Interview with Lois Kregel (2)

MHH:  Did you take other trips?

LK:  Yes.  I don’t know what year it was.  It might have been 1936 that everything suddenly caught up with my dad.  I didn’t notice it, but my mother did immediately.  We had communion on a Sunday morning. and he suddenly had a spell of nerves.  I didn’t know what was happening.  Normally, he would come home from church and he would sit at the old pump organ and he would play.  He would love to play with his very short, stubby fingers on that pump organ.  But that Sunday he didn’t do that.  It was very quiet in our house.  Suddenly he had had a fear that he wasn’t going to get through it.  That fear stayed with him.  It was probably a combination of the tremendous load of work that he did on almost no sleep, and he just had a physical break-down.  He took six weeks’ vacation that year.  That’s the first year we went to Maine.  He didn’t know where he was going, but we all piled in the car, and we went out to Portland, Maine and went to Saco and Biddeford.  Then we took a little road that headed for the ocean.  He thought that the ocean would be his cure.  We headed for the ocean.  We finally found a huge ramshackle cottage that was run by Christian Science ladies who were unmarried sisters.  We knew it by all the literature we found in the house. We stayed there in that big house.  It had a wood stove, on which my  mother cooked.  She did not enjoy going to Maine, but his therapy was the ocean.  He would get up early every morning.  It was cold.  Maine is cold and the water is like ice.  He met a priest there. Finally that priest took the temperature of the water.  It was 45.  Dad had been in it for a good hour—swimming way out to islands where there were seals around him.  No fear at all of the water.  He felt better, but he never really got over the fear of getting on the pulpit it until much later—after he had had his stroke.  Otherwise, whenever he had to read a form—not when he preached—he could preach and never take notes up there with him at all—but when he had to read one of the forms, either for baptism or for communion where you don’t have to think much about it, then he got thinking about himself instead of what he was reading.  He would try to read with lots of emphasis, but nothing worked.  He always retained that little fear.  He went on to the pulpit anyway.  But every year for awhile we went to Maine—every summer for several years.

MHH:  What do you think he was afraid of?

LK:  It was just an attack of nerves. He was afraid that he was going to run out of breath before he could get to the end of the form.  And that’s what he did.  When you’re afraid of something, then it happens.  That’s nerves.

MHH:  Like a self-fulfilling prophecy?

LK:  Oh, I don’t know.  What are nerves?  You know, a lot of ministers have butterflies.  But he never had then before.  Stage-fright.  Once it happened, then you knew that it was going to happen again.

MHH:  And he didn’t trust himself.

LK:  No, no.  He always feared that it would happen again.  Until he got into his sermon.  Then he would forget himself.  But reading a form, that was always difficult for him to do.So, anyway, that’s when we went to Maine.  One day when he was much older, and after he had had his stroke, I said to him, “Do you ever have that fear yet?”  He said, “You know what?  I’m too old to be nervous.”  That was his reply.

MHH:  Really.

LK:  Yes.  He went to the doctor.  He tried everything.  He didn’t want to take drugs, didn’t want to take anything like that. He did go to the doctor, but there was no help there.

MHH:  Moving forward in time a little bit, into the 1940s, and particularly in the context of the history of 1953, what events stand out in your mind? What can you tell me about the decade of the 40s in terms of your recollection of ecclesiastical events?

LK:  One thing that I think was gradually happening was that there began to be factions in the congregation.  A lot of it was over the preaching.  There were people who did not like, for example, his sermons on Romans.  It was too doctrinal.  But that didn’t matter to Dad.  He went on and did it anyway because he thought it had to be preached on.  He would talk about how practical doctrine was.  But those little rumblings began to be known so that he wasn’t quite on the pedestal that he had been on with everybody before.  He would hear it sometimes in consistory.  People would complain to elders  that the sermons were too deep.  They would like lighter sermons.  Not everybody.  Not, by any means the majority at that time, but you would began to hear it.

Then the workload became heavy.  And I don’t know exactly when it was that Rev. Rich Veldman came to be our first “second” pastor.  So you had two ministers preaching.  Rev. Veldman was a pretty good preacher, but he wasn’t always as deep as Dad was, nd that was fine.  But pretty soon you began to have that feeling, “I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos.”  Both were OK, but, I like this one and you like that one.  And that began to grow.

Pretty soon Rich had what my parents would call “streken.” If there was a funeral coming up, he would go to visit his mother in Chicago and my dad would have the funerals.  Not so with weddings.  So it got to be a by-word in our family—he has the weddings and Dad has the funerals (laughter).  He didn’t like funerals.  My dad didn’t like funerals, but Rich preferred the weddings.

