Editor’s Notes—Since Grandpa did not write about the last ten years of his life, it was necessary that I write a final chapter to bring his memoirs to a fitting conclusion. I have relied heavily on my own memory and the memories of his three surviving children in assembling the material for this chapter. I have also interspersed these paragraphs with quotes from a letter that Cornelius Hanko’s son wrote to a friend in the United Kingdom who inquired about Rev. Hanko upon learning of his death. These quotes are clearly indicated by the different format. However, the reader can hear Rev. Hanko’s own voice one last time at the very end of the chapter.
Rev. Hanko wrote these memoirs after his retirement, adding to them every few years or so. But as far as we know, he added nothing after 1995. However, he continued to look for ways to be of use to the family and the churches.
He asked his son Herm what he thought of the idea of translating the Dutch manuscript, Van Zonde en Genade by Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof. Herm’s answer can be found in the editor’s introduction to the book Sin and Grace. “Because he [Rev. Hanko, kvb] was fluent in Dutch and because he needed work to keep him occupied, I readily agreed that the book should be translated. I was a bit skeptical whether he was able to do it, though. He was, after all, in his eighties, very nearly blind, and weary with the burdens of many years in the ministry. But if it could be done, it would be well worth it. I got out his copy of Van Dale’s Woordenboek, the authoritative dictionary of the Dutch language; set up a word processor; installed a program that would enlarge the text on the screen of his monitor; and encouraged him to do what he could.”1 The manuscript was published in 2003 by the Reformed Free Publishing Association in the book entitled, Sin and Grace.
Grandpa took every opportunity to tell others of the history of the churches which he had served. For example, Doug Dykstra’s young people’s class from Grandville PRC came to visit Rev. Hanko once a year for many years so that he could talk with them about 1924 and 1953.2
His last great effort on behalf of the churches was to speak to Prof. Hanko’s Monday night Bible class and other interested people, a group of about 150, on the Split of 1953. By that time, two years before his death, he could see and hear very little and was confined to a wheelchair. Yet his memory remained keen, as did his love for and interest in the PRC.
He and Allie moved to Walden Woods, an assisted living home in the spring of 2000. When he first toured the place with his children, he remarked in Dutch, “I am weary of life.” And yet the Lord spared him for another five years. While he lived there, his days were filled with the difficult work of growing old. Grandpa had to say with Paul, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.”
Almost to the very end of his life, he loved to go for long drives and out to eat with his children. His afflictions were many—congestive heart failure and increasing stomach problems. And yet, he continued to attend church in the evenings and listened by telephone hook-up to the morning service.
At one point, Grandpa contracted pneumonia and nearly died. He was disappointed and a bit resentful when he rallied. Grandpa said he felt as if he had been in the narthex of heaven and God had pushed him back out the wrong door. At times, he grew impatient that the Lord tarried so long, especially when the Lord took family members much younger than he was.
Those family members closest to him felt the brunt of this impatience at times, but most often, for most visitors he had a ready story, often one about the visitor himself or the visitor’s relatives. This story was always told with the same dry wit, Rev. Hanko’s own shoulders shaking with silent laughter. As his son fondly recalled,
He was ardently loved by his grandchildren who never failed to stop in to see him when they were in town. They loved his stories, stories taken from his life and the rich and varied experiences through which the Lord led him. These stories, while captivating and told with zest, were nevertheless all geared to instruct those who listened in the ways of faithfulness.
Rev. Hanko ceased going out to eat with his children, a weekly occurrence for many years, in early winter 2004, for he was very afraid of falling on the ice. He fell in his room in early January 2005, and on the 29th of the same month, was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia and congestive heart failure. Although he returned from the hospital and recovered from the pneumonia and the fall, his strength was sapped and he began the decline that led to his death.
Rev Hanko’s life spanned nearly a century. He had lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He had seen the rise and fall of communism, the advent of the space age, the rise of terrorism and lived during the terms of 18 US presidents, from Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush.
It is just as well that God does not reveal to us the length or the sorrow of our days. A similar thought can be found in his son’s letter.
When Dad left Oak Lawn, Illinois in 1945 to take up his ministry in Manhattan, Montana, he preached his farewell on Paul’s stirring words in II Timothy 4, “I have fought a good fight…,” but little did he then know that he had 60 years of spiritual warfare ahead of him and that the worst battles were still to come.
In all his life, Rev. Hanko lived first for the church. And that had not always been easy. He pastored six PR churches from the Midwest to the far West. He lived through two heart-wrenching church splits and never wavered in his commitment to sovereign grace. His children can confirm this, especially when they think back on a Thanksgiving morning long ago.
The Split of 1953 nearly killed him. On a Thanksgiving morning when my mother was in the hospital for a heart attack, he called me into his bedroom early in the morning in a feeble voice. He was scheduled to preach, but his ulcer had begun to bleed…By the time I had called an ambulance and it had arrived, he was unconscious from loss of blood…He literally spent himself in the cause of the church.
