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Institute History

The A. C. Van Raalte Institute was established in 1993, through the generosity of Hope College graduate and trustee, Peter H. Huizenga (class of 1960). The initial idea for an institute was provided by James Ver Meulen, a former member of the Hope College Board of Trustees with a strong interest in the history of Hope College and the nineteenth-century Dutch immigration to western Michigan. Before his death in the mid-1980s, Ver Meulen wrote to fellow trustee Huizenga, proposing that they meet to discuss his concept of a research institute on Dutch American studies, which would be located at the college. A few years later, Peter Huizenga provided the means to translate the idea into reality.

On 19 January 1993, the Huizenga family made a major gift to establish and endow the A. C. Van Raalte Institute. The gift was made in honor of Mrs. Elizabeth Bovenkerk Huizenga, the mother of B. J. Buntrock, Peter H. Huizenga, Suzanne Huizenga Kanis, Virginia Huizenga Jurries, and J. C. Huizenga. The endowment provides support for the Institute, now housed in the Theil Research Center on the western edge of Hope's campus. Peter Huizenga has remained actively engaged with the Institute throughout its history and has often provided additional support for its work.

The Institute is named in honor of the founder of Holland, Michigan, the Reverend Dr. Albertus C. Van Raalte (1811-1876), who also played a key role in the founding of Hope College. Van Raalte arrived in western Michigan with a small group of followers on 9 February 1847. His vision for this colony of Seceders from the State Church of the Netherlands is incorporated into the Mission Statement of the A. C. Van Raalte Institute.

Hope College President John H. Jacobson appointed Dr. Elton J. Bruins, the Evert and Hattie Blekkink Professor of Religion Emeritus, as director of the Institute in April 1993. Bruins had devoted much of his career to research on Albertus C. Van Raalte, and Ver Meulen had often encouraged him in his work. Ver Meulen had also suggested to Peter Huizenga that Elton would be the ideal person to head up the research institute that he envisioned. Elton Bruins had been retired from teaching less than a year when he was appointed to head up this new research institute.

The Institute became a physical presence in January 1994, when Bruins was given office space in Van Zoeren Hall. He resigned his post as founding director on 1 July 2002 but has remained active as a researcher. In January 2004, on the occasion of the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Institute, he was named the Philip Phelps Jr. Research Professor. This newly-created research professorship honors the memory of one of the principals of the Holland Academy, who became the first president of Hope College. Elton Bruins’ research on Phelps has led him to argue that Phelps should be acknowledged as the legitimate founder of Hope College, although Van Raalte had a major role in its establishment. In collaboration with the late Karen G. Schakel, Elton Bruins edited the correspondence between Van Raalte and Phelps; the resulting book, Envisioning Hope College: Letters written by Albertus C. Van Raalte to Philip Phelps Jr., 1857 to 1875 was published in 2011 by Van Raalte Press and Wm. B. Eerdmans and is no. 71 in the Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America series. Even though he officially retired from his research professorship in December 2008, Elton remains actively engaged as a consultant to the Institute.

In May 1996, the foremost scholar of nineteenth-century Dutch American studies, Dr. Robert P. Swierenga, joined the staff of the Institute. A Chicago native and friend of Peter Huizenga, Swierenga took early retirement from his post as professor of history at Kent State University in Ohio, to accept appointment as the A. C. Van Raalte Research Professor and adjunct professor of history.

In the same year, Dr. Jeanne M. Jacobson resigned from the faculty of Western Michigan University to accept a position as Senior Research Fellow of the Van Raalte Institute and adjunct professor of education. Jacobson's background included an interest in American history and Dutch and Huguenot immigration to America and extensive experience as an editor and author. After she moved to Sarasota, Florida, with her husband, Dr. John H. Jacobson (1933-2005), upon his retirement from the presidency of Hope College in 1999, she continued to be active in the work of the Institute, editing the annual report and contributing essays to Institute publications, until her death in January 2009.

