TEACHING AT CALVIN COLLEGE
I began teaching philosophy at Calvin College in September of 1939. I was thirty-one years of age; I held the rank of Instructor, with faculty status; and I was paid two thousand dollars a year for my services.
The college had undergone very little change since I had left it in 1932. It occupied the same campus; it boasted no new buildings; and almost all the professors who were present while I was in residence were still at their posts. Harry Jellema was of course absent; I was his replacement. And Johanna Timmer was just now in the process of leaving; but all the rest of the stalwarts were still aboard. Johannes Broene was there, but having been appointed acting president in June, he would be chiefly engaged in administration. Albertus Rooks had reached retirement age, but he had been asked to stay on as dean for at least another year, and he remained an active member of the faculty. And then there were the others from my student days: Albert Broene, Harry Dekker, Lambert Flokstra, Peter Hoekstra, Henry Meeter, Edwin Monsma, James Nieuwdorp, Henry Ryskamp, Ralph Stob, Seymour Swets, Henry Van Andel, Jacob Vanden Bosch, John Van Haitsma, and Henry Van Zyl, sixteen in all. After my graduation three men had been added to the staff: William Radius in classical languages, Harry Wassink in physics and engineering, and Albert Muyskens in mathematics and physical education. And now John De Vries in chemistry, Richard Drost in history, and I in philosophy were being inducted into the ranks of the faculty. This brought our corporate number to twenty-two. Grace Pels, though coming in as dean of women, was ranked as an assistant and had no formal faculty status. Josephine Baker was at her accustomed place in the library, and Mr. Vos still functioned as the keeper of the school’s financial records.
The college and seminary was then, as now, under the supervision of a board of trustees, but in 1939 all of the curators (as they were then called) were clergymen each representing a classis; and their number did not exceed eighteen, this being the number of classes then existing in the Christian Reformed Church. When I began to teach, Rev. W. P. Van Wyk served the board as president, and J. J. Hiemenga, L. J. Lamberts, and Daniel Zwier completed the slate of officers. Indicative of the size and leanness of the college and seminary at that time was the board’s budget for the academic year 1939-1940: it amounted to slightly more than one hundred and twenty-seven thousand dollars.
Although the board, under Synod, was the school’s governing body, the internal affairs of the college were conducted by the teaching staff. The college of those days was in both theory and practice a faculty-run institution. The president had certain prerogatives and some special duties, but he was held to be no more than first among equals, and nothing went on at the school in which the faculty was not involved. There were committees to consider various matters, but they implemented nothing without the approval of the entire staff assembled in plenary session. The faculty established the curriculum, set the calendar, approved student grades, took notice of minor infractions, authorized suspensions and expulsions, granted scholarships, passed judgment on students applying for admission into the Seminary, and concerned itself with many other things, all in open debate and with meticulous attention to detail.
The faculty room was the scene of all this activity. It was located on the first floor of the administration building and, though unequipped with reclining chairs and other amenities, it served not only as a place of business but also as a sort of lounge where members met for relaxation and small talk in the intervals between classes. It was not much larger than the average classroom, but it matched the size of the faculty and adequately served its purposes. A long oblong table stood in the center of the room, and worn wooden armchairs were positioned along its sides; those chairs bore no names, but everyone knew who would occupy each one when the faculty met in monthly session, and trespassing was unheard of. A small toilet room and a cloak room furnished with mailboxes adjoined the larger meeting place, but no other facilities were available to the staff. There were no faculty offices, and secretarial help was not to be found. The business office did employ a stenographer, Miss Caroline Veen, but this young woman had all she could do to keep up with the work assigned to her by the president, dean, and registrar.
We newcomers were cordially greeted by President Broene when we attended our first faculty meeting, and the older members of the faculty both welcomed us with open arms and did everything they could to integrate us into their fellowship. For the rest, however, we were on our own and were permitted to conduct our classes and pursue our inquiries as we saw fit.
The curriculum required that every student in the school take a minimum number of courses in philosophy, and since I was the sole instructor in the department, this meant that in due course each student at the college would come for a shorter or longer time under my tutelage. In the academic year 1939-1940 there were 475 students enrolled in the college, and 255 of them were enrolled in the seven different courses I was asked to teach. In the fall semester I taught six hours of introduction to philosophy in two sections to eighty-four students; three hours of logic to thirteen students; three hours of medieval philosophy to twenty students; and three hours of ethics to eight students. In the spring semester I taught six hours of ancient philosophy in two sections to fifty-two students; three hours of modern philosophy to twenty-nine students; three hours of logic to forty-six students; and three hours of metaphysics to three students in an afternoon seminar held in our home.