Pretty soon Rich took the call to to Southeast.  Then First Church called Rev. DeWolf, and that increased the factions.  There were people who were friends of Rev. DeWolf. They wanted to get Dad out of the parsonage.  They had it all arranged that he was going to go to the house on the corner of Bates and Fuller.  My dad was adamant.  He had everything in his study.  He was not about to move, and there were some in consistory who absolutely were against it.  But they worked on that quite a bit because they wanted DeWolf to be in the big house.  They wanted Rev. DeWolf to be “head-honcho.”  All those things went on.Then Dad had his stroke.

MHH:  Which was when?

LK:  1947.  We were married in 1947, and we stayed in the parsonage to take care of his garden while he was gone.  He went to California with my sister and her husband. They got as far as Sioux Falls, and he had a massive stroke. He couldn’t speak, so he was pretty vulnerable.  Many of the preachers from the West would come and visit him; notably Rev. Vos came every day just to be a comfort to the family—cheer them up a little bit and do this and do that and see my dad, who couldn’t speak.  But when Cammenga came, Dad couldn’t answer him.  I remember my mother was very, very angry because instead of encouraging him to get better, he kept saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll take over, we’ll take over.”  That was the attitude he had, which my dad couldn’t answer, but which upset him mightily, as you can imagine. The feeling was there also because of their establishing the paper Church News, which kind of took over as the Western paper. Many people simply started to get that instead of the Standard Bearer,  and that was a bone of contention.

MHH:  Was that meant to be a competitor to the Standard Bearer?

LK:  Who knows?  It wasn’t the same kind of material at all.  It was supposed to be news, but it became much more than that.  In fact, it became the Concordia. That is when Rev. Petter first wrote about conditions [in the covenant] in the Concordia, and that was all about the same time that Dr.[Klaas] Schilder stayed at our house and had many talks with my dad. There were many conferences in the house.  In the morning the air would still be blue with cigar smoke (laughter).  All those things went on.  But that happened before the stroke.  Afterwards, there were these underhanded dealings of Kok and DeJong going to the Netherlands and saying that our churches in general didn’t go along with my dad’s theory of covenant theology. All of that went on in the 40s.  It was a time of mighty unrest, and were sides taken.

Also Adams Street School was being started.  There were many of that same group who didn’t want to go along with the school.  They wanted us to get more representation in the local Christian schools.  They didn’t see the positive side of having your own covenant education at all.  They just thought we were critical of the existing—that was good enough.  So we had those factions.

The same thing carried over into women’s groups.  The society that became the Mothers’ Club was started before Adams was even organized.  Even then there were people who didn’t want to belong to the existing societies any more, and they formed a “Eunice” society.

So, there were just different factions and undercurrents going on all through the 40s.  And we could sense it in the house.

MHH:  So things were not altogether smooth.

LK:  Things were not smooth in the 40s.  They were not.

There is one thing I omitted, by the way, from the depression era: the schools got all of our support.  People with difficulty paying their tuition got all their support.  We had an organization called the “Christian School Benevolent Association” which, after things got better, was not necessary any more.  But they tried to raise money by lectures.  There were many lectures then.  Dad usually was the lecturer because it was from our congregation—on various topics about education and things like that.  And then there would be a collection.  The whole idea was to help the people who couldn’t make it to send their children to the Christian school.

One of those lectures I remember, because we teased Dad unmercifully when he came home.  It was on “Order in the Home.”  And when he came home, we kids plotted to have total disorder.  So when he walked into the living room one was sitting with his feet over the back of the chair and another — total evidence of no order at all (laughter).  He wasn’t too pleased with that (laughter).

MHH:  But at the same time, he probably couldn’t throw a lot of stones, because rumor has it that he was occasionally an instigator of trouble.

LK:  Oh, that was a rumor, yes.  But I don’t know what trouble he instigated.  What do you mean?

MHH:  In terms of family fun.

LK:  Oh, that, yeah.  That’s true.

One of our “family fun” things was that he always devoted time after supper to some whomping around with the kids.  My brothers would try to wrestle him to the floor.  No matter how hard they tried, they never succeeded.  He would simply take one hand and throw them off—and the other hand and throw them off.

Another favorite game (you probably heard of it):  Throw the ball at the circle. I had more broken windows…The circle was the back of the house. I was just a design in the brick about two feet across in the peak of the attic, and my bedroom windows were just below that. They would stand on the ground and throw the ball up and see if they could get it somewhere inside of that circle.  And they would keep track.  We didn’t have a lot of toys, but we had a lot of fun.  It was something we often played.

His relaxation was his garden.  He had flowers.  During the war, he went right along with the victory garden.  He had a victory garden and raised all kinds of vegetables.  That was his recreation.

And going to the beach.  By Saturday afternoon, he would be ready to go to the beach. In the summer, when he took vacation after we were gone [from the home as adults], they would get the rottenest cabins you could imagine when there were so many good ones available. But they would stay in these little cabins with a gas plate for cooking and that was good enough.  Then they’d go to the beach.  My mother didn’t care about it, but she took her knitting.

