It is July 3, 2008, and this is a second interview with Mr. Raymond Bruinsma. He has additional material that he would like included in this oral history.
RB: Due to my oversight, I left out a lot of information as concerning the family of Louis and Anna Bruinsma. I left out that I was the third of a family of five. I have three brothers, Edward being the oldest, and Wilbur, who has a son, Wilbur Bruinsma, better known as Rev. Bill Bruinsma. I also had a sister, Irene, and a younger brother, Louis Junior—a total of five children, and Mom and Dad, of course.
While living in Highland, Indiana, my father built a nice home on Lincoln Avenue for the family. After a few years, the great depression of 1929 happened. Father lost his job. He could not keep up with the mortgage payments. The rich in those days went about buying up second mortgages, and as soon as a person could not come up with the mortgage payment, they would foreclose and take their profit away.
These were very difficult times for our parents. I can remember the time our father came home from looking for a job. Mother said, “Lou, we don’t have food in the house to feed the family. But I know that we can go to South Holland, to Marie’s (our aunt—my mother’s sister). She will feed us.” Her husband had work in a laundry, which was able to continue during the depression years. Dad agreed, but he said, “I don’t think there’s enough gas in the old Model T to get us there. We will go as far as we can. The Lord will provide.”
Mother went into the closet to get clothing for us children, and she heard a coin drop to the floor. It was a quarter, which could buy two gallons of gas. Off to South Holland we departed to Aunt Marie. She provided a meal for us and sent us home with a box of food.
Our parents had to apply for government relief. And dad finally received a job on the WPA [Works Progress Administration], which was a government work project repairing sidewalks and street repair. Because our parents lost their home in Highland, we moved to Lansing [Illinois]. That was about the year of 1930. We lived in a small home, just a block away from the public school, which we three or four oldest ones attended for a year. I was six years old.
After a few years in Lansing, our parents joined the Protestant Reformed Church in South Holland. One of the VanBaren brothers asked our parents if they would be interested in moving to a small home they had built on their farmland on the Glenwood-Lansing Road, just east of the small town of Glenwood. They could live there rent-free if we would take care of the horses that they used in farming in those days before the tractors came into view. My parents accepted the offer, and we moved into the house which came to be our home for the rest of our childhood into adulthood.
Four of us children completed our eight years of schooling at the Brookwood Public School in Glenwood. Louis Junior, the youngest of the family, went to Calvin Christian School in South Holland. Now that we lived in a farming area, my two oldest brothers and myself were able to find jobs working for farmers in the area, and helped our parents financially, bringing in a little extra money.
Then in 1932 our father received a job at the Ford Motor Company in South Chicago. Things were beginning to turn around. 1937 was the beginning of World War II in Europe. The United States joined in war in 1940, at which time they started to draft, setting up a draft board—all citizens 18 and upward had to register at the local draft board. Ed, already married with one child, was trained in the infantry and sent to Germany in the thick of the battle. God preserved his life, and returned him to his wife and child. Wilbur was in the Navy—a Seebee, myself in the Army as a medical aid man. We both were in the Pacific theater of war, both being exposed to enemy fire. I was wounded in the right shoulder by shrapnel when a bullet went through my Bible and billfold, even a coin that was in the coin pocket of the billfold. One marvels at the almighty power of our God who guides all of our life, in its every detail. The church and the family of God had been such a blessing to us through the years.
We had been members of the Protestant Reformed Church, receiving faithful catechism instruction through the years of childhood. Now in our adulthood we have had the truth of the word of God faithfully preached every Sunday, even at this late time in history. We still have young ministers who are faithful in bringing to us the truth of the scriptures. We are hearing the voice of Christ speaking in and through preached word, comforting and strengthening our spiritual lives. May God keep our churches faithful to the rich heritage he has entrusted to our churches. To God be the glory!
