’63.  We stayed up in the mountains in a little tent.  I got up early on a Sunday morning, and there was a fellow down a little ways had a campfire going.  Our kids were up and Jean was sleeping.  He called me over there.  He said, “You want a cup of coffee?”  He had a big, black pot in there.  Almost looked like he lived there. And then he said, “You want a little inspiration in there?”  I assumed he was talking about sugar and cream. Well, he poured about half a cupful of brandy in there.  Things got real lightened up after that.  We went to church and, man, they were nice friendly people (laughter).  Mellow, you know? (laughter)  They were nice people.  All those old people meant well.  They never invited you over.  They just said, “When ya wanna come, come,” so you just went back and forth.  Had a great time with them.  We got to really love those people. I can still remember our kids going to that school—Steve along with the Griess boys—all trudging off to school.  Little tiny kids walked up there. You wouldn’t even think of doing that today. I took a camera and stood by our house and took a picture to the south, all the way up the front range to the north.  There were a couple of barns and some silos, and here and there a house; that’s all there was.  Boy, it was nice out here then.

Then the next thing was, we ought to have a church.  They stuck me on the building committee when they found out I was a builder.  At that time in Loveland, all these churches that they had started up, the old people were in them yet.  There was no preaching ,so the kids all left.

MHH:  What churches are you referring to?

RE:  All of them.  I mean all these nice little white churches, typical little farm churches in town all over the place.

RH:  Lutheran?

RE:  Lutheran, everything.  They’re all for sale; for about eleven thousand dollars you could buy them.  A lot of them didn’t have facilities, and no basements in them.  Windows, of course, were a hundred years old—all the glass was cracking—a lot of upkeep.  Needed paint—had wood siding.  We’d go look at them, and there’s no parsonage here.  Well, they’d have plenty of parking for what they had then, but I’d tell them, “When you start getting a congregation out here and get bigger, where will you park?  Can’t park on the city streets, you know.”  Finally I said, “You know, eleven thousand dollars, I’d think I’d about give you a church.”  The next week some of the consistory came over—old Gus Huber, Fritz Schwatz and them.  They said, “You made a remark about building a church for about eleven thousand dollars.  Can you do that?”  Gib [Griess] had donated land.  Gus [Huber] had too, we had to choose between the two.  They decided on Gib’s land.  So I said, “I’ll put some figures together.”  So I said, “Yah, I can do it for that.  It ain’t gonna be nothing fancy.  It’ll just be cement block.  Shall I draw it up?”  OK, so I drew it all up on a great big piece of butcher paper.  I drew it up and put it up on a piece of plywood.  We had a congregational meeting.  I can remember somebody said, “Well, how many will that seat?”  Two hundred twenty-nine people.  “What in the world do we need to build something that huge for?  Why, there’s no way in the world we’ll ever have that many people.  That’s crazy.”

I answered, “If you want to build it for $7,000, I don’t care one way of the other.” It went through, so we had at it.  Jean and I laid all the blocks.  I thought somebody would know how to lay blocks.  Nobody knew how to lay blocks, so we went there every morning.  Jean mixed all the mortar for that church.  By the time I got blocks all stacked up she had the mud.  And that’s the way we put all the cement blocks up.

Finally we got it up to where the trusses were supposed to come and then the people were going come at 4:00 in the afternoon and help us put them up.  All day it was a beautiful day. T there wasn’t a gust of wind. The minute they picked up that first truss, a horrendous wind came from the north and blew!  We got that truss up there.  We had big two-by-fours drove into the ground with great big hay ropes holding it up there.  We fought three or four more trusses up to where you could cross-brace them.  The minute we had them all cross-braced so it wasn’t a problem, the wind shut off just like that (laughter).

I can remember old Hugo Schwartz. He was blind.  When we were shingling the building, his wife would put a bundle of shingles on his shoulders.  He’d go over to the ladder—now this man is totally blind—climb up that ladder, walk across the roof, and put the shingles down.  Then he’d walk back to the ladder and come down all by himself.  I said, “Hugo, how in the world do you know where the edge of the roof is?”  “Oh, I just kinda count the steps when I came up.”  Jean took pictures—8 mm, or super-8, I think, and she got pictures of him and  Elizabeth putting shingles up there.  We also had blind Art.  He’s down there helping level dirt in the basement.  We have pictures of him doing that.  Clara Serr and Ferd, her husband—they put the tar on the outside.  Ferd was a neat guy.  We liked him a lot. If you watched him in church, he’d sit there and spin his thumbs round and round.  He’s run them one way for about half  an hour, and then he’d turn around the other way so they didn’t get wound up (laughter).  He was a neat guy.