It would be disingenuous to say that I was sufficiently versed in all these disciplines to do them justice; but by employing relevant textbooks and by dint of hard work, I was able to keep a step or two ahead of my students and able both to convey to them some sense of the philosophical enterprise and to elicit from them a rather favorable response to my offerings. The going, however, was tough. I was at my desk by six in the morning and seldom left it until an hour or two after midnight. Even so, I would sometimes fail to meet my own standards of preparation and would call in sick, the better to be ready for the morrow. Hilda could hardly take pleasure in this regimen, but she understood the pressure I was under and stood faithfully at my side.
In addition to the fifteen hours of weekly classwork, there was, of course, a plethora of papers, exercises, tests, and examinations to read and evaluate. I would not have been able to carry this load had I not had the assistance of a senior student to whom I have ever since had the strongest ties of friendship and collegiality. That student was Clarence Boomsma. I distinctly remember our first meeting: I was ascending the stairs on the first day of school and was greeted at the top by a pleasant young man who informed me that he was president of the Plato Club and wondered whether I would be willing to serve as its sponsor. I told him I would be delighted to do so, and after engaging in some other pleasantries, we parted company only to meet again in classrooms and halls during subsequent days.
I was much drawn to Clarence and, noting his competence, asked him whether he would be willing to assist me in assembling a bibliography and in correcting logic papers. He expressed a willingness to do so, and together we managed to have him paid out of the funds supplied by the National Youth Administration (NYA), which had been put in place by Franklin Roosevelt during his first term as President. Clarence often came to our house during that first year to deliver completed assignments, and we drank many a cup of coffee together with Hilda around our kitchen table. He was thus no stranger to our house by the second semester, when he sat in my study as one of the students enrolled in my seminar in metaphysics.
The Plato Club, which I came to sponsor, met regularly during the year. We held nine monthly meetings, usually in one of the dorm rooms, and we managed to investigate with some thoroughness the whole of Plato’s Republic. Meeting in smoke-filled rooms, we studied the text from 7:45 to 10:00 in the evening, after which we retired to the dorm dining room, where we normally stayed until 11 p.m. Clarence Boomsma served as president of the group, and Oliver Buus functioned as secretary. There were twelve members in the club: the others were Arthur Baker, Gordon Buter, Edward Doezema, Bernard Haan, William Heynen, Roger Heyns, Paul Holtrop, Paul Ouwinga, John Visser, and Ralph Wildschut, a fine bunch of fellows, some of whom distinguished themselves in the business and professional worlds after graduation. The last meeting of the year was held in our living room, and the evening reached a climax when Hilda served our guests a delicious and bountiful lunch.
Some of my time that year was taken up by work in two faculty committees of which I was a member: I served with Wassink and De Vries on the athletics committee, and with Muyskens, Meeter, and Monsma on the dormitory committee. My memory of what we did as committee members has grown dim, but I seem to recall that we were given a list of dorm residents to visit, and that we ordered the doors to the dormitory to be securely locked at midnight. The house rules we were charged with enforcing included the provision that no woman should be permitted to enter any part of the dormitory other than the dining hall, lobby, and reading room; that intoxicating liquors should not be brought into or consumed in the dormitory; that card playing was not permitted in the dormitory; that every dormitorian should refrain from theater attendance; and that every student, unless he was sick, was expected to attend divine services on Sunday morning and evening. As for athletics, it was decreed that every varsity player had to be enrolled in a sufficient number of courses to achieve graduation after four years of residence.
Among the things that concerned the faculty that year was the monthly presence on campus of the “committee of ten,” which had been appointed by Synod to inquire into the spiritual and moral condition of the college. The board and the Synod had heard that some members of the faculty were not as adept in integrating their faith with their teaching as they might be, and that others were unduly tolerant of “worldly amusements.” In its address to these matters, the committee members interviewed each of us separately and held one plenary session with the whole faculty during the course of a long afternoon. To satisfy the committee that we were seriously engaged in distinctively Christian education, each of us submitted a syllabus of our course material, and the syllabi seemed to meet with the favor of most committee members. It is interesting to observe that the committee proposed and the board adopted the following resolution:
To continue the excellent policy the Board followed in the case of Dr. Henry Stob who was encouraged to stay a year at the Free University of Amsterdam before he began his work at Calvin. Those who are appointed should receive the opportunity and be urged to prepare themselves at the Free University or take a theological course at our Seminary. The men who are to train our future leaders should have a good grasp of Reformed theology.
The Synod of 1940 endorsed the policy that the board followed in my case and urged its continuance whenever practicable. But being indisposed to lay down a general rule, and not willing to make theological training a condition for appointment, it simply declared that “Synod strongly stresses the fact that the men who are to train our future leaders should have a good understanding of our Calvinistic principles, especially in their particular field.” Nobody on the faculty, of course, could object to that. We were one in holding that reason should function within the boundaries of religion and that science should be pursued in alliance with the truth revealed in Scripture and received in faith.
