Rev. C. Hanko – Chapter 13: Hull, Iowa

Editor’s Note: The Hankos arrived in Hull ready and eager to take up their work there. They were newly married and Rev. Hanko newly ordained.

My new wife and I arrived in Hull on Tuesday morning, September 24. Rev. Verhil met us at the train station. That same evening, Rev. Verhil preached the sermon and ordained me as minister of the gospel in Hull Protestant Reformed Church. The congregation was invited to come into the basement to make acquaintance with the new minister and his wife, but none appeared except for Ed Vander Werff and his family. The wounds made by the trouble with Ben Danhof were still too raw for the people to become enthusiastic about a new minister.

The Hull congregation had started out with 39 families under Ben Danhof. Now there were but twelve families that remained faithful to the truth. Some who left were very bitter toward us. There was a feeling of discouragement among our members. A mere handful was left with the debt of the church and parsonage. There had even developed a spirit of distrust, as if they wondered whether their fellow members would remain faithful. It was a question of survival.

The auditorium that seated about 150-200 people was considered much too large for such a small crowd. On Sunday the congregation met in the basement, and before the service, the consistory met in the furnace room.

On the following Wednesday afternoon Andrew Cammenga was ordained in Rock Valley and in an evening service John De Jong was ordained in Doon. All of this had to be carried out as rapidly as possible, because the Revs. Verhil and Vos had to return to Michigan to attend the fall semester of the seminary. On their way home they had to stop in Pella to ordain Leonard Vermeer into the ministry.

They had to ordain these men while rain came down in torrents. This resulted in cars getting stuck in the mud between Doon and Sioux Center, so that Revs. Vos and Verhil had their prince alberts literally covered with mud.1 When they arrived in Pella the next day, their suits went to the cleaners while they got some sorely needed sleep.

And so a new life began for my wife and me in our new home in Hull. We were both filled with excitement, especially waiting for the van that would bring most of our goods. This van with a trailer was delayed by engine trouble in the hills around Dubuque, Iowa, so that it did not arrive until three days later on Friday afternoon. Mr. Mulder and Mr. Korhorn, both from First Church, unpacked our part of the load on that same day. On Saturday they unpacked in Rock Valley and in Doon. Since they could not get back home before Sunday as planned, they stayed with us in the parsonage. Mr. Mulder who was a tall man, wore one of my suits with his arms hanging out. Mr. Korhorn, who was a short man, wore a suit with his hands hidden in the sleeves. But we managed. On Monday, they were on their way back home.

And I was faced with a death in the congregation. Grandpa Brunsting was failing rapidly. Before the week was over, I had my first funeral.2

Life was pleasant there in Hull. Our married life was like a continuous honeymoon. We had started a new home in what was practically a new house with eight large rooms and new furniture. We were undergoing a new experience of married life, as well as serving in the ministry. Our associates in the ministry were just a phone call away, and once a week we ventured out in our brand new 1929 Chevrolet (purchased for $560 with money borrowed from my father) to visit one or the other in Doon or Rock Valley.

This new married experience created problems for my wife, who had been accustomed to preparing meals for as many as fifteen people every day. The first pan of soup proved to be far too much for two people. There were always plenty of leftover potatoes for frying the next day. Besides, we arrived in the Midwest in the fall of the year without any canned goods to carry us through the winter. We attempted to buy carrots, beans and other vegetables, but soon discovered that the only fresh vegetable available was cabbage. Eating cabbage every day did not sound very appealing. And canned vegetables from the store were rather expensive. But we did manage to get through that first winter with plenty to eat.

Our water supply came from the cistern, but this water was all filtered before it was drawn out. Our washing machine was hand operated, giving me opportunity to spend Monday mornings in the basement pumping the machine. It was only after a few years that we accumulated enough money to buy our first electric washing machine.

