Interview with Tim Kooima (2)

MHH:  What happened with respect to your own family in the period subsequent to the actual schism?

TK:  Well, they remained in Rock Valley.

MHH:  And when Rock Valley went back…

TK:  Then my folks went to the CRC in Rock Valley. My mother is still living, and she is still a member in the First CRC.  She was ninety-nine last week.

MHH:  Really!

TK:  She recalls those days when they were married.  That’s when she came to the Protestant Reformed Church from the Rock Valley Christian Reformed.  She said, “I had a lot of good friends that were my age.  And now all of a sudden I went along with my husband to a different church.”  So she recalls that.

MHH:  I should have had her on my interview list (laughter).  She would definitely be the oldest person so far.  But after Hull secured the return of its property, what can you tell me about the years, the subsequent time, what happened in the congregation here—anything of significance or any history that you can give me from your personal point of view.

TK:  There were a number of children that grew up and really didn’t know what it was to be in a church.  The community building was their church.  Imagine for eleven years some of those who started when they were five had about all their catechism without being in a church building.  And that was in the old town hall across the street where we had the catechism.  Later  in the basement of a parsonage we had purchased.

My son-in-law mentions that:  “We didn’t know what a church was.  That’s all we knew is the community building.  That was church.”  But that was too long that we were there.  But there was steady growth.  A lot of financial problems.  I remember my first consistory meeting.  It struck me how much time we spent on finances. The zeal was tempered by the fact that we were always looking at that property and struggling with that question whether to go out on our own. I don’t think that was good for the congregation.  It went on too long.

Rev. Heys was our first minister and then Rev. Kortering.  We were vacant for four years.  We were thankful when Rev. Kortering accepted our call and came back to us in 1970.

MHH:  Did things tend to smooth out then after the settlement was achieved?

TK:  Yeah, that was a plus.  We experienced growth in our congregation through the years and now have a daughter   congregation in Hull .

But through it all, in spite of many of our shortcomings, we have to say that the Lord preserved his church.  We still have a name and a place in this community.  If you look at the history, humanly speaking, you would say, “It wouldn’t happen.”  We’re extremely thankful for that because we have our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in one of our churches today.

I appreciate the preaching and the catechizing that they’ve received, and I think that’s the only place that I can look, because I can’t look to myself.

MHH:  Mr. Kooima, are there any other events or aspects of history that stand out in your mind?

TK:  I think looking back, I’m aware of the impact that the war had on the congregations and some of the experiences that they had to go through.  I know that the Dykstra family here in Hull had four sons in the service at one time.  In Rock Valley there were two of my uncles that were in the service.  That’s probably close to me because the one had been a country schoolteacher and had lived in our  home with our parents and walked across the section to teach school, so I got to know him quite well. He volunteered for the Air Force because he knew he was going to be drafted. It was against my grandparents’ wishes. After 23 missions as a pilot out of England over Germany, his plane was shot down, and four crew members got out, but the rest of the crew blew up with the plane, and he was declared missing in action.  That went on until his body was found after the war. That was a strain on the grandparents and the whole family.

I remember when the notification came. I was helping my father. We were putting the line fence in and I was just a lad of eleven years.  And the legion came out and said that he had been missing in action.  And I remember dropping the tools and walking to the house.  But that was hard on my grandparents.   After the war two of the surviving crew members were released from prison and came to  visit my grandparents.   I think there were many others in the churches that faced similar trials.

So finally they found his body in 1950.  They had a memorial service in Rock Valley then.  Yeah, he was shot down in ’43.

MHH:  It took them that long!  Wow.

TK:  And I had an inquiry from Bruce Koole.  Is that a son of Rev. Koole?

MHH:  Correct.

TK:  He was researching or writing a paper on the effects of the families.  And I wrote him a few letters how I felt what I thought the effect was.  I think it was a paper in college.  I looked into it and sent him information. And that was one of the questions:  “What was the reaction of the parents?”

MHH:  Were there other people from our churches who lost family members in the war?

TK:  There was one from the Hull congregation too.  Gerrit Vis.

MHH:  Mr. Kooima, we’re meeting presently in the pastor’s study at a new church building in Hull.  What can you tell me about the process of acquiring this building and what has happened to the old church to which you referred earlier in our conversation that it had a strong attraction for many in the fifties and in the sixties?