The faculty as a whole was less disposed to countenance the “moral” restraints the board had placed on students and staff, and which the Committee of Ten now urged us to endorse and implement. We did not like the pledge card the students were required to sign; we were reluctant to police behavior; and we knew of no way we could ensure compliance with the rules. Many of us, moreover, did not believe that playing bridge was necessarily evil or that occasional movie viewing was morally debilitating. The Committee of Ten, however, was adamant; and on receiving the committee’s report, the board reaffirmed its erstwhile stand against “worldly amusements.” It declared:
We consider dancing a serious offense and advise that watchfulness on the part of authorities be enjoined; . . . we consider card playing a positive danger to the good morals of the students and feel that the faculty ought to take a strong stand against it; . . . and impressed with the danger that is involved in theater attendance the Board reiterates its determination to use all available means to combat this evil in our college.
In spite of this strong language, the board made one concession to the faculty: it withdrew the objectionable pledge card. In its place it ordered that the following generalized statement be inserted in the school’s application forms: “The undersigned, having carefully read the Calvin College ‘Informational Handbook,’ hereby promises to regulate his conduct in harmony with the principles therein set forth.”
The school’s recruitment policy came likewise under consideration. The Synod of 1936 had instructed the faculty and board to “aim at a student body whose religious spirit moves in a positively Christian direction and whose moral standards of conduct are beyond reproach.” The faculty did not quarrel with this demand, but it hazarded the opinion that students from a wide range of evangelical churches should be encouraged to attend the school. The Committee of Ten, however, believed that the atmosphere of the school should be homogeneous with that of the church which founded and now governed it. “Our people,” it said, “send their sons and daughters in the expectations that here they will be among their own, in a body of young people that is definitely Christian Reformed.” This, the faculty believed, was to erect too high a fence, and it was pleased when the board took a less restrictive stance and ordered “that only such students be admitted who are orthodox protestant in their religious convictions and can present a testimony from their consistory as to their Christian principles and conduct.” The faculty could live with that; and with this its engagement with the Committee of Ten came to an end.
My teaching and the preparation for it, as well as my sponsorship of the Plato Club and my work on faculty committees, kept me busy and left me with little time or energy for extracurricular activities. But in the fall of 1939 I did accept an invitation to join “the Academians,” a group of professors, ministers, and educated laymen that met periodically in the Pantlind Hotel for discussion and fellowship. On January 11, 1940, I read to the group a paper outlining the Christian philosophy being developed by Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd. A week or so before that, I delivered an address entitled “Christ as Prophet” to a combined meeting of the churches of Grand Haven and Spring Lake; and in March 1940, I published an article on “God’s Antithesis: The Ultimate Disjunction” in the Calvin Forum. Although it was not until May 28, 1940, that Classis Grand Rapids East granted me “permission to preach in the churches of the Classis,” I had preached on eight different Sundays in various Grand Rapids churches in the months prior to that.
At home Hilda and I lived in straitened circumstances, but we were thankful for our good health and for the many new associations we were able to form. Money was in short supply, but Hilda was able to buy the necessary groceries on a budget of five dollars a week. I possessed only one suit, which I wore every day at school; but it underwent a renovation on Saturdays when Hilda brushed and pressed it and made it fit for church. We had no car, of course, and depended for transportation on the city buses. I myself walked to and from school in all sorts of weather. Near the beginning of the school year we joined the Dennis Avenue Christian Reformed Church; John Weidenaar was our minister, and we both enjoyed a pleasant association with him and his wife and found his sermons instructive and edifying. Our spirits rose early in 1940, when Hilda was told by her doctor (what she already surmised) that she was with child and that we could expect a son or daughter sometime in October. But the pregnancy itself taxed Hilda’s strength and caused her to be frequently ill. During that time she was under the care of Dr. Dan De Vries, whom she visited often and who was ready on occasion to tend to her at home.
The school year ended in late May at about the time of the annual board meeting. Besides considering the report of the Committee of Ten and acting on it, the board in 1940 appointed Prof. Henry Schultze to succeed Johannes Broene as president of the college, and named Rev. J. J. Hiemenga as the assistant to the president. Prof. Schultze promptly accepted the appointment; but when Hiemenga declined, Rev. William Kok was appointed in his place. Prof. Vanden Bosch’s forty years of service to the college and Prof. Van Andel’s service of twenty-five years were commemorated by the board and thanks were expressed to Prof. Clarence Bouma for declining an invitation to teach at the Gordon School of Theology. One action of the board affected our family’s financial situation: the minutes report that “in view of the fact that Dr. Henry Stob’s salary for the first year is low, it was decided to cancel the first year’s repayment of the five hundred dollars loaned to him, implying that one hundred dollars is considered paid.”
