Surprising suggestion

Fred Kwant in his invitation, or expectation, that members of the Calvin community read John Shelby Spong was a surprise (Letters, summer 2012). It struck me as similar to when Harvard invited Emerson to deliver his Divinity School Address and then spent years trying to patch up the damage.

It saddens me to watch my old college follow in the steps of early Harvard, or Rome, or even China. It seems to be a path of self-protective fear of questioning.

The readings I would suggest would be Henry David Thoreau, who questioned his orthodox townsfolk as to how they could “presume to fable the ineffable” and accused them of “frightening their children with scarecrows dressed in God’s old clothes.”

Another suggestion would be Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul by John Barry.

My own favorite quote is that “the opposite of faith is not doubt, the opposite of faith is certainty.”

Hank Sikkema ’56
Sun City, Ariz.

Another non-Dutch president

The appointment of a new president for Calvin College is a time to celebrate both past and future. Michael Van Denend does exactly that in his article, “A surprising president-elect,” (spring 2012). Calvin College has had eight individuals serve as president in its 136-year history, and Van Denend calls them “eight Dutch CRC alumni.” 

All eight were members of the Christian Reformed Church, it’s true. Not all of them were Dutch, however. Calvin College President Johannes Broene was born of German immigrant parents who arrived in this country in July 1865. Broene’s father soon found work on the Graafschap, Mich., farm of J.H. Slenk, another immigrant from Grafschaft Bentheim, Germany.

To be sure, families like the Broenes who had left their German Reformed State Church shared religious convictions and even pastors with secessionists across the German-Dutch border. However, German Reformed secessionists initiated their own departure from their State Church and suffered heavy penalties from their government. In fact, President Broene’s great-grandfather, Gerd Broene, was jailed for his zeal as a lay preacher in the German secessionist movement.

As early as 1847, German Reformed secessionists were leaving Bentheim for America, many of them helping to establish the Graafschap Christian Reformed Church in Michigan. The Christian Reformed denomination was a bi-national effort. Of necessity, it would also become tri-lingual—in English as well as Dutch and German.  

By 1873 President Johannes Broene’s parents had left their Michigan farm, and his father, Geert, began training for ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. Geert Broene and fellow German immigrant farmer Cornelius Bode were among the first students to enroll in what later became Calvin Theological Seminary. Rev. Geert Broene eventually served four pastorates, while Rev. Cornelius Bode became a pioneer church planter, his tireless work still remembered among descendants of Ostfresian German settlers who had come to the upper Midwest to farm. 

But, of particular note here: Both Broene and Bode produced sons who were to become college presidents. Twice, from 1925–1930 and 1939–1940, Johannes Broene served Calvin College as president. From 1916–1930, Dr. William Bode served as president of Grundy College in Iowa—a school founded to educate German Reformed young people.

President Broene died in 1967 at age 92. His grave lies in Oakhill Cemetery, Grand Rapids, beside those of his parents, his first wife, Margaret Kleinhuizen, and infant daughter, Janice, and his second wife, Johanna Kleinhuizen, and infant daughter, Jane. 

Eunice Meyer Vanderlaan ’62
Caledonia, Mich.