Editor’s notes: Hope PRC of Redlands, California welcomed the Hankos warmly in 1964. Their care of the Hankos became even more evident when Mrs. Hanko suffered a debilitating stroke a few months after their arrival. The congregation’s fellowship and love sustained the Hankos during this trying time.
In 1964, at the age of 57, I felt that the time had come to make a change. I had received a call from our church in Redlands, California for the second time since I had been in First Church. A smaller congregation would be less work and less tension, also for Mom. We thought we might be able to do a bit more traveling and thus have more contact with the other churches.
It seemed after our trip to Jamaica that it was comparatively easy to break with First Church, where we had spent sixteen years, and go to Redlands.
Since we had a large house on Bates Street, and were informed that the house in Redlands was small, we had to dispose of everything that we could not use there.
It was in June that Mom, Allie and I pulled out, leaving Fred and Ruth’s family and Rich and Elaine’s family behind. We stopped in Doon, where Herm was minister, and spent a little time with his family, and then on to California.
Already when we were coming down the Cajon Pass we saw and smelled the filthy, yellow smog that hung over the valley. How different this was from the 50s when looking down on Redlands from the hills, the whole area with all its color and flowers looked almost like the Garden of Eden; and now—smog.
We received a hearty welcome, but for the first six weeks I wondered whether I could take the change in climate. Every morning I woke up with a headache. When we made a trip to the mountains to escape the smog, the situation upon our return was even worse. But we did adjust, and we learned to live with it. The warmth and friendliness of the members of the congregation made up for any breathing problem that we might have had.
Sunday mornings after the service we were invited with the whole Feenstra family to the home of Thys and Jeanette. Sunday evenings we were invited to the Gritters, the Gaastras, the Van Uffelens, the Van Voorthuysens, or the Van Meeterens.1 Mom was urged to become a Sunday School teacher, which she also enjoyed.
But the strain of the past years had taken its toll. Mom had been repeatedly in Blodgett Hospital during our stay in Michigan. She had her varicose veins removed, she had occasional kidney infections, and from time to time her heart would make breathing difficult. She also had occasional seizures, for which she took Dilantin. Very often she complained of tiredness, yet she forced herself to carry on.
Looking back, one wonders how much of a strain the 1953 controversy was on her. Always in the past, as well as during this difficult time, she had shown her confidence in me and my decisions. I recall riding along a slippery road in Godfrey Canyon in Montana one night. Suddenly we met a sharp turn over the railroad tracks. Because it came so unexpectedly, and because it was so slippery, I said, “I can’t make it.” She responded, “O, yes, you can.” And we did. This confidence meant a great deal to me in our life together.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened in the days before 1953 if she and the family had not stood so firmly with me. I would never have joined the opposition, but the burden would have seemed unbearable. Throughout the controversy we had peace and harmony at home.
When we left Grand Rapids, Dr. Avery said that he would not allow us to choose a doctor in Redlands, but that he would have one ready to take care of us. He chose Dr. Fallows, who was very proud of the fact that THE Dr. Avery, chairman of the American Medical Association, would choose him. Therefore, he was very ready to come over any time we needed him.
About six months after we came to Redlands, one would say just enough time for the congregation to get to know her, Mom had a stroke. How suddenly, even in a split second, all our hopes and plans were shattered. It was on Tuesday morning, the first week of the new year. We had finished breakfast and I had suggested that we do a bit of shopping for the consistory visit scheduled for that evening.
Mother went to the bedroom to get ready to go. I sat in the breakfast nook waiting for her to return. It was only after she seemed to stay away a long time that I got up to see what was delaying her. She lay unconscious on the floor by the bedroom window. I thought it was a heart attack and called the doctor to inform him. He came immediately. He took one look and informed me that it was a stroke. Already then, her left arm was limp. We laid her on the bed and waited for the ambulance. I followed with my car as they took her to the San Bernandino Catholic Hospital.
It is difficult to describe the next four weeks. Mother returned to consciousness, but could not talk. We tried to have her write, but that also was impossible. From day to day we saw no change. The hospital gave us no information. To all appearances, she either would not live long or would remain a total invalid. It was only after the twenty-third day that she seemed to rally and show improvement.
Herm and Wilm came out at once. Wilm took over in the home and Herm preached for me. Charlie and Sena Van Dyken, my sister and her husband, also came for a short visit.
After Herm and Wilm, Ruth came with two of her children, Carrie and Freddie, to spend some time with us. And after she left, Elaine came with her two youngest. After a few weeks, Rich came with the two older kids. At a time like that one realizes in a very special way how wonderful it is to have children who are willing to step in and help in time of need. The very fact that they were there made the load so much easier to bear. That meant so much to Mother and me, and also to Allie.