The yearly Synod of the Christian Reformed Church was held in the college library in June of 1940. Synod readily ratified the appointment of Prof. Schultze and took other actions affecting the college. It ordered that “on the educational policy committee there shall be at least one member that has received theological training”; and it instructed the faculty “to deal in the spirit of love, yet also in view of the strong tide of worldliness which is threatening our churches, very firmly with all cases of misdemeanor and offensive conduct in the matter of amusements, particularly theater attendance, card playing, and dancing, and to discipline and finally expel all students who refuse to heed the admonition of the school authorities in this matter.” Such was the temper of the times. A sidelight is cast upon it by another action that Synod took: in response to an overture from Classis Pella, Synod decreed that solos and other special musical numbers should be banished from future prayer services before Synod. Justifying this action, it declared that “since the Synod of 1930 discouraged choir singing, it is manifestly improper to introduce such or similar features at the prayer service for the meeting of Synod.” In another action, Synod appointed a committee to effect a revision of the compendium used in catechetical instruction. I was appointed to that committee along with Martin Monsma and Gerrit Hoeksema. I was named secretary, and I would continue to be engaged in that committee’s work for the next several years.
Although the academic year ended in May, I was not set free after commencement. In response to representations made by the superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools, the faculty had agreed to set up a summer school in which grade school and high school teachers could advance their education and careers. As it turned out, I was asked to teach in it. I accordingly taught a six-week course in introduction to philosophy to a group consisting of seven public school teachers and three college students. This employment cut deeply into the summer recess and left me with little time for rest and relaxation. I devoted what time I had to my studies and to sermon preparation. During June, July, and August, I preached once in the Chicago area and on nine successive Sundays in a variety of Grand Rapids churches, always in the same chalk-stained suit that Hilda regularly refurbished.
I should mention that in 1940 the “Back to God” radio broadcast was inaugurated with Prof. Henry Schultze as the preacher; the Reformed Bible Institute opened in Grand Rapids with Johanna Timmer as teacher; Rev. J. C. De Korne began his duties as director of missions; and Dr. Henry Beets was nearing the close of his long tenure as stated clerk of synod.
Of more immediate concern to the peoples of the world was, of course, the war that had erupted in Europe in September 1939. Because there was little movement by the belligerents during the winter, the French and Germans being entrenched behind the Maginot and Siegfried lines, the conflict came to be called the “phony war,” a designation that would change in the spring, when Hitler launched his first significant offensive. Russia was the first to move. In March 1940 it forced Finland to yield large chunks of territory, and in April it annexed Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Hitler was not far behind. He invaded Denmark and Norway in April and overran Belgium and Holland in early May. The suddenness, efficiency, and success of these attacks and conquests confounded the world and dismayed the Allies, particularly the French, who seemed stricken with a loss of nerve. Sweeping around the Maginot line with powerful Panzer brigades, the Germans reached the Channel port of Dunkerque on May 21. The pinned-down English army stationed there managed a dramatic retreat by sea, but the weakened Allied forces proved impotent against the German advance, and on June 15 Paris fell into the hands of Hitler’s troops. The French government sued for peace on June 16, 1940, and Hitler left southern France to be ruled from Vichy by the collaborators Petain and Laval. Italy, which had declared war on France on June 10, reaped the fruit of Hitler’s conquests and could now deploy her troops in regions yet to be taken.
It is difficult to say how these events affected the life and mood of the American people. We were not in the war, and though we read the papers and listened to the radio with a mixture of excitement, sorrow, and apprehension, we tended to be absorbed in our daily tasks and taken up with our parochial concerns. But there was movement on this side of the ocean as well. In the fall of 1939, General George Marshall rose to become chief of staff of the United States military. In June 1940, President Roosevelt appointed a group of eminent civilian scientists to a National Defense Research Committee headed by Vannevar Bush, and in August he concluded a U.S.-Canada Mutual Defense Pact. This indicated that Washington was readying the nation for some contingency, even for entry into the war on the side of Britain. There were those, on the other hand, who made nonparticipation a principle and a program. Prominent among these was Charles Lindbergh whose America First Committee preached isolationism and pacifism.
Amidst the ebb and flow of mood and sentiment, one thing was sure: the war was real and all our doings lay under its shadow.
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When classes resumed in September 1940, the war was in full progress and the Battle of Britain had begun. The Germans occupied the channel ports of Western Europe and seemed able to mount an amphibious attack on the British Isles from these vantage points. This, however, did not occur; instead, Hitler called on his vaunted air force. German bombers rained death and destruction on English cities during the whole of that autumn, but the British fighter planes, the redoubtable “Spitfires,” rose to meet the enemy and gave such a good account of themselves as to give Goering pause. Winston Churchill, who replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister on May 11, 1940, became the man of the hour. Promising his people nothing but pain, sweat, and tears, he rallied them around the flag, stiffened their resolve, and inspired them to endure with fortitude their temporary misfortunes. America, meanwhile, was lending its support and inching toward involvement. On September 2, 1940, President Roosevelt withdrew fifty destroyers from our “mothball fleet” and transferred them to England, and on September 15, Congress legislated the first peacetime conscription in U.S. history.