There was plenty to occupy my time in the parsonage. Suddenly, I was confronted, for example, with sick visiting. The great-great grandmother (Delia Gritters) of Prof. Barry Gritters was still living. She was in her eighties and needed a regular visit. Her son Egbert (or Ebbe) served in the consistory. Egbert’s son Ben lived for a time in Hull, and I baptized one of his boys. Later this boy, named Egbert, moved to California. When I was later pastor in Redlands, I had Egbert in my congregation. And in Hudsonville, shortly before retiring, I had Shirley Vander Kolk, a daughter of Egbert, in my congregation. I baptized her baby boy, named Brian. I pastored six generations of this family. What evidence of God’s covenant faithfulness!

But there were also other chores in Hull. There were fairly good-sized catechism classes and societies; there were consistory meetings and last, but not least, two sermons every Sunday. These kept coming around every week. Making sermons seemed like such a tremendous task, that often after the Sunday afternoon service, I found myself in the study preparing for the next Sabbath that always followed the previous one so rapidly.

Although the congregation tended to remain aloof and was reluctant to show any great warmth, there was a bond of love that developed among us. Especially the young people were very happy to have a young minister who came down to their level, so that they enjoyed nothing better than being invited to the parsonage for an evening of fellowship or going out on a picnic.

One exciting event which took place after a picnic comes to mind. We made it a practice to stay together on the way back from the picnic, taking each one home as we returned to Hull. So it happened that when we drove up into the Blankespoor yard, we found the kitchen light was lit. This was especially strange because the parents had gone away and the children had left in daylight. So rather than having the three young folk who lived there venture into the house, we decided to ride into town, pick up the policeman and take him back with us. When he approached the house, he too was afraid to enter. So taking his big rifle in hand he shot into the ground and waited for something to happen. When no one came out of the house, he ventured in, only to find that someone had been there, had raided the refrigerator and then had left without taking anything else with him.

The congregation grew steadily. Every summer we would have our services in the auditorium, and then in the fall, to save fuel, we would return to our basement quarters. But before long the basement was packed to capacity. The last person drew his chair in with him. Then we decided to meet upstairs and remained there.

The early members took new courage as the congregation grew. They saw that there was hope for the future and the financial burden was lessening. Yet the wolf was still at the door. The banker threatened time and again to foreclose if we did not pay the interest on the mortgage. There were eight note-signers in the congregation who feared that one or more of them might lose his property through a church foreclosure.

There were a few voices that desired an English service. Only one elder, Mr. Vander Werff, had ears for this request.3 He began to work for an English service, to the point that the consistory agreed that, if he would attend, he and a few others could have an English service on Sunday evening. This would be a third service. The other elders assured us that they would not be there, and that this service would not last.

As it happened, we did start an evening service. The young people came wondering whether they could understand an English service, since they had never heard one. But this service was cake and ice cream for them. They relished a service in their own language. Slowly the parents came, and soon an English service was held once a month in the morning.

Sioux Center was very upset. They had organized for the very purpose of maintaining Dutch preaching. They even insisted, quite wisely, that since the preaching was in Dutch, the catechism classes had to be taught in Dutch also, even though the children all talked English. There was talk of a protest from them against Hull at the classis, but the consistory must have realized how futile that would be, since all the churches in the East had English services.

During those first five years three children came to brighten the parsonage. A little more than a year after we were married, October 10, 1930, Herman was born. What an excitement that created! The other two minister’s wives were also pregnant at the same time. Mrs. John De Jong was determined to keep it secret. She thought that she had kept her secret so well that nobody knew that she was expecting. But the Friday evening after Herman was born I had to go to Sioux Center. When I could not restrain myself from telling the people there the good news, they remarked that they thought it was Mrs. De Jong who had given birth.

We had not tried to keep it a secret. That was because Mom was not well during the pregnancy due to her bad heart. The congregation lived in expectation as much as we did. Therefore when I called Mrs. Ed Vander Werff, who had already heard the news on the party line, she was kind enough to ask, “And how is the new father?” There was at least one person who understood the trauma of a father, especially when the baby is born at home.

