A new book on the Van Raalte family prepared through the A.C. Van Raalte Institute at Hope College is a combination of genealogy and Michigan history.
It can't help but be.
"The Van Raalte family history is very much involved in the history of Hope College -- and in the history of Holland, because many became businessmen here, too," said Dr. Elton Bruins, who co-authored the book, "Albertus and Christina: The Van Raalte Family, Home and Roots," with Karen G. Schakel, Sara Fredrickson Simmons and Marie N. Zingle. "We feel this book makes a contribution to Michigan history, college history and family history."
The Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte led the Dutch religious separatists who settled Holland in 1847. He also founded the Holland Academy, the high school that grew into Hope College in 1862.
He and his work were discussed most recently in the book "Albertus C. Van Raalte: Dutch Leader and American Patriot," which was released in commemoration of Holland's sesquicentennial in 1997 and co-authored by Bruins, Dr. Jeanne Jacobson and Larry Wagenaar. The new volume considers the story from another perspective: family legacy.
"There was a felt need to have an up-to-date genealogy and a correct genealogy of the family," said Bruins, who is a senior research fellow with the A.C. Van Raalte Institute. "But it isn't just straight genealogical data. There are stories about all these people."
A look at the staffing at Hope in the early 20th century provides one example of how involved the family continued to be. At the time of the dedication of Van Raalte Hall in 1903, one Van Raalte son-in-law, Gerrit Kollen, was president and another, John Kleinheksel, was vice president; and daughter Christina Van Raalte Gilmore was dean of women. "And that's at a time when there were only 17 people on the faculty," Bruins said.
About 75 percent of the 250-page book, which includes more than 70 photographs, discusses the Van Raalte family, including ancestry in the Netherlands as far back as 1650 and descendants through to the present day. The remainder provides a brief overview of Albertus and Christina Van Raalte and discusses the fate of the Van Raalte house, which Hope was given in 1947 but razed in 1961 because the structure was in disrepair and deemed a hazard.
While active work on the book has run for the past six years, in some ways Bruins's involvement goes back another 50. It was as a Hope sophomore in 1947 that he began his connection with the Van Raalte family story, when he wandered the grounds of the Fairbanks Avenue homestead with camera in hand and took some photos--one of which is now the book's cover illustration.
He became actively involved with local history in the 1960s, when while a member of the college's religion faculty he spent time organizing the archives of Western Theological Seminary and the Netherlands (Holland) Museum, and began his research on Van Raalte during a 1973 sabbatical visit to the Netherlands. After retiring from the Hope faculty in 1992 he became the first director of the A.C. Van Raalte Institute, serving from 1994 to 2002.
Karen Schakel has been editorial assistant and officer manager with the A.C. Van Raalte Institute since 1997. She edited the volume in addition to creating documentation for the genealogical material.
Simmons has arguably the deepest connection of all to the project: she is a great-great granddaughter of Albertus and Christina Van Raalte, descended through their eldest son, Albertus Jr. She gathered up-to-date genealogical information and stories concerning the family.
Zingle is president of the Holland Genealogical Society, and compiled genealogical information about the family. She is the author of a local history, "The Story of the Woman's Literary Club, 1898-1989." It was she, Bruins noted, who suggested the new book as a follow-up to the 1997 history.
"Albertus and Christina: The Van Raalte Family, Home and Roots" has been published in hardcover for $25 by Wm. B. Eerdmans of Grand Rapids, and is available at a variety of area booksellers, including the college's Hope-Geneva Bookstore as well as Baker Book House, Reader's World and Tree House Books.
The Hope-Geneva Bookstore can be visited online any time at www.hope.edu or called at 1-800-946-4673 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., EST, Monday through Friday. The bookstore, located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center on Columbia Avenue at 12th Street, will be closed from Wednesday, Dec. 24, through Thursday, Jan. 1, because of the college's Christmas break.