But what was happening in Washington and across the ocean did not impinge on our lives as much as what was happening in our own home. Hilda was by this time well advanced in her pregnancy, and though she suffered from high blood pressure and accumulations of albumen, she and I eagerly looked forward to the birth of our baby. The doctor ordered Hilda into the hospital early on Saturday, October 19, and she labored in pain for nearly forty-eight hours before delivering a boy at 4:31 a.m. on Monday, October 21, 1940. We named our firstborn Henry James, and I handed out celebratory cigars to many of my friends. But our joy was short-lived. On the day following our boy’s birth, the doctors and nurses informed us that the baby was suffering from respiratory problems and was in critical condition. However, we were able to see and hold the precious child before he died on October 24, after living on this earth for just three days. Time has eased the pain and sorrow we suffered in subsequent weeks and months, but nothing can erase the memory we cherish of our first child.
Hilda remained confined to her bed and could not attend the funeral. Only Mr. Zaagman, the funeral director, Rev. Weidenaar, our pastor, and I were present when Henry James was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery, where a stone marker still rests on his grave. Hilda stayed in the hospital for another week and was permitted to go home then only on condition that she remain in bed for another fortnight. To keep house and enable me to perform my outside duties, my mother stayed with us until Hilda was able to be up again and about her daily tasks.
Having spent an apprentice year in the classroom, I was now acclimated to teaching, and I went about the business of this second academic year chastened by death and loss yet resolved to carry on with God’s help. I remained a member of the faculty committees of athletics and boarding houses, retained my membership in “The Academians,” and continued to sponsor the Plato Club.
On the advice and with the assistance of Mrs. Pels, the dormitory committee established a cooperative residence for women students that year. We leased a house at 830 Bates Street, fitted it for occupancy, and charged the several girls who lived there five dollars a week for room and board. The athletics committee installed new lockers in the gym, gave Coach Muyskens permission to take his basketball team to Pella for a game with Central College, and named four women students to assist him in conducting physical education classes.
In Plato Club we made the acquaintance of several American philosophers. Clarence Boomsma served as the club president during the first semester, but later withdrew to devote himself to seminary studies. Remaining as members of that year’s club were Henry Bajema, Philip Kroon, John Leitch, Paul Ouwinga, Robert Reitsma, Robert Van Dyken, Nicholas Van Til, Bernard Velzen, and Ralph Wildschut. We held eight monthly meetings and considered, in sequence, Jonathan Edwards, James McCosh, Josiah Royce, William James, Ralph Barton Perry, Roy Sellers, George Santayana, and Alfred North Whitehead.
The faculty was augmented by the addition of our new president, Prof. Henry Schultze, who performed the duties of his office with unostentatious efficiency. Not formally incorporated into our faculty ranks, but serving the college well, were a number of assistants with whom it was a pleasure to associate. Anthony Hoekema assisted in speech, Marian Schoolland in English, and Harold Dekker in debating. To complete the picture, I should add that Lena Bossenbroek came to join Caroline Veen in the office, and that Ruth Imanse took over the management of the bookstore.
During the course of this year, several members of the faculty expressed a desire to learn more about the “Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee,” the new Christian philosophy being developed by the Dutch philosophers Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd. Professors Van Andel and Monsma proposed the formation of a faculty philosophy club to pursue this objective, and I was asked to introduce the material, clarify points, and respond to questions. I gladly consented to do this. The first meeting of the group was held on April 2, 1941; two other meetings were held before the school year ended, and at each of the three meetings an average of eighteen faculty members attended.
During the 1940-41 school year the student enrollment rose to an even 500. Of that number, 212 were enrolled in my classes. In the fall semester I taught six hours of introduction to philosophy in two sections to sixty-four students; three hours of logic to nineteen students; three hours of medieval philosophy to seven students; and three hours of ethics to six students. In the spring semester I taught six hours of ancient philosophy in two sections to fifty-four students; three hours of logic to forty-one students; three hours of modern philosophy to twenty students; and three hours of metaphysics to two students. There is something in me that wishes to put down the names of those students, both men and women, who in that year and the previous one exhibited the marks of responsible scholarship and Christian discipleship in my classes; but such a naming, because selective, would be hazardous and perhaps unfitting. I cannot resist declaring, however, that there is imprinted in my mind the memory of not a few who by their intelligence and industry made our joint pursuit of learning a pleasure, and who by their courtesy and friendship smoothed out the rough and crooked places that appeared on our way.
Prof. Muyskens taught mathematics, coached basketball, conducted gym classes, and supervised athletics; but the students were also playing baseball, golf, and tennis, and he had no time to manage the teams engaged in those sports. So he looked for assistance to certain faculty members. Since I had played second base on Calvin’s baseball team during my undergraduate days, I was asked to coach baseball. Baseball had become an official M.O.C.C. sport that year, and, dressed in newly acquired Calvin uniforms, our boys played home-and-away games with Ferris Institute, Lawrence Tech, Western State Teachers, and Grand Rapids Junior College. I had two good pitchers, Paul Westveer and Andrew De Kraker, and several fair batters, and that accounts for the fact that we won a majority of our games. Barney Steen, who later became athletic director at Calvin, did the catching. Among the other members of the team were Eugene Broene, Herman Van Faasen, Elmer Van Wieren, John Hekman, Don Van Beek, Edward Bierma, Ralph Veenema, and John Brower.