MHH:  Returning a little bit to the late 40’s and into the 50’s, what are your recollections of events surrounding 1953?

LK:  Terrible tension.  You could feel it when you went to church.  You could just feel it.

MHH:  And by that time you were certainly old enough to understand the issues involved in it.  What are your recollections, other than the tension, of some of the events at the time of the division in the churches?

LK:  By the way, Rev. Hanko was there.  We had two ministers. He was there during 53.

MHH:  That was Rev. C. [Cornelius]Hanko, then?

LK:  C. Hanko.  Oh, yes. He lived through all that.  He was a great comfort, he really was.  In fact, he had stomach ulcers, and he had operations for them. He was always skinny as a rail.  But half of his trouble was that he was always in the middle of trouble—amid the factions.

He led our Mr. and Mrs. Society during those days, and the factions were so obvious there—the children of the people that were the “DeWolfites.”  We were the first Mr. and Mrs. Society to be in First Church—we started it, actually. They would have so many barbed questions, and they would always bring up the subject of conditions. Rev. Hanko would try patiently to explain that it was not a condition, that these were admonitions, they were efficacious.  Everything fell on deaf ears.  Almost everyone’s mind was already made up.

MHH:  So, in a certain sense, the division, the actually division in 1953 was, perhaps, not a big surprise to many?

LK:  No.  That wasn’t a surprise.  It was going on for so long already.

MHH:  Did you participate in any of the events, or are there certain things that stand out, incidents or anything that stands out in your mind at that time?

LK:  Oh, I remember “Black June 1,” by the way.  That was right after the split had happened in the consistory.  It was our church picnic, held at Dutton Park.  We debated: should we go or should we not go?  We weren’t forward to going at all. It was very obvious that there were two groups in Dutton Park.  One group was not at all having anything to do with the other group.  So it was a very tense, tense church picnic.  Infamous June 1.

MHH:  How would you describe the personal consequences of the division in the churches?

LK:  Well, actually it seemed like a cleansing.  Personally, we would wind up on company with friends we had and always arguing till you were sick of it. Afterwards we didn’t have anything to do with them anymore. But in general most of our friends after that were older than we. Before that, our friends were our own age.  That was the age group that was missing from the new organized group.

MHH:  So most of the younger generation, if I may call it that, did not stay with the Protestant Reformed Churches?

LK:  No, very few that were our age, and we were in our thirties.  We had started the first Mr. and Mrs.

MHH:  So there were personal consequences in the sense that there were a lot of friendships that dissolved on account of this?

LK:  Oh, yes. You say they’re not going to.  But that’s not the way life goes.  You’re not going to the same places; you’re not going to the same meetings; you don’t have the same things to talk about anymore; you talk about church things, but immediately there’d be disagreement.

MHH:  What were the effects on your father?

LK:  I think, in a way, disillusionment.  My father was very naïve when it came to people.  He never realized what was really going on as far as this or that person was concerned. He had had the stroke already, of course, and that had also weakened his mental capacity to fight these things, I think.  Not that he couldn’t think straight, but the emotional part of it is what gets weaker when you have a stroke. Once I was ready to leave his house (we often would just stop in—kind of for comfort). I stood in the little hall in front of his house, and he said, “I’m ready to quit.”  I said, “Dad, you can’t quit, because there’s still work to do.  You mayn’t quit.  It’s wrong of you to say that.”  I talked rather severely to him (my dad!).  But he listened.  It was hard on my mother.  My mother always had to deal with his sadness after that.

MHH:  Do you think he was surprised that there was a personal aspect as well as a doctrinal aspect?  He understood the doctrinal aspect and he was surprised at the personal aspect?

LK:  I think so, because he was very naïve when it came to people—always naïve.  He really had no idea.  That’s why he could antagonize people too.  My mother would sometimes kind of shush him. Not that he was mean, but he was open.

And I believe it was late 1962, maybe early 1963 that my mother had a stroke. My dad didn’t understand at all what was happening to her.  We moved her into the back room and took care of her.  Dad wouldn’t hear of bringing her to Pine Rest, but there was no other place at that time that could take care of her in their geriatric unit.  Finally we enlisted the help of Rev. Hanko, who came and talked him into the fact that she had to go there.

My dad went to see her every single day after that.  Not once did she indicate that she recognized him at all.  And yet the ladies would go to see her and they said, “Well, she talked to us.”  That made it all the harder for my dad.  He was just smitten with grief because he couldn’t reach Ma anymore.  He would just beg her, “Oh, Ma.”  And then at night, if someone would stay with him, as we did sometimes, we would hear him in the middle of the night calling for Ma.  When she died in September of 1963, it was a big, big blow to him.  After that he went downhill—had little strokes himself.  And it got worse and worse.  When he couldn’t preach anymore (preaching was his life), then he almost literally gave up.  He sat in his chair and smoked his pipe.  Didn’t do anything else.  I remember that.

MHH:  And mostly good memories they are.