Now all these people are gone.

Then Frank Van Baren moved out, and later on Dave Poortinga moved out.  We started getting bunches of kids in here and people started coming.  When we built the church the nice part was it had a basement under it (halfway out of the ground) with nice windows.  So we had our school down there.  The next thing you know, that school was full.  They couldn’t fit in the basement anymore.  We had to build a school.

They put me on the building committee, and for four years we basically battled two guys that just simply fought—not with the truth always either— against that school.  We’d come with a contract to build—we could have built a building twice as big as the one we did for $28,000, and by the time they screwed around, giving us a hard time for four years, we built a school half as big for $70,000.

MHH:  What was the issue, what was the problem?

RE:  They wanted to run things. They were on the building committee to start with, but neither one of them were builders.  Finally, the school board came to me and said, “Would you serve on the building committee?”  I had got on it and was off for awhile.  I was working on my house, trying to get things done here too.  Trouble was, I’d get all these bids from these different contractors to put the whole thing together.  By the time you go on for years, they don’t want to talk to you anymore.  So we got another whole group of guys in on it.  I still remember talking to Prof. Engelsma.  I said, “Rev., if we don’t get a school tonight, we ain’t gonna get it.”  I said, “I ain’t got time to be fooling around like this all the time.” I went to those two guys and I said, “You as much as open your mouth tonight—we’re going to go through all the minutes and show how you been screwing everything up.”  They didn’t say anything.  We had the school.

The big thing was, how many kids will that seat?  We had three rooms and the library room.  Why in the world do we have to build such an enormous building?  We will never have kids enough to fill that up. By this time we also badly needed a parsonage.  They came with a figure of $24,000 to build a parsonage, and I came with a figure of $34,000, if I remember right.  This one guy—he wasn’t a builder, but he was a real slick talker, and he was going build it for $24,000.  He had all these” ins”—he had a in on this and a in on that.  He was going to get all this stuff for practically nothing.  I told him, “Hey, you gonna put these cheap little ol’ aluminum windows in?”  We have to have good windows in there.  It doesn’t pay for it with lost heat. It cost us for about $36,000, if I remember right.

So I tore out all those aluminum windows and put in good windows.  By the time we got that done, the church was getting way too small.  We had seats only for 279 people.  So they put me on the building committee for that.  The first idea of the committee was to tear the other building down.  I said, “Don’t even come with that idea!  These old people, they were so tickled to have that building.”  They never dreamed they’d even have a building.  I said, “You talk about tearing it down, right there you’re going lose the whole thing.”  “Well, what are you going do?”  I said, “Build right on the front of it, hook them together.”  They said, “You can’t.”  I said, “Yes, you can.” I’d been out there with my transit.  I had the height, and I had it all marked out.  I was talking about putting a basement under it.  They said, “We’re not going to put a basement under it!”  I said, “Well, we’re going have four hundred people in there, and we have weddings. We can do it.”  “Oh, no you can’t.”  I said, “Yeah, you can.” I had it all laid out, and  we finally went to the congregation.  They OK’d it, so we built.

By that time the school was getting way too small.  So they put me on the committee again. A big idea was to build a gym. I thought, “Why do we want to spend money on a gym?”  But I went with the kids and their dads to the local rented gym. I saw the kids playing with their dads, and I thought, “You know, this is a good thing—Dads and boys all playing together here.  Maybe I’m wrong on this.  We were going to put on two rooms and the gym for, I think, it was $79,000.  We had to do all the work, of course.  So we did that.

Normally we had two or three kids [in a class], now we have fourteen, and we’re trying to figure out if we were going add on to the school or build a whole new?  We have so many kids.  You go in our church right now, it’s like a whole strata.  If you look down, it’s all little heads going by you.  Gobs of little kids.

So we’ve come a long ways.  When you look back on where we started, and at the time when we moved out here, it was pretty shaky.  Now Jean and I are seventy-five years old, and the thing that strikes you is that God seems to take great delight in taking something that don’t amount to nothing and really making something out of it,

So here we are.  We have 50 families or better, and all kinds of little kids.  It’s pretty wonderful.  They’re talking now about if we get too much bigger, we might start another church out here. A lot of our people live out to the southwest.

MHH:  Do you remember approximately how big the church was when you moved here in ’64?

RE:  I don’t know—six families or something like that.  Not a whole lot bigger than Spokane is now.


[To be continued…]