Editor’s Notes: Rev. Hanko worked in Bradenton, Florida for over a decade. He always hoped to get a church established there and to that end, for a few years, did stay year round, rather than going for just the winter. Toward the end of his work there, the Domestic Mission Committee took over the work and the group moved its services to Venice. It was in the year 1992 that the DMC decided to close the field.
For a few years I enjoyed teaching Dutch in the seminary. Allie worked in Hudsonville Public Library and also for Vern Klamer on his celery farm.1 But there were also opportunities to do a bit of traveling and church visiting for the classis.
In 1980, Allie and I started going to Florida. I preached at services for PR snowbirds in Bradenton. At first we went there for a very short time, only a month or two, but this was gradually increased so that by 1989 we stayed the whole year, except for a visit to Michigan in the spring and in the fall.
For the first winters, we stayed in an apartment on 20th Street east of the city. We first held services in the hotel in downtown Bradenton. Later, we met in the Christian school on 16th Street.
During one year in Bradenton, we stayed with Pete and Fannie Lubbers in a cottage on the Anna Maria Island about eleven miles from the church.2 Because of the Sunday traffic, if often took us an hour to get home and another hour to get back to church. Since we had a 3 o’clock service in the afternoon, we had time only for a hasty lunch. It was nice to be within walking distance of the gulf, but the wind howling under the house at night made the floors very cold. Often we kept our socks on when we went to bed at night.
In later years, we stayed in a trailer in the K&K Trailer Court on 14th Street in Bradenton. We often traveled to and from Florida with Owen and Irene Peterson, Bertha Dusselje and Nell Reitsma.3
As time went on, we did not continue to have services in the Christian school, but moved to the Academy near Blake Hospital. At the Academy, children, whose parents evidently did not want to send them to the local public schools, were taught. This was a suitable meeting place for us. Our attendance was very good, even including couples from various parts of the US and Canada. If nothing else, we were a small voice in the Reformed church world presenting Reformed preaching.
After one winter in Bradenton, we returned to Michigan briefly and then shortly thereafter, Owen Petersen, Allie and I started out for Ripon, California to work there toward possible organization of a congregation. I had received a request to work there for four or five months. The trip through Wyoming was a bit strenuous because of the strong head wind. We held the accelerator down to the floor, yet could make only fifty miles an hour. The gas ran through the car like water. Toward sunset, we arrived in Salt Lake City. Since the wind had calmed down and the weather was good we decided to go on another hundred miles to California. The next morning there was a layer of snow on the ground, which made the mountain passes very slippery.
That night we stayed in Sacramento and informed Mr. Roorda of our coming. The next day, we drove to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Roorda in Ripon. We soon made their acquaintance. It became clear to us that one of the men of the group had in mind a church in which he could have complete control. Since this man was the one who sent the invitation to the mission committee, we had to work with him for awhile.
That night Owen and I slept in Roorda’s motor home, while Allie slept in the house. The next day we took Owen to the San Francisco airport, from which he left to return home.
A few hours later Rev. Houck came by plane. He worked with me for a short time. After a day or two, Mr. Roorda and I went to rent some furniture and Allie and I moved into a cottage in the rear of Meindert Roorda’s home. Meindert, a son of Mr. Roorda, was friendly, but his wife was the daughter of a CRC minister, and neither one was interested in leaving their church.
On Sunday I attended a Congregational church of which Rev. Miller was minister. Upon his request, I preached for him in the morning service of April 17. The same afternoon we started our own services in the Congregational church.
During our stay in Ripon, Allie and I made a trip to Redlands. We spent a week there, and I preached twice on Sunday. On our way back to Ripon, we visited Sequoia National Park. As we were coming out of the park, the right wheel of our car hit a large boulder that had fallen on the road. While I put on the spare tire, Allie signaled a warning to the traffic coming around the corner. The next morning our car was ready to go again, so we went to King’s Canyon, and then headed back to Ripon.
During the early years of my retirement, I was able to help out our congregation in Lynden a number of times. On one of our visits, we stayed for six weeks. We left early in the morning and arrived in Vancouver by way of Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle. Since Lynden was vacant, I took over all the work in the congregation, including catechisms, societies, consistory meetings, and daily visits either at the parsonage or among the members of the church.
While I was in Lynden, two young men of the congregation came to the consistory to make public confession of their faith. The consistory asked me to question them. I was a bit hesitant to do this, because I did not know the young men and they did not know me. But I was amazed at the wonderful account they gave of their knowledge of the truth and of their own conviction. The public confession took place a few weeks later. I was also able to marry a young couple while there.
During my stay in Lynden, I had an infection in my toe. This became so painful and swollen that I could not wear a shoe for a few days. Finally, after repeated soaking, the infection cleared up.
Also during our time there, I went to Calgary by plane to meet Rev. Tom Miersma, then minister in our Edmonton congregation. We spent two days visiting with a family who were connected with the churches that separated from the Gereformeerde Gemeenten (Reformed Congregations) in the Netherlands in 1953. This group left with Rev. Steenblok who had a view of God’s covenant similar to ours.4 We could agree on many things, but the strong mystical tendency in that family stood between us. We were well received, sat up late talking, and were treated like royalty. The threat of a blizzard cut our visit a bit short. Rev. Miersma brought me to the plane to return to Vancouver and Lynden. Shortly thereafter, Allie and I returned to our home in Hudsonville.