A new baby not only tells you when you may eat and sleep and controls whatever you do, but it is also the center of attention. Life at home revolved around the little one. Our neighbor, Mrs. Wintermantel, was a great help. She would get up early and finish her own work, in order to come over by us to help. She had given birth to a baby boy named Myron with an open back and a water head, which she nurtured along until he became a normal, healthy child with only a slight stagger. It time, Herman and Myron were good friends.

Going for the mail was a daily ritual in our small town. I often enjoyed taking Herm along in a cart or a sled. One day in the winter I started out and soon realized that the temperature was around zero. I ran as fast as I could but the poor kid was really chilled by the time we came back home. We had to learn to look at the thermometer before venturing out, especially on a cold day.

During our stay in Hull, my parents came to see us. This was when Herm was almost a year old. They came with another couple. All four of our guests saw that Herm was beginning to stand by the furniture and move about from one place to another. They wanted to see him walk alone before they left. This he failed to do, but they were only a few miles down the road when he started walking from one place to another entirely on his own.

The Griffioens also paid us a visit. Pa and Ma with Alex, Nell, Marie and Martha came.4 Since this was a new experience for them, the kids had a good time there. Later brother John Griffioen came to say with us for awhile. And sister Ada was at our home for quite a length of time.

Sixteen months after Herm was born, Fred joined our family. It was in the latter part of January, just at the time when the January thaw had brought mild weather. Every night of that week the doctor had been warned that he might have to come over in the dead of the night. Yet each night went by and nothing happened. There was special concern at this time because Mother had spent the last six weeks in bed with a urinary problem. On Saturday evening the doctor was once more alerted. Shortly afterwards he was told to come. Evidently he was not in a great hurry, since he had been alerted so often. When he did decide to come, his car had a flat tire. In the meantime, the baby, who weighed less than five pounds, decided to wait no longer, but made his appearance unassisted. Since this was a new experience for me, I dashed over to the neighbor, Mrs. Wintermantel, who was always more than willing to help. She came about the same time that the doctor arrived. So the matter was placed in capable hands. I still wonder whether I had stopped shaking by the time that I climbed to the pulpit that Sunday morning.

The next week the winter once more settled upon us with all its force. The temperature dropped to 30 degrees below zero, and remained there for some time. With a new tiny baby in the house the coal furnace had to be stoked even during the night. But even so, the cold penetrated ever deeper into the walls of the house, until we finally had all the rooms shut off, except the kitchen and the bedroom. But the poor child was still cold, especially at night. So during the day we placed warm water bottles around him and during the night we took him with us into our bed.

Fred grew rapidly. In fact, he had a voracious appetite. This resulted in an attack of colic. The poor little fellow would pull up his legs with cramps so that we walked the floor day and night. We felt as if we had completely worn out the carpets in the living room and dining room. The doctor assured us that at six months this problem would be over. He was right. It was quite a relief to see Fred a much happier baby.

The two boys got along well, as little brothers do. Herm had his fuzzy bunny that kept him content day and night. Fred had his thumb. Wherever Herm went, the bunny went. He would go to play with Myron Wintermantel, the neighbor boy, but his companion went along. After a while the bunny was getting pretty shaggy, but that seemed to make no difference. One fateful day he dragged his treasure through the mud. It came home a soggy, hopeless mess and so we had to throw it away. We wondered what would happen when darkness settled upon the manse. But he seemed to realize that he had better not complain because bygones were bygones.

Often during the meals Herm and Fred would be fighting together in their own unique way. So mother decided to sit between them. That did help but they still could not resist leaning forward and growling at each other. When Herm was away, Fred was lost. We had a picture of Fred lying sound asleep on the dining room floor in the middle of the day. What else was there to do when his brother was not around?