Our life at home continued apace. Hilda recovered her health, participated in the activities of the faculty women, and through frequent contacts came to know a considerable number of students. My extracurricular work did not cease. The synodical committee on the revision of the compendium met regularly, and that exacted time and thought; but the work was also a learning experience, and I did not find the assignment too burdensome. I was frequently called on to preach, and while school was in session I conducted worship services on ten different Sundays. I was also privileged to deliver the annual address at the March 15 Dies Natalis banquet put on by the faculty and students of the seminary. The March 1941 issue of the Calvin Forum contained an article of mine on “Peace,” and in the August issue I published a review of A. A. Bowman’s A Sacramental Universe.
We bought our first car in the spring of 1941: it was a second-hand Plymouth that Verhage Motors sold to us for a sum that I assume was within our means, although I don’t recall the amount.
The Board of Trustees met in late May and early June 1941. The budget for the year drawing to a close amounted to $138,000, and for the year 1941-42 the board adopted a budget of $146,000. It thanked Prof. Rooks for his many years of service, granted him honorable emeritation, and appointed Prof. Henry Ryskamp to succeed him as academic dean. My good friend Henry Zylstra had procured his doctorate from Harvard that year, and to my great delight he was appointed by the board to a two-year term as instructor of English. I myself was reappointed to a six-year term and elevated from the rank of instructor to that of associate professor. One item in the minutes of the board meeting casts an interesting light on the prevailing mores: “In reply to a question whether the Thespian Club, in their broadcast over station WLAV, might portray some biblical character, the executive committee answered negatively.” The board endorsed this action.
Meanwhile, there was movement on the troubled world stage. At home Franklin Roosevelt defeated Wendell Wilkie in the November elections and began, with Vice President Henry Wallace, his third term as President on January 20, 1941. Japan was increasingly featured in the news. It had joined the Rome-Berlin axis, and in July 1941 it assumed a protectorate over the whole of Indochina. Washington could not, or did not, foresee how, when, and where the Japanese would strike again; but as early as November 1940 the United States imposed an embargo on Japan-bound supplies, and on July 26, 1941, Roosevelt both froze all Japanese assets in the United States and appointed General Douglas MacArthur commander of all army forces in the Far East.
England was holding Germany at bay, but the prospect of survival was not bright, and victory seemed even more remote. Yet Britain was not left without support: early in 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act; in May the Atlantic fleet took Greenland under its protection; and in July the U.S. Navy began to escort lend-lease shipments to Iceland. When an American merchantman was torpedoed and destroyed by a German submarine in May 1941, the United States stiffened in its attitude, closed Axis consulates, and froze all Axis assets.
Hitler, however, remained mobile and undaunted. Having occupied Yugoslavia and Greece, he declared war on Russia on Sunday, June 22, 1941, and began a deep penetration into that vast country. At summer’s end the United States appeared to all the world to be committed to the Allied cause. When, on August 14, 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill drew up the Atlantic Charter on a warship off Newfoundland, there could be no mistaking where America stood regarding the raging conflict. But formally we were still at peace.
I spent the summer at my desk in preparation for the next school year.
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As I began my third year of teaching in September 1941, my salary had increased from $2,100 to $2,200. Not all of that was take-home pay, however; there were the usual deductions for taxes and the medical and pension funds, and the demands of patriotism had to be met as well. Before the first semester of the academic year had come to a close, we were at war, and in response to a government appeal we all agreed to set aside part of our monthly paychecks to purchase defense bonds.
Our entry into the war was sudden and dramatic. Our relations with Japan had been tense and unsettled for some time, but there had been no break in diplomatic ties, and throughout November and into early December talks designed to avert open conflict were seriously carried on in Washington with emissaries from Emperor Hirohito. It was on Sunday, December 7, 1941, when Hilda and I were at dinner, that news reached us over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been subjected to a secret attack by Japanese bombers flying off mid-ocean carriers. Coming from the southeast, the Japanese flew over Diamond Head, destroyed the core of our Pacific fleet, and left in their wake 2,400 dead and 1,200 wounded American servicemen. President Roosevelt appeared on radio, called the day a “day of infamy,” and summoned Congress to an emergency meeting. On the very next day, Monday, December 8, the United States, by a nearly unanimous vote of Congress, declared war on Japan. Only Jeannette Rankin, congresswoman from Montana, dissented. Germany and Italy responded on December 11 by declaring war on the United States. We now stood against the Axis powers in solidarity with the beleaguered British and Russians, and the immediate future promised little but disruption, sacrifice, pain, and death.