Dr. James C. Kennedy joined the faculty of Hope College in the fall of 1997, as assistant professor of history and research fellow of the Van Raalte Institute. His primary area of expertise in modern European history, with a concentration in Dutch history, made him an excellent addition to the staff. Kennedy had lived in the Netherlands, is fluent in the Dutch language, and already enjoyed considerable prestige and recognition in the Netherlands. In 2003 the Free University of Amsterdam appointed him as professor of contemporary history, so he took a two-year leave of absence from Hope, while maintaining his active connection with the Van Raalte Institute. In June 2005, however, he resigned his post at Hope and committed himself fully to the Free University. In 2007 he accepted a position at the University of Amsterdam as professor of the history of the Netherlands since the Middle Ages.

Karen Schakel joined the staff in September 1997 as office manager and editorial assistant. She served faithfully and with high distinction until her death in December 2009. In April 2010, JoHannah Smith began work at the Institute as Karen's successor.

Dr. Jacob E. Nyenhuis was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the Van Raalte Institute in September 2001, following his retirement from the Hope College faculty in June 2001 after twenty-six years at the college, the last seventeen as provost and professor of classics. He was named the director of the A. C. Van Raalte Institute 1 July 2002.

In September 2004, the Van Raalte Institute and the Joint Archives of Holland moved into the new Theil Research Center at 9 East Tenth Street, on the western edge of the Hope College campus. The Theil Research Center was a gift from Eleonore Goldschmidt Theil in fulfillment of a commitment made by her and her late husband, the eminent economist Dr. Henri Theil.

In anticipation of this move into larger facilities, the staff was expanded in December 2003 to include two new Senior Research Fellows: Dr. Donald J. Bruggink, the James A. H. Cornell Professor of Historical Theology, Emeritus, of Western Theological Seminary, and Dr. Earl Wm. Kennedy, Professor Emeritus of Religion, Northwestern College (Iowa). In January 2010, Nella B. Kennedy, former archivist, art historian and lecturer in Dutch language at Northwestern College (Iowa), was appointed as Senior Research Fellow and Official Translator.

In Fall 2003, a new Visiting Research Fellows Program was launched by the Institute, with Dr. Hans Krabbendam of the Roosevelt Study Center, Middelburg, the Netherlands, and Dr. Lynn Winkels Japinga, Associate Professor of Religion at Hope College, as the first two fellows. Each year since then, the Institute has welcomed fellows from near and far to carry on research on topics consistent with the Institute’s mission.

The Institute also has maintained an active program of translation of critical documents from Dutch into English. Translation services have been provided by many different individuals over the years. They include Dr. Henry ten Hoor, late Professor Emeritus of English at Hope College; Simone Kennedy, a native of the Netherlands, who resided in Holland from 1997 to 2003; William Buursma, a retired Christian Reformed Church minister, now deceased, and his late wife Althea; and Nella Kennedy, the official translator of the VRI. It is the goal of the Institute to have all major Van Raalte documents accurately translated so that future students and scholars will not be hampered in their research by a lack of knowledge of the Dutch language.

Since the Institute's earliest years, Hope College students and recent graduates have worked as research assistants to members of the Institute. Karsten Voskuil, Elisabeth Dekker, John Krueger, Seth Bruggers, Jodie Grabill, Theresa Hansen, Esnart Sakala, Michelle Lubbers, Ramona Fruja, Vickie Dryfhout, Christina Van Regenmorter, Erica Heeg, Cynthia Bachhuber, Mary Otterness, Michael Douma, Daniel J. Carter, Lauren M. Berka, Laura Shears, Kimberly Boyd, and Brigid Maniates have all made considerable contributions to the Institute.

Building upon the solid foundation of the Institute’s first decade and with the benefit of handsome new facilities, the Institute staff members have charted a direction in the second decade that is a logical trajectory from the early vision for this center of research and writing. The vision and dedication of the staff, the support of the Huizenga family, and the gift of Dr. and Mrs. Theil have helped to make the Van Raalte Institute a significant center for scholarly research and publication.

Updated 5 June 2013