Truly, he had kept the faith.
Grandpa had one last enemy to face and that was death. He was confined to bed for a number of days prior to his death. While he began to lose interest in life, he still received great comfort from singing and reading the old Dutch Psalms with his visitors.
He responded less and less to those around him as the days progressed. He slipped into a coma, from which he never awakened, during the second week of March. And on March 14, 2005, the Lord granted him victory over the last great enemy. He had finished the course. His son writes:
We did not really have the sorrow that is usual when a loved one is taken to glory, for we saw him in these last few years as a weary and worn-out warrior in the battles of faith, we witnessed his almost pathetic eagerness to be with the Lord, and we watched the slow decline of his eyesight, hearing, and physical well-being. He had been for many years a faithful, covenant father who encouraged us in the ways of the Lord, instructed us in what they were, and chided us when we did not show proper zeal.
Because he outlived by so many years, those of his own generation and even many of the succeeding generation, Rev. Hanko would from time to time express apprehension that there would be no one at his funeral. He need not have worried. His four children, most of his nineteen grandchildren, most of his seventy-one great grandchildren, as well as two great great grandchildren were in attendance. Many of his fellow saints and former parishioners also appeared to hear Rev. Gise Van Baren, a friend of the family, and Rev. Hanko’s long time pastor, speak on Revelation 3:11-12, “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” The letter states:
And so, as we stood together at the side of his coffin, it seemed totally inappropriate to wring our hands and weep…it was a time for thanksgiving and rejoicing. And this we did with hundreds of God’s people who came to offer their condolences through visitation, their presence at the funeral service, and cards and letters…He has exchanged his spiritual sword for a palm branch, his helmet for a crown of life, and his armor for the white robes of the righteousness of Christ. He is a little ahead of us, for we too shall soon go to join the company of just men made perfect.
His lasting legacy was his total devotion to the church; that has made its indelible mark on us all. But people in the churches remember him chiefly for his quietness, his meekness, his humility, his unwillingness to be in the limelight, his understanding of people and sympathy for them. This latter was due to the fact that he knew himself to be a very great sinner, saved by grace. That enabled him to empathize with others in their struggles with temptations and their weary walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
All his life, but particularly toward the end, Allie’s care weighed heavily on Grandpa. He wondered how she would carry on when he died. He need not have worried. Some six months after the Lord took Grandpa, Allie contracted pneumonia and died. Their lives were closely intertwined and once Grandpa died, she felt she had little reason to live. They had cared for each other for many years, and because of her, Grandpa never needed to be confined to a rest home. She too had fought a good fight and has now obtained her crown.
Grandpa spent a great deal of time in his retirement writing these memoirs. Ninety-nine percent of these chapters were verbatim from his writings. And so, it is only fitting that I end these chapters with Grandpa’s own words.
Looking back, there were a number of firsts in my life. My family was the first in the neighborhood to have electricity and an automobile. I was among the first students in Christian High when they opened their doors for the first time. I experienced the opening of our seminary and was with the first class that graduated. Later, I was delegate to our first synod meeting. And in Oak Lawn, we held our first young people’s convention. Striking, isn’t it?
Mom was delivered from her suffering and taken to glory many years ago. She suffered much, most of her life, yet she never complained. Since that time, my sons, my daughters, my son-in-law and daughters-in-law, my grandchildren and great grandchildren mean more to me than ever. I can never be thankful enough for the family God gave us and for the blessing my children and grandchildren are to me.
As I look back upon the past I must say that I have had a rich and full life. Even in the years of my retirement I could keep active. I know that the real life is still to come and this life is but a preparation, but the Lord has been good. I can well say, as the patriarchs of old, that I am full of days, for I have seen all God’s promises realized in my children’s children to the second and third generation. Let me quote one of my favorite Psalter numbers. “When I in righteousness at last, thy glorious face shall see, when all the weary night is past, and I awake with thee, to view the glories that abide then, then I shall be satisfied.”3
I think also of the Dutch Psalm that was a tremendous support to me through the years, a versification of Psalm 27:13-14:
My heart had failed in fear in woe
Unless in God I had believed,
Assured that he would mercy show
And that my life his grace should know,
Nor was my hope deceived.
Fear not, though succor be delayed,
Still wait for God and he will hear;
Be strong nor be thy heart dismayed,
Wait, and the Lord shall bring thee aid,
Yea, trust and never fear.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Editor’s Note—Chapter 33 brings Rev. Hanko’s memoirs to a conclusion. For those who are interested, his family is planning to publish the memoirs in book form. While we cannot give any particulars at this time, we will keep the Beacon Lights readers informed.
1 Henry Danhof and Herman Hoeksema, Sin and Grace, tr. by translated Cornelius Hanko, Grand Rapids, Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2003, p. vii.
2 Doug Dykstra attends Grandville PRC and teaches at Hope PRC School.
3 Psalter Number 32 was one of the numbers sung at Rev. Hanko’s funeral.