Henry Zylstra was now my colleague at Calvin, and we renewed our long-established friendship with great satisfaction. The student body numbered 504 men and women, and of this number 122 were enrolled in the four first-semester courses I undertook to teach. I continued serving on the two faculty committees to which I had been assigned, and also resumed conducting a discussion of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy with the members of the faculty. We held meetings in September, October, and November, and then decided to disband the “club.” At the last meeting I was presented with a desk lamp, which I have kept as a memento and which, after many years, still casts light on my scribblings.
In Plato Club we again took up a study of Plato’s Republic. Nick Van Til served as president and Robert Reitsma as secretary; the other members of the club were Alexander De Jong, John De Kruyter, Richard De Ridder, John De Vries, Homer Hoeksema, Engbert Ubels, and Everett Van Reken. We met ten times during the year and ended the sessions at my home on April 27.
When the second semester began in January 1942, the country was at war, and male students were beginning to receive draft notices. This was unsettling to some, but most were ready to come to the defense of their country. Some even displayed an eagerness to take up arms and lay low the evil powers that were now ravaging the earth. Yet deferments were general, and for the moment the business of the school was carried on more or less as usual.
I taught the four second semester courses in philosophy that I was accustomed to teach, this time to an additional 104 students, and when spring came I coached a baseball team that engaged in eight contests with teams from Ferris, Aquinas, Western State, and Grand Rapids Junior College. It had become evident, however, that it would be difficult to assemble a team for the following year. Several of the best players were already classified 1-A, and I myself had been required to register for the draft. The prospects for the immediate future were not bright.
The college itself was asked to gear up for the war, and late in the academic year the faculty made a number of policy decisions affecting courses and credits. The ablest students were now allowed to take eighteen hours of course work each semester, and substantial credit was given for training in first aid and in physical education. To keep the church supplied with ministers, the college placed preseminary students on an accelerated course, and they were allowed to pre-enroll in seminary courses to help them retain their draft-exempt status.
That year I engaged in the usual extracurricular activities. I spoke early in the year to a gathering of local ministers on “What is Philosophy?”; I addressed the college Calvinism Club on “The Philosophy of Nazism”; and at the second American Calvinistic Conference held on campus in June, I delivered a lecture entitled “The Word of God and Philosophy,” which was later published in a volume edited by Clarence Bouma. I preached only twice during the school year, but I conducted worship services on six different occasions during the summer.
The Board of Trustees met in late May and early June 1942. It had operated that year on a budget of close to $136,000. It took note of the fact that thirty-four of the students enrolled in the fall were now engaged in military service, that an additional eleven were employed in defense work, and that Harold Dekker, who had been assisting in the department of speech, had decided to enter the ministry with a view to a chaplaincy. The board also eased my personal financial burden. It adopted a recommendation of the executive committee absolving Hilda and me of the obligation to repay the five-hundred-dollar “loan” given us for my study in The Netherlands. The grounds for this decision were briefly stated: “Dr. Henry Stob had already received his appointment when he was asked to study another year. This puts him on a level with other members of the teaching staff who receive five hundred dollars if they want to be absent for a year to continue their studies.” Our college debt was thus summarily canceled, and for this we were grateful.
The board also prepared for submission to the government a letter pleading for the deferment of Henry Zylstra and myself. This is how the letter read:
The Board of Trustees of Calvin College and Seminary has taken note of the possibility that two of our professors, Dr. Henry Stob and Dr. Henry Zylstra, may in the near future be lost to our institution because they will be drafted for military service. The Board feels that all our professors and students should and will respond in the spirit of true loyalty and patriotism to the call of our country in the present emergency. However, the Board also is assured that the government desires to prevent as much as possible all unnecessary serious disruption of the work of our educational institutions. Wherefore, the Board of Trustees of Calvin College and Seminary respectfully urges the proper authorities to give Dr. H. Stob and Dr. H. Zylstra a deferred status in the draft on the ground that their continued services at our institution are vitally necessary to the proper function of our educational activities, and that it would be exceedingly difficult to replace them, especially at this time.
This letter was endorsed by Synod, but there was no telling at the time how the local draft board would respond.
At its June meeting the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church gave Henry Schultze an indefinite appointment as president of the college; declared Harry Boer a candidate for the ministry and took notice of his intention to enter the military chaplaincy; honored Dr. Henry Beets upon his retirement as stated clerk; and appointed Rev. William Hendriksen as professor of New Testament in the seminary. The committee on compendium revision, of which I was a member, presented a first draft of its work to Synod and was given another year to complete its task.