TK:  Well, we were growing quite rapidly in the middle-to-late eighties, and we were full.  We had to do something.  We had some drives.  I think we wanted to have $750,000 before we went ahead.  And that didn’t take a real long time.  And we were able to purchase this property here for $30,000, I think, or $35,000.  I can hardly imagine that we could buy it for that at that time because that’s just ’89 or ’90 that we purchased the property.  The church was built in ’92.  I think we had sixty-five families when we started, and I think when we moved in here we had 82. Before Calvary started, I think we had about 104.  So we were full here again—balcony was full.

Shortly thereafter we built the parsonage. And we’ve been expanding the grade school here quite often, and now we made progress in the high school.

MHH:  Whatever happened to the old church building?

TK:  We thought we had that thing sold once.  And that was to an OPC group that was out of Sheldon.  I think a Rev. Williamson.

MHH:  The name Williamson would be associated with Presbyterianism.  I’m thinking of G.I. Williamson.  Possible relation.

TK:  I think that’s who it is.  I think he was in Sheldon.  I think they were contemplating starting an OPC, but it fell through.  So then the NRC (Rock Valley) had the split with the Beeke group that’s in Grand Rapids now.

MHH:  Say that again, which group in Rock Valley?

TK:  The NRC group (Netherlands Reformed congregation).  They had a kind of a split there over that Beeke question.  He’s in Grand Rapids Now.  He was a pastor in Rock Valley at one time.  So they called themselves the Heritage Netherlands Reformed congregation now.  And they’re the ones that bought our church.  So it’s still being used today.

MHH:  Before I interrupted and asked you that question, I think you were about to make some comments about the new high school that has been started here.  What can you tell me about the history and maybe the current status of that endeavor?

TK:  Well, we’re pretty well on the road now.  We have a temporary location operating right now—on Main Street in Hull.  And by next fall we hope to start with two classes in a our new building.  We don’t have enough funds to finish it completely, but there is about a $2 million expenditure this fall.

MHH:  For building the facility itself?

TK:  That’s right.  But there’s going to be a lot of expenses to finish it off.

MHH:  A little bit earlier in our conversation, I’m quite sure that you made reference to having served in the armed forces of our country.  Could you discuss that subject, please?

TK:  OK.  We were married in August of ’53, and in July of ’54 I was drafted.  At that time we were married less than a year.  We were expecting our first child. I went to basic training in Texas.

MHH:  This was Army?

TK:  This was Army.  Against really the advice of those in authority, a young fella from Sioux Center and I decided we were going to take our wives along the second eight weeks to Virginia, to quartermaster school. Clarine was expecting Melinda, our oldest daughter, and the eight weeks were up. That was the 19th of December, and we were expecting the baby in January.  So I got orders to ship out to Korea in the middle of December. We had been attending post chapel pretty regularly, or a Presbyterian Church in Hopewell, Virginia. We decided that I wanted to try to stay here in the States until the baby was born.  So I went to the chaplain, Colonel Smith, and I told him our situation.  The first thing he said to me was, “Young man, you know you weren’t supposed to have your wife here.”  “Yessir,” I said, “I know that, but we were expecting our first child and it meant a lot to us to be together.”  But he went to work for us.  A chaplain’s got a lot of pull, I found that out.  I think it helped that we went to his chapel (laughter). And he got a delay.  So then the baby was born, 11th of January. Now I faced the same problem.  The young couple that we were living with, he had moved on, they had shipped out in December.  So now the time was up that I had to go.  I got my orders again—had to go to Fort Lewis, Washington.  But we’d like to have the baby baptized.  So I went back to the chaplain again and had Rev. Heys write a letter with the request that we had made to the chaplain.  He gave us a “delay en route” so I could drive home with my wife and child and have the baby baptized here.  About a week later I got on the train and shipped out to Korea.  Clarine and baby lived with her parents and she taught in the country school while I was gone.

MHH:  And how long were you gone?

TK:  Fifteen months.

MHH:  Was the Korean War active at that time?

