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Dedication of the Van Raalte Statue

A major event of Holland's sesquicentennial celebration was the unveiling and dedication of a nine-foot bronze statue of Albertus C. Van Raalte in Centennial Park, on May 1, 1997. Participants in the dedicatory ceremony included Dr. Elton J. Bruins, who delivered the invocation; Albert H. McGeehan, Mayor of Holland; Hope College President John H. Jacobson; Peter Huizenga, who spoke on "The Donors' Vision"; and Hope College Provost Jacob E. Nyenhuis, whose address was titled "A Monument More Enduring Than Bronze."

The Hope College Chapel Choir sang "Cantate Domino," by the Dutch Renaissance composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelink. The words of the anthem are taken from Psalm 96: "Oh sing to the Lord a new song. Sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name. Tell of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among the peoples."

"A Monument More Enduring Than Bronze"
My choice of title for these remarks may have recalled for some of you these memorable opening lines of the final poem in the third book of Horace's Odes:
More enduring than bronze, higher than Pharoah's
Pyramids is the monument I have made.
A shape that angry wind or hungry rain
Cannot demolish, nor the innumerable
Ranks of the years that march in centuries.
...If we see nothing more than a bronze statue erected here in Centennial Park, if we think of it as nothing more than an arcane dream fulfilled, we will have missed the entire point of erecting this monument. This statue of The Reverend Dr. Albertus Christiaan Van Raalte of course is intended to honor him and his establishment of this community and of a distinguished liberal arts college, but it is intended to be much more.

This monument has been erected not only to honor the vision of our founder, not only to celebrate its realization over the past 150 years, but also to symbolize for current and future generations the power of vision, faith, dedication, and hard labor. It took faith, vision, dedication and hard work to transplant a group of immigrants in a foreign land, to transform a wilderness into a thriving city, to transform a group of individuals into a community. It also takes vision, faith, dedication, and hard labor to transform an ethnically homogeneous community into a vital, coherent heterogeneous one, to build a free society with shared values when there are so many destructive forces that drive us apart, to sustain community without trampling on the rights of the individual.

If this statue of our founding father motivates us to learn more about his vision for Holland and Hope College, if it encourages us to tell our children and our students about the rich heritage that Van Raalte left for us, if it leads us to enrich that legacy - and I passionately hope that it will do all this, and more - then this bronze statue will indeed be a monument more enduring than bronze.

excerpted from a speech given by Hope College Provost Jacob E. Nyenhuis, at the unveiling and dedication of the Van Raalte Sculpture.

In A Dream Fulfilled: The Van Raalte Sculpture in Centennial Park (Jacob E. Nyenhuis and Jeanne M. Jacobson, 1997), Provost Nyenhuis gives an account of the history of the statue, first intended to be raised in honor of the 75th anniversary of the founding of Holland, Michigan, in 1922. That year was a difficult time for the city economically, however, and funding for the project was not approved. A wax maquette created in preparation for the sculpture was presented to the city. In 1931, the will of John Cappon, a son of Holland's first mayor, Isaac Cappon, included a substantial bequest for the creation of the statue which had been proposed earlier. However, Cappon specified that none of his bequests would be funded during the lifetime of his widow, to whom his entire estate was willed, and in the Great Depression, the funds of the Cappon estate dwindled away. The Huizenga donation, given 150 years after Holland's founding, and 75 years after a statue of Albertus Van Raalte was originally intended to be placed in Centennial Park, brought this vision to final fulfillment. During the visit to Holland of Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, she unveiled a plaque mounted on a granite base and situated in front of the Van Raalte statue, which describes the sculpture and its donation "to honor the memory and the vision of The Reverend Dr. Albertus C. Van Raalte, founder of the City of Holland and Hope College, who brought a group of fellow immigrants from the Netherlands to this area on February 9, 1847."

[When I was a student at Hope College in 1960], the Van Raalte house was abandoned -- a haunted house -- with windows smashed and the doors wide open. I knew that Van Raalte was the founder of the city of Holland and Hope College, and could not understand why the community had allowed this historic residence to be subject to neglect, abuse and decay.

Many years later, when I was a new member of the Board of Trustees of Hope College, Jim Ver Meulen and I wandered into a conversation about Van Raalte. We were both bothered by the lack of honor and hero status accorded to this founding father. Since Van Raalte Hall at Hope College had burned down, there was no monument for this hero. Every hero needs someone who, after death, will continue to tell of his greatness and raise him up as an historic legend. Elton Bruins has dedicated himself to revitalize, resurrect, and retell the story of the life of Van Raalte.

Our family is proud to be part of honoring Van Raalte. He is not only the founder and hero of the Holland colony, but he is also the symbol and inspiration for all immigrants to America, Dutch and non-Dutch.

excerpted from "The Donors' Vision," a speech given by Peter Huizenga, at the unveiling and dedication of the Van Raalte Sculpture.