In August of 1934, Elaine joined us. Although Mom had problems with the first two pregnancies because of her heart condition, this pregnancy went along very smoothly.

In fact, we were able to travel to Grand Rapids for a vacation that summer. When we arrived back home another experience awaited us. A seminary student had been preaching in Orange City and staying with one of the families of the congregation. This family had a blind daughter, and the student told the parents, very naively, that he thought he was in love with their daughter. The result was that he was sent to our home to be placed under our care. We told him that this was a temporary arrangement, but he took no heed. In fact, the time for the congregational picnic came around and mother decided that it was a matter of expediency that she stay home, for she was nearing the end of this third pregnancy. He felt it his duty to admonish her, since he thought a minister’s wife should participate in the congregational activities. At the picnic, I arranged with a family that I would disappear soon after lunch, and that they should take the student home with them. This arrangement was made none too soon, for the next day Elaine came as an addition to the family.

The doctor jokingly said to me, “You want a girl, don’t you?” I assured him that it made absolutely no difference to me. Upon Elaine’s arrival the doctor said, “Another boy.” And then immediately after, “Oh no, it’s a girl.” When I smiled he said, “See, I knew you wanted a girl.” It was true enough that a girl was most welcome after two boys. So our family had grown to five members.

An elderly couple lived in a small house in Sioux Center. Their home was very small, consisting of but two rooms, a living room and a small bedroom. A lean-to with a sloped roof served for the kitchen. They had no central heating, no gas, no running water or other modern conveniences. They had no automobile, but they needed none. The church was only a block or two from their home, and they were but a short distance from the stores on the main street of the town. They knew no luxuries, but felt no need for them. They had lived together for many years, so that they thought alike, and almost looked alike; at least they both wore a look of perfect contentment.

He had been a carpet weaver by trade, and he still did a bit of weaving in a small shop behind the house. It was interesting to watch him as he sat at his loom sending the shuttle back and forth between the warp and the woof. First one shuttle, and then another, and still a third went back and forth as he moved the threads up and down with a foot treadle. To me it appeared as if he would end up with a conglomerate of color without any pattern. When I voiced my fears, he only smiled. Soon the finished product came forth with a beautiful design. One could not help but think that God, according to his perfect plan, weaves his pattern in our lives from day to day. “My life in all its perfect plan was ordered ere my days began” (Psalter 383:2).

This same man was an elder in the church and was very serious about his office. As the oldest elder at the public worship service, he led the consistory into the auditorium, and sat with the other members alongside the pulpit where they could not only plainly see and hear the minister, but also oversee the flock. As an elder’s mate, his wife knew how to be “grave, no slanderer, sober, faithful in all things.”

I entered their cozy home one evening as they were sitting at opposite ends of the kitchen, where he was reading to her from the Scriptures and she was listening as her knitting needles clicked rapidly in her hands.

As I took a chair the Bible was laid aside. After a bit of pleasant conversation he gave his wife a knowing look and she responded with a smile. A few moments later he again looked at her and again she responded with a smile. Finally he asked, “Wife, aren’t you going to make a pot of coffee?” As if taken by surprise, even though she had known all the while, she said, “Oh, is that what you wanted?”

The time came when her husband left her to enter his eternal home in the heavens. His wife stood at his bedside well aware that half of her life was snatched from her. With tears running down her face she said, “God knows best, but it is hard to see it.”

And so with God’s grace in giving us people such as these, our churches prospered and grew.


1 In distinction from a cut away coat, a prince albert was a coat with square cut tails.

2 Grandpa Brunsting was the grandfather of Ray Brunsting of our Hull Church and the great grandfather of Rod Brunsting of Hope Church in Walker, Michigan.

3 The Vander Werffs were the parents of Marian Karsemeyer, a member of Faith Church, and also of the late Mrs. George Hoekstra.

4 The children were the siblings of Mrs. Hanko. Nell Reitsma and Martha De Zeuw are still living and are members of Faith and First Churches, respectively.