On another preaching trip to Lynden, I stayed for three months. Again, I had a bit of trouble with the cataracts developing on my eyes. This time I could not see very well. Our biggest problems were the narrow roads, the stop signs and stop lights. But Allie assisted me as co-pilot, just in case I should fail to see the signs. We once more enjoyed our stay there, especially because it was during the summer months and the long days of the year. Various members of the congregation took us out to see the places of interest in the area.
We took a boat trip among various islands with Henry and Cathy Vander Meulen, and Mrs. Ralph Vander Meulen.5 We were supposed to get off at one of the islands and wait for a boat to take us back, but Henry and I were so deeply wrapped in conversation that the boat was already pulling away from the port when we decided we had to get off. As a result we rode all the way to Vancouver Island, where we passed through customs and returned to the boat. The rest of the party had gotten off and wondered what happened to us. They took their boat back and waited for us on one of the islands where our boat would stop. So we all got together again, but we were a bit shaken up.
As soon as we were back in Michigan, Allie went to work at Klamers, but had to take a day off for a check up in Ann Arbor. Herm accompanied us on this trip, leaving about 4 o’clock in the morning. Around this time, I submitted to an operation for the removal of one of the cataracts.
I might remark in passing, that about this time, my sister, Corrie Vander Woude, felt that she could no longer be alone and decided to join her husband in the Christian Rest Home.
During the summer months of 1986, Southeast Church was vacant, so I taught a Bible class there for young adults. I had my second eye surgery late in the summer and the Bible Class sent me fruit at the time of my surgery.
I had another request to come to Modesto, California, because Rev. Houck, our missionary there, needed back surgery. I was met at the airport by Ted and Jean Westra. Ted and Jean were originally from Randolph, Wisconsin. I stayed with them for a week and then went to stay in the home of Bart Vander Wal. His wife was visiting the Netherlands, and he wanted a bit of company.
I was at the hospital at the time of Rev. Houck’s surgery. His wife was also there. During those few hours, I learned to know her and admire her spirituality. I also spent some time in the Houck home. They had a nice family and the children felt free to come and talk to me. But I was especially impressed by the training they received at the close of the meal, when the Bible passage that was read was also discussed.
Upon my return, Rev. Heys and I went on church visitation to Wyckoff, New Jersey. My grandson, Steve, picked us up at the airport and we stayed with him and his family.
Some time later, Allie and I left for Redlands. While Rev. Koole was at Synod we were invited to Redlands so that I could preach for them. Everett Van Voorthuysen picked us up at the international airport in Los Angeles.6 It took him four hours to get there, and it took us longer to get back.
It was a pleasant experience to preach in their new church. It was also interesting to see the demolishing of the old garage of Rev. Koole and the building of a new one. We visited many families of the congregation and made a few trips with Hal and Punky Sansom, also members of our church in Redlands. One unforgettable trip was along the coast of the Pacific. We also took a trip to Big Bear with Thys and Jeanette Feenstra and Everett and Audrey.
Allie wanted to leave early so that she could work in the celery, so Hal and Punky took us two hours along the speedway to the International Airport. I left for Modesto to accompany Rev. Houck for a few weeks.
For ten days, I stayed with the Vander Wals in Modesto. For the last few days, I went to stay with the Ted Westras. That day we unintentionally upset every one in the group. Bart Vander Wal took me for a ride over the mountains to Virginia City. We seemed to have plenty of time, until about three o’clock in the afternoon we realized that we were still far from home. At 7 PM we were still no where near our destination, so Bart tried to call, but somehow could not get through. We had supper and continued on our way, but did not arrive at the Westras until 11 o’clock. By that time the Westras pictured us lying dead along the brink of some forsaken canyon. You can imagine their joy at seeing us, and the hasty calling from the Westras that all was well. Bart’s wife said that she actually was planning his funeral.
After a few weeks, Mrs. Westra took me to Modesto to go by plane to San Francisco on my way home. This plane was so small and so heavily packed that Mrs. Westra was deeply concerned that it would never make San Francisco. But it did, and I arrived safely in Michigan once more. It is really quite amazing that with all the traveling that not only I, but all our ministers have done, there has been no fatality. The Lord has kept us in the palm of his hand, under his watchful eye.
Soon after, we were back in the trailer in Florida and we noticed an obnoxious odor of a dead animal. So I asked John Wigger and George Joostens to investigate.7 The odor was by this time so bad that when Marf came up the driveway she was inclined to turn back.8 With a bit of effort, John and George discovered a dead opossum next to the rear wheel, and gently hauled it away.
