Editor’s Note: The years in Hull were happy ones for the young minister and his growing family. But, as the author points out, on this side of the grave there is no perfect happiness. Rev. Hanko tells us here of the grief that came to the Iowa community in the 1930s. This grief took many forms: that of trouble in the churches, sudden deaths in the congregations, and financial difficulty brought on by the Great Depression.
Shadows. Sunny days also have their shadows. Life in Hull also had its shadows. In fact, I was in Hull only three weeks and I already had made myself an enemy.
It came about this way. As a student, I visited with Rev. and Mrs. Verhil when he was minister in Hull. Almost every evening a certain couple came over to spend the evening. These frequent visits were bad enough, but this man was very abusive. One evening he said to Rev. Verhil, “You are so dumb that I could bend a nail trying to pound it into your head.” After they left, I asked Rev. Verhil why he put up with language like that. He said that he was in Hull only for a limited time and did not want to offend this couple. But whoever was his successor should avoid these daily visits at the outset.
When my wife and I were settled in Hull, this same couple came to visit us. Before long he asked me to stop in his shop every morning when I went to fetch the mail, just as Rev. Verhil had done. I figured this was a good time to bring up the subject, so I told him that I would be too busy to stop in every day. Besides I did not think it wise to have special friends in the congregation. He stormed away in a fit of rage, leaving me to wonder what might be the outcome.
Soon he and his family sat as far back in the church as possible. Whenever I said something that he did not like, he would sigh loudly and shuffle his feet. When he saw that I seemingly paid no attention to this, he went to sit in the very first row of seats with his family and did the same thing. On the occasion of a lecture, he and his family would stand at the door waiting until I had introduced the speaker and left the platform, and then they would come in and take a front seat. As soon as the lecture was over, they would storm out before I could get to the pulpit.
Since both the consistory and I ignored him for some time, he decided to ask for his papers, expecting a committee from the consistory. But the consistory decided to send him his papers at once. His reaction was bombastic, but there was nothing he could do about it.
Then his wife, who had not left the church, decided to take up the cudgel for him. She kept a diary of all my actions. It read something like this: “He visits Vander Kooi’s at least once a week. Why all these visits?” “Today he went through the alley to go to the post office. Why did he do that?”
She refused to have any visit from me. But soon the consistory was compelled to visit her, until she refused those visits also. The outcome was that she was placed under censure. The matter went to classis. And finally, when it was announced that she would be excommunicated, she came to the consistory to read her diary. She read page after page. One of the elders asked me, “Aren’t you going to stop her?” I answered, “Why?” To which he replied, “If you won’t, I will.” And he commanded her to stop.
It is always difficult to read the Form of Excommunication, but this was especially difficult because it involved me personally. Besides, I could not help but wonder whether she was normal. In fact, years later, she did commit suicide.
Another shadow. We arrived in Hull in September of 1929. A month later, in October, came the Wall Street crash. Calvin Coolidge had said in 1927, “I do not choose to run in 1928.” He saw the crash coming. Uncle Jim Schriemer, who lived in Grand Rapids, had been to the bank to take out a big loan for building a number of houses. The banker had asked him whether he was not making a good living by building one house at a time. He said he was, but wanted to expand. The banker warned him to let well enough alone. He was glad he did.
The well-known depression did not set in until the spring of 1930. Money became tight. Work was slackening. Businesses were folding up. Those who still had a rather heavy mortgage on their farms, lost them. Henry Kuiper of Doon lost house and farm.1 Many who had only a small debt remaining on their property, lost everything. I never received the salary promised to me. In fact, one year my income was down to less than $600. Months would go by without seeing any income. At one time, my financial worth was fifty cents. We learned that it was essential for our existence to do a lot of canning in the late summer and early autumn. We purchased a large canner that held 12 quarts at one time.
Since there was no work, the government introduced Works Progress Administration, giving some men opportunity to clean up the roads and to do other odd jobs. Every week they received a small pittance from the government and occasionally a hand out of food. The farmers still ate well, because they had their egg money with which they could buy the necessary groceries. But the ministers lacked that kind of income.
In 1934 came the drought and dust storms. We were coming home from Sheldon when suddenly the sky in the northwest grew threateningly black. Our first reaction was that a severe thunderstorm was approaching. As we neared home a fierce wind came up, and along with it heavy clouds of dust. One could hardly see the road even with the car lights on. This occurred almost every day. In the morning when we got up there would be little piles of dust heaped up by the doors. The window sills would be black with dust. Even our pillows showed exactly where our heads had lain. Every step showed plainly on the wooden floor.
During the service on a Sunday afternoon, the wind was driving tree branches against the roof and sides of the church building. The sky was so black that it was almost like night. When the lights went out in the church, as often happened in windstorms, I could not see the people. The windows stood out in a ghastly gray. The next day the newspaper reported that many people thought the end of the world had come.