After 28 days, Mother was ready to come home. One can imagine what an adjustment that took for her, who had always been so very active. That was a severe trial for her during the entire nine years that she was still with us. Yet she rarely complained. Now she had to sit and watch, content with nothing more than her daily exercises. For some time we went to therapy, which did give her so much improvement that she could walk with a cane.
The congregation was very understanding and helpful. More than one expressed their appreciation for the fact that they had learned to know her as she was before the stroke. Many offered their services. Thys and Jeanette brought over a wheel chair. Don Feenstra, son of Thys and Jeanette, would stop in on his way from work, sit down in a chair right by the door, chat a little while and then go on. Sometimes he would call that he had corn or some other vegetable fresh from the garden.
Mom was taking physical therapy from a woman who was a Seventh Day Adventist. She also took speech therapy at the University. Little Barb Van Voorthuysen, daughter of Everett and Audrey, would sit by her and try to help her. She would say, “Say Barbie.” And Mom would try to say it. At first Mom could say nothing but “pretty” whenever she tried to talk. Later she was able to use a few words, but actually her ability to speak or write never came back. She had a keen memory, knew exactly what was going on, but could not express herself.2 The fact that she was impaired on her left side was a trial, but it was far worse that she could not communicate.
We communicated with her by signs and by trying to figure out what she meant. That was difficult, because sometimes it would be so simple and so obvious. We would be sweating and struggling and trying to guess, but we were nowhere near figuring out what she was trying to say. Sometimes she got the impression we did not want to understand. And I could see that too, because it was so obvious when it finally did come out what she meant.3
After we were in Redlands a few years I had surgery for a hernia and prostate problems. Once again Herm and Wilm willingly came out to be with us and to fill the pulpit in my absence. In the meantime, in 1965, Herm had accepted the call to the seminary and had moved to the old First church parsonage on Bates Street, where the family lived until their house was built near Hope Church.
When we were packing books in Michigan to send them by mail to Redlands, we placed all the books in the same size boxes. Each box weighed about 70 pounds. While I was carrying a box to a truck, I felt the hernia break through. As time went on it became increasingly worse, especially while I stood to preach. So the time had come to do something about it. The doctor was sure that this was also the right time to take care of the prostate, although I had sensed no problem there. Some years later, while in Bradenton, Florida, I was advised to have this checked; I was told the doctor in Redlands had done a good job.
I was in a semi-private room in the hospital in Redlands. Next to me was a man with a very bad heart, but he refused to remain in bed. He was always roaming about the room, even at night, cautiously looking for the nurse to be sure to be back in bed when she came into the room. One day he went out on the porch. There he had a heart attack, and was bellowing like a bull. The nurses got him back in his bed, but no one was eager to give him mouth to mouth. He did come to after a bit. The head nurse said to him, “Heaven doesn’t want you, Hell isn’t ready for you, and we have to put up with you.” A few days later he was sent home.
A skeptic arrived, but refused to be in the same room with a minister. The head nurse told him that they had no private room available for him, that he should wait, and in the meantime be content where he was. Reluctantly he consented, but never said much. He did have to listen to those who came to read to me from the Bible or from some religious literature. One day after someone left, he remarked, “Dry as dirt, but keep it up.” After a few days a private room was available but when they told him he could move he said, “Don’t take me away from my buddy. I want to stay here.” He was moved to a private room, but later sent me a subscription to a San Bernardino daily. What could have gone on in that mind?
I made my regular visits to classis west and to the annual meeting of synod. The only synod meeting I missed was in 1965, the year Mother had her stroke.
In the years of 1967 to 1969 I stayed with Fred and Ruth whenever classis met in the Midwest. They had moved from Michigan to Doon where Fred taught. They later returned to Michigan where Fred taught in Hope School.
I recall particularly one winter in Doon when the snow was piled fifteen to eighteen feet high along the roads. When the wind blew, the roads were closed by drifts. That usually happened on Thursday, causing school to close for the rest of the week.
I also recall one winter when I stayed with Rev. Jason Kortering in Hull, Iowa. On a Sunday afternoon an elder came into the consistory room and said, “We are due for a heavy snow storm. The geese came to my farm, ate their fill, and headed south.” That evening we called the airport and were told that all planes were on schedule. The next morning, Rev. Kortering started out with me to Sioux Falls, South Dakota while the snow was steadily falling. At Rock Rapids, we called the airport again and were informed, “All planes are on schedule.” When we came to Sioux Falls it was snowing so hard and the snow was so deep that we could not even reach the terminal. I stayed over in Sioux Falls, while it took Rev. Kortering three hours to get home again.
Then there was the time that I never made it to Iowa. When I arrived in Denver for a layover, I was informed that Sioux Falls airport was fogged in. I called Bill Griess from our Loveland church, took him and his wife out for dinner and stayed there for the night. The next day the airport was still fogged in, so I returned to Redlands. Mission not accomplished.