One Saturday morning, I was quite short of breath. At first I ascribed it to the heat, since the weather had turned quite warm. But it continued so that on Sunday I preached, but did cut the services a bit shorter. On Monday, Allie and I went to the trailer of George Yonker, where they had air conditioning, thinking that this might give relief. But after another miserable night, we went to a doctor. He said my pulse was not only fast, but that my heart was fibrillating, and sent me directly to the hospital. Allie called the Joostens, who were deeply concerned, and virtually hovered over us as long as I was in the hospital. In the meantime, Tom Heyboer supervised while Owen put an air conditioner in the trailer.9 Tuesday I went into the hospital and on Friday, I came home. Herm came to preach for me and to take us back to Michigan for a brief respite. Rich, Elaine and Bob later took us back to Florida.
We had been holding services in the home of Lester De Jonge for a number of months. This was very sociable, since we had lunch together after the Sunday evening services. But we soon found it necessary to hold services in a hall that we rented on Shamrock Drive in Venice. The men put forth a lot of effort to prepare this hall for our services. The platform and pulpit were brought in. The partition was moved, making space for a small kitchen. Part of the floor was carpeted. Some eighty chairs were purchased for the overflow crowd in the winter. All in all, we had a very suitable place for worship.
While in Florida, I got up each week day morning while it was still dark, in order to bike at the crack of dawn until sunrise. I went to the mall, where the whole parking area was open for biking.
Since Venice was now under the supervision of the mission committee, supply was sent on a regular basis. Usually a minister came for two Sundays, and I took the third Sunday. But special arrangements were made when I went to Michigan, as I did when we received word that my granddaughter, Ellen Dick, had died. At times like this, one wants nothing more than to be with family.
Some of the saints in Florida whom we grew to know and love suffered trials. Julia Korhorn fell and was taken to the hospital and from there to a nursing home. Her husband, Bert, was brought there also.10 He later was taken to the hospital for a heart attack, where he died. This was only the second death we had during the years we were in Bradenton. The first was Gary Korhorn’s wife.11
Sometimes, Rich and Elaine and some of their children would come to visit us over Christmas. During one of their visits, we went together to Epcot Center and enjoyed it, even though there were throngs of people everywhere. Our advantage was that we had a wheel chair to let us in ahead of the crowds.12 We also went to Myaka Park.
I always enjoyed our time in Bradenton, but my health was starting to deteriorate. On one visit to Michigan, I tripped and fell as I went out of church. I did not hurt myself, but from that time on, I felt safer on crutches. Soon, I was entirely dependent on them. It was also necessary that if I preached, I had to sit on a stool to do so. I could no longer stand for that length of time.
I did visit the doctor about my increasing difficulties with walking. He took a number of X-rays and spent about two hours with us. The conclusion of the matter was, that, if anything were to be done, both hip and knee and femur would need replacement. This is a big job and a dangerous one, especially with a view to bleeding. So we were advised to go on as long as possible with the crutches.
In July of 1992, I came down with a blood clot in my lung. George Yonker and Owen took me to Blake Hospital, where I spent a week.13 Allie also was experiencing various health problems at this time.
A short time later, I developed a pain in my chest, which proved to be bronchitis. I lost considerable weight during my illness, and tried to regain some of it. But with all our health problems it was decided that we should return to Michigan in the near future, and take all our belongings back with us. Owen and Menno Smits took care of selling the trailer.14
On March 15, 1993, Herm, Fred, Elaine and Rich came with the van. On Sunday, I preached my last sermon and bid the folk of Venice goodbye. They gave me a present of over a thousand dollars. Herm preached for me at night. And so, my work in Florida came to an end. I now considered myself officially retired and took up the work of writing this memoir.
1 Vern Klamer is a member of Hope PRC, Grand Rapids, and was a celery farmer in Byron Center. He kindly employed Allie on the farm for many years.
2 Pete and Fannie Lubbers were members of Hudsonville PRC. Pete was a brother to Rev. George Lubbers.
3 Bertha Dusselje was a member of Kalamazoo PRC who frequently traveled to and from Bradenton with Rev. Hanko and the Petersens. Owen Petersen was a long time friend of the family. His children include Rich, Jim and Andy Petersen, and Lois Richards.
4 Rev. Steenblok was also opposed to the well-meant offer of the gospel and it was over this issue that he left the Reformed Congregations.
5 Henry and Cathy VanderMeulen are still members of Lynden PRC. Mrs. Ralph Vander Meulen was Henry’s mother.
6 Everett is a long time member of Hope PRC in Redlands. Rev. Hanko knew him from the time he pastored Hope PRC.
7 John Wigger is the father of Ben Wigger of Hudsonville PRC. George Joostens was the father of Bill Joostens of Grandville PRC. His wife Epke attends Hudsonville PRC.
8 Marf refers to Martha De Zeuw, a sister-in-law of Rev. Hanko.
9 Tom Heyboer was married to a niece of Rev. Hanko, Ardyth Griffioen.
10 Bert and Julia were long time members of First PRC.
11 Gary Korhorn was a long time member of Hope PRC, Grand Rapids.
12 By this time in his life, due to his Paget’s disease, Rev. Hanko used a wheel chair when the circumstances required a great deal of walking.
13 George Yonker was a member of Hudsonville PRC, a friend of Rev. Hanko.
14 Menno and Sadie Smits were members of South Holland PRC.