Another thing I would like to add is that we grew up there into adulthood, and we were led by God to our mates. I married Tena Lenting and God blessed us with five children. We received such blessings from the church even in the rearing of our children and the faithful catechetical instruction which they received. It was a marvel how that God spared my life that we had to wait a year before we got married. I was discharged June 2, 1945. My mind was in such a state that I couldn’t have good control of myself. At the drop of a pin, hitting a doorknob, I would dash for a foxhole. So we decided that it would be wise for us to wait for at least a year before we would marry. So we were led by the Spirit, after just a very short courtship (which only began in January of 1943). After waiting that year, on April 25, 1946, we were married by Rev. Schipper.
God led us through many trials. Our children grew up. We had difficulties with the children. Some were rebellious. Some were not. Each child is different from another. When our oldest son was disciplined he would say, “ I’m gonna hop on the first train going west, and I’m gonna be gone.” (laughter) The gist of the story is, he grew up and married Grace Tuinstra. They lived in the area around our home in South Holland, but they decided they wanted to go to Loveland, Colorado. So he moved to Colorado.He wrote us a letter and said, “John Heys and I have gone out to Boulder, Colorado. We’re each going to purchase a motorcycle.It’s a big one.” His wife Grace also consented to it, and she signed on the dotted line. She knew how I felt about motorcycles. Well, they purchased it on Friday evening. and rode it home. They decided on a Saturday evening they would take a ride up into Estes Park, through the canyon. On their journey to the top of the canyon, they,( and John Heys too) passed two cars. They landed up on the high side of the curve and lost control (his is back in 1971). We received a call that Saturday night at 9:00 informing us that they had been involved in this cycle accident. Our son Ray had already been taken away, and our daughter-in-law was living, just hanging on by a thread.
I can’t help but think how that the church, in all the instruction we have received through the years, came to the forefront. The first text that came to my mind is that text in the Psalms: I kept silence. I didn’t speak a word because I knew the Lord had done it. It’s amazing how immediately you feel the undergirding of God’s almighty arm, strengthening and sustaining you in these trials. It always impressed Tena and me, how that God used this all for bringing Raymond face to face with his Savior. He had to move out there. You know, we speak of accidents. But there are no accidents. It’s all in God’s sovereign control. And we have to be so thankful for God giving to us a church that is faithful in teaching us the sovereignty of God. Immediately, when you have experiences of that nature, it comes to play in your soul. You even have time to thank God for that which he has given to us in Christ. We knew that he took our son who now faced his Savior face-to-face in all his glory.
So, there have been hard trials in our life that the Lord has brought us through. And it’s always thanksgiving to God for that which he has given to us through all these years. Because of all the instruction we’ve received under the preaching of the word, our catechetical instruction which all came to the foreground, and our own personal study of the Scriptures—that’s why we today yet are so thankful that our churches have yet, in this late hour of history, remained faithful to the truth of God’s word. We thank our leaders for that. It’s not that we give them the praise, but God receives all the praise and the glory because he has given to us men who love the truth and defend the truth. And they developed the truth. I have high hopes that in the future, the younger men that are with us today are going to continue to develop that word and we’re going to be continually led in the truth of God’s word. It’s a great blessing to have been a member of the PR churches from an early age already. I was about nine years old at the time that my parents joined up with the Protestant Reformed Churches, and God has led us faithfully every since.
MHH: That whole incident with the death of your oldest son still bothers you, doesn’t it?
RB: Something, that it bothers me? No. But that you forget, no. God has given us grace sufficient to endure and overcome that trial. But that was ’71, and we still talk about Raymond. “I wonder what Ray would be saying today if he was still living, with the changes that have come about since ’71.” Because there have been many changes in the world situation as well as in the church situation. The younger ministers that have taken over the pulpits. All the old warriors have deceased and gone on to glory, and we have many warriors. I was always impressed because we were friends with your family, Mark. We had times that we would be over at your house and Grandpa Hoeksema would come over—the old, late Herman Hoeksema. There were so many misconceptions of people who did not know him. They thought he was such a stern man and. But I said, “No, when you once get to know this man, he has such a love for the truth of God that he has to be dedicated to that.” You don’t make any jokes about any of those religious things. But you could have a good time with him. I always enjoyed it when we’d have an occasion that we would be visiting your folks, and we’d get to meet him. It was a joy.