On another occasion, classis was in South Holland, Illinois. Thys Feenstra and I arrived by plane over Chicago, but could not land because of a tornado sweeping through the south side. Our plane went to Kansas City, where we had supper. At four in the morning we arrived in Chicago, where members of South Holland were patiently waiting. After an hour or two of sleep we went to classis. That evening we finished at about ten o’clock. We had to help the two delegates from Lynden meet up with their wives, who had gone to Grand Rapids. So Thys and I drove the men to Grand Rapids, arriving there about five o’clock in the morning. I slept a few hours, but got up in time to see the grandkids off to school. That afternoon we managed to get a plane to Denver. But in Denver we had to wait until midnight before we could get a plane to San Bernardino. Another night without sleep. Mother had stayed by Mrs. John Van Uffelen while I was gone, so I picked her up and then went to bed. Thys discovered that Jeanette had gone to Oceanside in southern California. He drove out there, but when he arrived he was so tired that he fell asleep in his chair with a cup of coffee in his hand.
When we went to synod by car we usually went with the three of us, Mother, Allie and I. When we went by plane, Mother and I would go. The wheelchair went with us. We usually stayed by Rich and Elaine as long as the synod met. It could be quite warm in Michigan at synod time, but we always enjoyed the visit.
Every year we made a trip to Lynden, Washington, either for church visitation, or for pulpit exchange, or both. On those trips we got to see much of the northern California coast, the Oregon coast, Crater Lake and parts of Washington. Mother enjoyed traveling, especially with the Feenstras. Jeanette understood her fully. They would sit in the back seat, point to some landmark, or just smile knowingly at one another.
I always enjoyed going to Lynden. Although I never was minister there, that congregation was always close to my heart. We saw them when they were but a small struggling group, without a minister and hardly able to survive. Every time they received a decline to a call their hopes would once more be shattered. On one occasion of our visit they were about to give up. When I read another decline, they were so disappointed that they sat and wept. They were not able to sing throughout the service. Afterward one said, “We worked so hard to keep our children in the church, and now no minister wants to come here.” Eventually, Rev. Bernard Woudenberg did take the call and did a lot to build up that congregation. Today they have their own church edifice and are well-established.
While I was in Redlands, I had an occasional classical appointment in one of the churches of classis west. While I was away, Mother would stay at the Feenstras or at George and Epka Joostens.4 The Joostens were very good to her, treating her with utmost care and concern. I recall one appointment in particular which was in Aberdeen, South Dakota. I was so weary at that time that I had written Rich and Elaine that I was coming to their house a week before I filled the appointment. I wanted no one to know that I was there, because I wanted to rest. As soon as the plane was airborne, I fell asleep and did not wake up until we arrived in Chicago. That week of rest did me a lot of good. After my stay with Rich and Elaine, I stayed two weeks with Mr. Hauck in Aberdeen.5
When I came to Redlands, there were not many young people. But there was a younger generation gradually growing up. As soon as it was feasible, I took seven young people by Greyhound to the young people’s convention in Grand Rapids. This was a healthy experience for them, for they realized that there were many more young people in other churches who were PR. Some of these girls have made their permanent home in Grand Rapids.
I enjoyed my ministry there, and for the most part it was also well received. Not too long after I left, a school was started and is still doing well today.
After seven years, the time had come to make a change. We went to Redlands in June of 1964 and left there in October of 1971. I had received a call from Southwest the year before. I had had the letter of acceptance in my pocket, but circumstances made me decide to tear up the letter and write a decline. A year later, I felt free to go, this time to Hudsonville.
Throughout the years, some of the old pillars of the Redlands Church have entered into the Rest. I am thinking of the Gaastras, the senior Van Voorthuysens, the Van Meeterens, the Vander Veens, and the Van Uffelens. One generation comes and another goes. And God’s covenant continues from age to age the same.
1 Many descendants of these early members of Redlands are found throughout our churches.
2 This inability to communicate is called aphasia.
3 A letter Rev. Hanko wrote to his son in September of 1963 reads as follows, “Mom is very discouraged. Often she cries, often she expresses her eagerness to die, often she feels that she is nothing but a burden to all of us. At times she is cheerful, at times she puts forth a new valiant effort, but she would like very much to withdraw herself from company—because as she says, she can’t talk anyway. It certainly takes a lot of grace to bear such a cross. Gradually she feels that she will never talk again, never use her hand again, never be of any good to any of us. And that makes it so very hard. But she does know, and I’m sure she rests in the fact that God’s way is always good.”
4 The Joostens were the parents of Bill Joostens of Grandville PRC.
5 This Mr. Hauck was the father of Don Hauck, Sr. of Southeast PRC.