Along with the drought came the grasshoppers in South Dakota. These pests were so thick that fields would be covered with them. When the entire crop was devoured, the grasshoppers gnawed on fence posts. But in Sioux County it was the drought that took the crop.
It certainly seemed as if God’s judgments were upon the earth. In June, classis west met in Oskaloosa. I took a car full from our area. Toward evening on Thursday, classis had finished so we decided to ride home yet that night. Soon we ran into rain, torrents of rain. As we approached Orange City, we had a flat tire. So we waited for the rain to let up and then changed the tire. When the tire was changed, we decided to wait until daylight before continuing on our way, because the roads were bad. Soon after daylight, right near Orange City we came upon a bad washout, which we might not have noticed in the dark. That night eight inches of rain fell in that entire area. The “million dollar corner” near Hawarden was completely washed out. Parts of wagons hung in trees.
Another shadow. On Memorial Day, 1934 the temperature had already reached 100 degrees. Six of the young folk from Rock Valley went to Lake Okoboji for the day. They were all in a boat when one of them who came from California decided to dive off the side of the boat. This scared the girls who were not accustomed to boating. So he tried it again. But this time the boat turned over. Henrietta of John Blankespoor and her cousin, also a Blankespoor, were drowned. They lived on opposite sides of Rock Valley, one north, the other south. Both funeral processions met on the main street of the town and lined up next to each other by the Reformed church. Since Doon had no minister at the time, I had the funeral for Henrietta. A rough estimate was that about 1800 people walked past those two caskets. John Blankespoor suffered from shock for a long time.
In Hull, the Ed Dykstra family suffered the loss of a still birth and of a two year old daughter within three hours. The baby was buried that same day and the small daughter, who died from an unrecognized ailment, was buried two days later.
Another shadow. On one occasion, Rev. Hoeksema, Rev. Ophoff and Rev. Dick Jonker stayed with us. They were the committee sent by classis to try to settle the feud in one of our neighboring churches.
For a long time, as the result of backbiting and gossip, fire had been smoldering there and gradually it involved the whole congregation. The lot fell on me to serve as moderator in that mess. Repeatedly members of the congregation would come to the consistory to accuse some other member, with the result that the accused heard about it and brought accusations against the accuser. Often the meetings would carry on long into the night. This went on for some time, until I grew weary of those late hours and told them that either they adjourn at 11 o’clock or I was going home. The result was that I went home, and after I left decisions were made that required my protest at the next meeting. The situation worsened so badly that it proved nearly impossible to call a congregational meeting. Everyone stood outside, but refused to come in, mainly because they wanted to oust one particular elder.
And so the classical committee came from Michigan to settle the matter. They met day after day for almost a week. They called the individuals of the congregation who were most deeply involved. They pleaded with them to reconcile with their fellow church members. Only reluctantly were they convinced to do this. One of the elders involved in the trouble reported to Rev. Hoeksema the following day that he had gotten up at five o’ clock in the morning, had walked around his whole section, and had repeatedly said to himself, “Don’t reconcile.” Only as he returned to his own driveway did he finally say, “Do it.” And he did.
Another individual seemed determined never to confess his wrong. Rev. Hoeksema pointed him to his obligation before his God. He warned him of possible discipline. But nothing seemed to move him. Finally Rev. Hoeksema said to him, “Two mountain goats were moving along the side of a precipice when they suddenly met face to face. There was no room to pass. Do you know what they did?” The response was a shake of the head. “The one bent down, and the other jumped over him. Will you bend down?” The answer was a gruff and emphatic “No.” Yet the Lord moved also that stubborn heart to confess.
When all were reconciled with each other, the committee called a public meeting of the entire congregation on Friday evening. Rev. Hoeksema preached a sermon on Philippians 2:1-4. “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” He started out by saying that he had discovered that the members of this church were not afraid of anybody: not afraid of the devil, and they even imagined that they were not afraid of God, since they sinned so lightly against Him. But he assured them that if God were to step into their midst even for a moment, they would all be filled with terror.
I have heard many sermons, but never one more powerful, more sincerely spoken, or more effective than that one. The entire congregation was deeply moved, tears were shed, and every one was more than willing to banish all differences with a determination to start anew in the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit.
In spite of these difficulties, our Iowa churches, including our Hull congregation enjoyed steady growth.
After spending five years in Hull I received a call from Oak Lawn, Illinois. So in the winter of 1934-35, our way led to Oak Lawn.
The young people came over twice to spend the evening as a farewell. As one of the elders remarked when we were ready to leave Hull, “You came with just the two of you, and you broke out into two bands.”
1 Henry Kuiper was the father of Rev. H. Kuiper and the grandfather of Rev. Dale Kuiper.