MHH: Even my own personal recollection of him, which were obviously in his old age, was that he could be and usually was a considerable instigator of problems. He was very good at doing that.
Now, let me follow up a little bit on the interesting comments that you made regarding the time of the Depression. You gave some general background and you told us the general situation of your family. Specifically, you related the incident of going to your aunt’s house to get food because you had none. Follow up on that just a little bit, if you will. So you had supper for one night. What happened then?
RB: We had supper for one night. She sent a box of groceries with us that tided us over for a couple of days. And like I mentioned, my parents went to the government to get relief.
MHH: And that consisted of what?
RB: That consisted of my father finally got this job on the WPA—that was a government work job. And then we were given a box of food (dried peaches, dried prunes, spaghetti, this canned salmon—my mother made a lot of salmon patties and things like that) and that kind of got us through. My father was an electrician by trade, and he’d pick up a little odd job here and there; if somebody had electrical problem, he’d go ahead and repair it. And that’s how we got through those years that we didn’t have anything. But it took up until 1940 that they finally got all their medical bills and everything else paid up from the depression years—1940!
MHH: And meanwhile, they did not own a house.
RB: They never owned a house after that.
RB: Never. They lost the house in Highland. They rented every time; in Lansing we must have moved three or four times before we went out to the farm of the VanBarens there. We lived in different houses and never owned a home. My father died suddenly of a heart attack in 1949. Things had been picking up, and he had a new automobile ordered. He went into Henderson’s car showroom to see once whether his vehicle came in. My youngest brother, Louis, was with Dad, and Irene and mother were in a store just down the street. My father said, “Son, am I getting sick” (he was waiting for the salesman), and he went to put his head in his hand. And he reared back and gave a snick, and he was gone. So Louis went across the street and he said, “Mom, come on. We have to follow the ambulance.” She said, “Follow the ambulance?” He said, “Pa has just had a spell. I think he passed away, because he said he got so sick. He put his head in his hand, took a snick, and he was gone. When they put him in the ambulance, his feet were just plopping back and forth, so, I don’t think he’s living anymore.” So they went to the hospital and then the doctor came out and said, “Your husband has expired.” Those were trying times, too.
But that’s where the church comes in, because you find such comfort of your fellow Christians. They come in and they feel your pain and they let you know that they’re praying for you. And God, by his grace, gives you grace sufficient to endure those trials.
MHH: I want to pursue a little more the matter of the Depression as it related to the status of the church. You mentioned government aid. Was there any benevolence of available, or was the church itself in such dire financial straits that that was not possible? If you could tell me a little bit about the Depression in terms of the relation between the church and the economic situation, I would appreciate that.
RB: Right. That was just exactly the situation. There were so many poor in the church that needed help that the benevolent funds were exhausted. The consistories advised the people that that was the best that they could do, and they even sometimes applied for that relief, either state or federal, for the families. That was the dire need of the churches at that time. Their benevolent fund was exhausted in no time. They didn’t have much of a benevolent fund to begin with. The church started in 1926 (South Holland), and right upon that, that Depression hit. The church was very poor and they just didn’t have a benevolent fund large enough to help the people.
MHH: The church did not have time, in other words, to become firmly established with a healthy balance in its books.
RB: That’s right. That was the whole problem. It just wasn’t there. I don’t remember how that turned out with my father; I don’t recall that when we were still members of the First Christian Reformed in Highland, Indiana, whether he sought benevolence from that consistory or not.
MHH: Were there many other families that lost their homes?