TK:  No, it was over in ’53, and I went in ’54.  So the hostilities were over, but there was a lot of evidence when we were over there. I ended up in an infantry company which I wasn’t supposed to be in. I tried everything to get out of that thing.  I even went to the company commander and I said “I’d like to be a chaplain’s assistant.”  I knew they needed one.  Tried out for the 8th Army baseball team.  (Laughter)  Nothing worked.  I was sent to NCO leadership school and later chosen to try out for the 8th Army Honor Guard in Seoul, Korea, headquarters of the 8th Army.  And I was a good soldier down there,  because I did not want to go back up in the hills and live in the tents.

MHH:  So you were successful?

TK:  I stayed there the rest of the time in the Honor Guard outfit.

I’ve got to tell you this. One Sunday afternoon we were going to tour an orphanage.  So we went to the NCO Club where we were going to pick up the bus.  And there are two men from Grand Rapids:  Andrew Cammenga, who I had known in Hull (laughter), who is presently a minister in the URC, or minister emeritus, and John DeHoog from Grand Rapids.  And they were friends.  So we toured that together and then other weekends we’d get together.  I think it was about the first weekend they asked me if I got the Reformed Guardian.  “No,” I said,” but I get the Standard Bearer” (laughter).  So we knew which side of the fence we were on there (laughter).  But we still got together.

CK:  He didn’t even know they were in Korea.

TK:  I didn’t know they were in Korea.

MHH:  And you just met them…

TK:  Just both going on that tour for that orphanage.

MHH:  That’s amazing.

TK:  And later on my picture was with them in the Reformed Guardian as a fellow member, which wasn’t quite right (laughter).

RBH:  So what did you do in the Honor Guard?

TK:  Oh, whenever there were visiting dignitaries from the States you had to put on a parade and stand guard at the general’s office and around his house at night, twenty-four hours.  Lots of spit-n-polish.  But we had house boys and good living.  Too many privileges for most of the ones stationed there.  The base was wide open.  They could bring the Korean girls into the base, into the NCO Clubs.  At first, when you started in the hills we’d guard the perimeters to keep anybody out.  Now the Honor Guard threw open the gates, and it was a sad situation, something that I soon found out that I could not go to the NCO club.

So some of us stayed in the barracks at night.

MHH:  But it was certainly better than being in the infantry.

TK:  That’s for sure.  And Rev. Heys was very faithful sending me the sermons every Sunday, a written out sermon.

RBH:  Written out?  Handwritten?

TK:  No, typed.  After my time was over—I got out three months early because my father sent a farm-lease to headquarters in Korea. They had a provision that if you had a good reason to be released early, you could so do. That worked for me, and I got out.  Instead of serving twenty-four months, twenty-one months total. I came back home to a rented farm right on the Doon blacktop. That’s where we began our farming career, and never got very far away from that area the rest of our lives.

MHH:  So you farmed pretty much till your time of retirement.

TK:  Yeah, I’m still farming a little bit. I help with the planting and harvest, and I enjoy that.  My two sons are farming, and the other two are in ag-related positions.  So I’m kind of involved yet.

MHH:  Mr. Kooima, how would you compare the church of today with the church of your youth?

TK:  When you speak of the church of my youth, that goes back to the Rock Valley Protestant Reformed Church, prior to ’53.  And as far as the preaching, I was not really aware of the change in the preaching that was coming with the question of the conditional covenant.

I look back on my own catechism instruction, and I think the church of today is doing a much more thorough job of catechizing our youth.  A person often takes it lightly, I think, at that age.  But I can see the differences as far as the knowledge that our young people have, the instruction they’re given, and their ability to express themselves.  I notice that in men’s society among the younger element. It’s something that we were not able to do.  I know there’s more education now.  There are more college graduates in the church, and they are able to express themselves ably.  But I think as far as the catechizing of the youth, we’ve made a lot of progress. In ’53 there was a lot of emphasis in the preaching on the conditional covenant and the result of the split and so forth.  An emphasis was made there. I remember when I was young, I thought that [regarding] that common grace thing, that we rode that horse to death.  But as through the years I see how things progressed, I see how right your grandfather [Herman Hoeksema] was in his prediction, because it’s come to pass.

I’m happy with the preaching.  I think the young men that are coming out of our seminary are well prepared, probably more so prepared than they were in the early years of our church history. I’m happy with the preaching. Maybe there’s a little more practical application than what I remember in former years.  But we live in perilous times, and I think that’s necessary too.