RB: Oh, there were a lot. I don’t know so much in our congregation, but in the larger congregations in the CR churches, there were a lot of members that lost their homes. The big thing about that was because the people that had money were well-to-do. They were foreclosing on these people. They were buying up these second mortgages, and that’s a shame.
MHH: And sometimes re-renting it back to the individuals who lived there, who then no longer owned the house. They were merely tenants.
RB: That’s right.
MHH: Let me ask you one other question, Mr. Bruinsma. Did the people, on an unofficial level, on an informal level, help each other during the time of the Depression? Seeing that there was no formal benevolence available—did that happen? Or was it pretty much everyone for himself?
RB: It was pretty much everyone for himself.
MHH: So even within the confines of the church, people what did not or could not help each other? What is your opinion?
RB: Well, my opinion was there many that could not. But there were those that could.
MHH: And did they?
RB: They helped my family financially by giving us the home free of charge, for taking care of the horses. In that respect you could say they helped our family a lot because we didn’t have to come up with any rent; we just took care of the horses.
[At this point Ray finishes the interview with a side trip.]
When my parents had three of us in the service, one of the members of the church said, “Mrs. Bruinsma, you have to have faith, you know. God will take care of your boys in the service, as well as at home here.” She said, “I understand that. God’s hand is not shortened.” “But,” she said, “put yourself in our shoes and see once how you would feel if you had three boys in the thick of it.” There was a fear of not seeing them again. Whenever my father would get the reports from the war zone on the radio, he was tracing it all. He often said, “Sons, I sure hope that you never fall into the hands of the enemy and become a prisoner of war.” He was so concerned. The Lord was good to allow him to live long enough that he could see all his sons return, and he could see two of his grandchildren. It was so uncertain as to what was going to happen to your sons who were in the thick of the battle, you know? This is exactly all the trials that they went through while we were gone.
MHH: Being wounded didn’t help any.
RB: No. This friend of mine was a left-handed writer, and he wrote a letter to my parents. He said, “If Ray was left-handed like me,he could write his own letters.” (laughter). They had my hand all bandaged up. I couldn’t move. So, they thought, aw-w-w, I bet he lost his arm. As the bandage loosed up, why, I got my hand free enough and I wrote a letter. I drew a picture of my shoulder, best I could. I wasn’t an artist. But showed where it went in and where it came out. I said, “I still have my arm,” but of course, it’s incapacitated. I can’t move it. But after being in a station hospital for several months, I arrived back in the United States on April 26, 1945.
It was such a joy to come over the Golden Gate bridge. You know why they call it the Golden Gate bridge? Coming from overseas it looked like a mass of gold when we flew in over it. Then they brought us to the cafeteria, and they were setting quarts of milk in front of us. I never was a milk lover, but, boy, I sure enjoyed that one (laughter). Oh, a quart of milk! Fresh milk! You had nothing but this powdered milk overseas. So it was really an experience. And then, that I could be back in our own country. That was such a joy, too, because you don’t know what it is to be away from your loved ones and your church. In fact, that was something that was brought home to me in basic training already. How I missed the fellowship of the saints in the church. So you can see what the church really means to you in all of your life, from childhood on. If it wasn’t for that which you received under the preaching of the word and your own personal study of God’s word, and being as the Berean Christians… scripture tells us we have to be as the Berean Christians. The Berean Christians loved Paul, and he brought to them the word of God. But what did they do? They went to the scriptures to see if that was so. We, as individual Christians, have to do that too. Not that we mistrust our ministers. What they bring to us has to be the word of God. And that we experience. We hear the voice of Christ speaking to us through the preached word, because that’s what our ministers are doing. But personal study of God’s word is all-important for us, too. We have to know the scriptures.
MHH: You’ve made that very clear in the interviews that we have had together. Hopefully anyone who hears or reads the written version of this interview will benefit from the comments that you have made.
This concludes Mr. Bruinsma’s second interview. Once again, my thanks to him for this valuable addition.