I am a little concerned in my experience through the years, serving as an elder; I think we made some mistakes as far as laying down rules—things that should remain under Christian liberty. We had to do some back-tracking in Hull, I know that.  And I’m scared of that. I remember reading some of your grandfather’s material that he held the position that Christian liberty isn’t a license to sin, but if we’re living out of that liberty, then we don’t need all those rules. Wasn’t that kind of his philosophy, if I remember right?

MHH:  I think that’s an excellent summary.  .

The Rock Valley church was organized in 1928, so that was four years after ’24. I really don’t know anything about those four years, if there was a conflict within the CRC or with those ’24 decisions, or how it came about.  That’s part of the history that I have no knowledge whatsoever as far as Rock Valley.

I do think it must have been quite a step for them to start, which it was for many of our congregations, I’m sure. I have the history of Rock Valley, and they quote the history of how it started.  They rented a hall, and your grandfather came for three lectures. They decided the crowd was going to be too big, so they rented another hall. They didn’t realize it, but for the electric lights you had to drop a quarter in a slot.  Halfway through, the time ran out, so your grandfather completed the speech in the dark.  It was in the paper. I admire those people, for that was a step.  Times were so tough, you know.  1928, 1929, there just wasn’t any money.  In those minute books, there is an entry there of the poor fund, benevolence fund. That Byker family I talked about, they related that every Monday the deacons would come with a little bag with nickels in it to present to that family. They had a record of the collections for the benvolence.  Wasn’t even a dollar, quite often.  So it just showed there just wasn’t much money.  But even in those times, they went ahead and started a new church.

MHH:  You mentioned in the course of the conversation that in the years following the split that there were a lot of financial difficulties.  And you apparently have some further thoughts and some further information on that.

TK:  Yeah, I think I mentioned that that we spent a lot of time in the council meetings on the finance part of it.  But in ’58 and ’59, and following years—this is when we were in the community building until ’64—we were running behind in our contributions.  There were two lengthy letters that were submitted in ’58 and ’59 that we weren’t bringing up the budget.  It ended up that in November, I think our synodical assessments were $2,000; we only had paid $300 in the period, and we weren’t going to be able to do any better. That carried on then to the next year. One of the letters states that the Synod was very patient with us, but we couldn’t expect that to continue.  Efforts were being made with the letters.

So finally we had a meeting.  I think the Synod sent a delegation to meet with us. I’m almost positive that after that meeting we had a drive, and I think half of the debt was forgiven (some people in Hull don’t agree with me on that, but I think I’m right).  The other half we came up with, and from then on we met our quota.  But we were in dire straits for awhile financially partly, I think, because we were struggling with the church property thing and legal expenses involved.  We didn’t know quite which way to turn.  I think it had an effect on our giving. The budget in ’58 and ’59 was only $4.50 a week.

MHH:  And they struggled to bring that up.

TK:  Didn’t bring it. That was supposed to cover the synodical assessments and the minister’s salary and the rent on the community building and other expenses.  But we made it through.

MHH:  Mr. Kooima, you mentioned [off the record] that you knew a funny story.  I’m all ears.

TK:  Well, I got this from Rev. [George] Lubbers himself.  Whenever I’d meet him when he’d come to the Mid-west, he’d always start talking about the old times and going to classis and synod with my grandpa Kooima.  Anyway, he talked about how poor things were and there wasn’t any money in and near the depression.  He was a minister in Doon.  He said there were two Rev. Lubbers in Doon at that time. He said, “We heated the house with coal, and there was hardly money to buy coal.”  It was brought out from the local lumber yard.  The other Rev. Lubbers that was in Doon, I think it was the First Reformed Church, ordered coal from the local supplier. They came and they put in the Protestant Reformed basement. That was nice, because we needed coal, but we didn’t have the money to pay for the coal (laughter).  They brought the coal to the wrong Rev. Lubbers. But they got it straightened out. (laughter).

MHH:  This concludes my interview with Mr. Tim Kooima.  Thank you very much, Mr. Kooima, for your time and for your thoughts, for your stories, for your history.  It’s much appreciated.