Hitler’s troops, meanwhile, were fighting on Russian soil and finding the going tough. Japanese forces, on the other hand, were steadily advancing in the east. The Philippines fell to the Japanese on April 8, 1942: American and Filipino troops on Bataan surrendered unconditionally, and on May 6, General Wainwright yielded up Corregidor. A month earlier, MacArthur had gone to Australia in order to direct the American response from there. Responses were not lacking. On April 18, Colonel Doolittle, flying from Admiral Halsey’s carrier The Hornet, led an air assault on Tokyo, and on June 4 the United States navy destroyed four Japanese carriers in the Battle of Midway. But this did not arrest the progress of the enemy, and there was no telling when the tide would turn in our favor.
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I entered my fourth year of teaching in September 1942. The previous year had seen some attrition in the student body, and I was thus surprised to learn that the enrollment now stood at 554. The number decreased, however, as the year progressed. At year’s end only 400 students remained, and most of them, perhaps 65 percent, were women. The all-male preseminary students had their own course to pursue; but noticeable among the other men was a shift in course selection. They tended, under the pressures of the times, to move from studies in the classics toward work in mathematics and the sciences.
In the first semester I taught courses in introduction, logic, ethics, and medieval philosophy to a total of seventy-six students. This number was low in comparison to previous enrollments, but this decline was to be expected, and it served to make the paperwork more manageable. I continued to be a member of the faculty committee on boarding places, but was transferred from the committee on athletics to the committee on religious and social activities, where I served with Meeter, Swets, Pels, and Van Andel. I was relieved of my coaching duties for the simple reason that no baseball team took the field that year. But Plato Club was alive and well, and we began meeting early in the year, this time with John De Kruyter as president and Rich De Ridder as secretary. We undertook a study of idealism, realism, and pragmatism, and the members managed to acquire a tolerable acquaintance with representatives of these philosophies. Besides De Kruyter and De Ridder, the club consisted of Alex De Jong, John De Vries, Jack Hasper, Bart Huizenga, Fred Klooster, Doug Paauw, Wes Smedes, and Walter Tolsma.
The synodical committee appointed to revise the compendium met several times during the fall, and we managed to complete our final draft in time for publication in the spring agenda. I had in September been given a seat on the Board of the Grand Rapids Christian High School, and I served that year with George Goris, Henry Hekman, Henry Holtvluwer, Jack Van’t Hof, George Wieland, Louis De Korne, Bert Frieswyk, and one or two others.
While these things were going on in Grand Rapids, the war continued on its course. Hitler was meeting with resistance both on the eastern front and on his southern flank. In September 1942 the Russians held out against the Germans at Stalingrad, and in November they unleashed a counter-offensive from which the Germans never fully recovered. Meanwhile, in “Operation Torch,” the Allies seized Oran, Algiers, and Casablanca, and by their presence posed an additional threat to Rommel’s Africa corps, which had already been engaged by General Montgomery at El Alamain.
At home it was not all smooth sailing. The threat of the draft hung over me, and though I was not averse to serving my country in a war that I considered eminently justified, I realized that my induction into military service would entail another separation from Hilda, and this prospect was not pleasing to either of us. But there was something more disturbing. Hilda was again pregnant and feeling quite unwell. On November 26, 1942, she suffered a miscarriage that brought her low and required her hospitalization; she returned home in early December but had to keep to her bed in order to recover fully. Her mother stayed with us for a week to nurse her and keep house, and for this I was thankful; but it was some time before our sense of tragedy and loss was overcome and our hope of having children revived.
During the second semester the faculty noticed a certain restlessness among the students and asked President Schultze to address them at a school assembly. Men were now dropping out at regular intervals, and we devised ways of granting credit for abbreviated class attendance and for failure to take exams and meet other course requirements. The Board of Trustees was doing everything it could to keep Henry Zylstra and me from being drafted, but their efforts met with small success. In January of 1943 both of us were classified 1-A, which meant that we could be called up at any moment. But in response to the board’s overtures, the authorities granted us deferment until June 1. The length to which the executive committee was willing to go may be gathered from its report to the board in May. It declared in part: “In view of the fact that Dr. Stob had studied theology and very likely would have been an ordained minister today if the Board had not asked him to take the chair of philosophy, the Committee felt so concerned about this matter that it offered to take up the matter of his deferment with President Roosevelt, but Dr. Stob indicated that he wished this would not be done.” And so, indeed, I did. With everyone else being called to the colors, I thought that that would be going a step too far. Moreover, although I appreciated the committee’s helpfulness and concern, I sensed that, with a nation to govern and a war to win, the President had weightier matters on his mind than the status of some unknown teacher in a small Midwestern college.
On January 18, Henry Zylstra and I underwent a physical examination in the Grand Rapids armory and were declared fit for duty. On January 30 we made a personal appeal for a change in classification, but our appeal fell on deaf ears, and we knew then that we would soon have to exchange our academic robes for the garments and accoutrements of war. In early March 1943, Hank and I took steps to make our anticipated military service compatible with our age and training: we applied for a commission, I in the navy and Hank in the army.
Hank was the first to receive a response to his application, though it was not of the sort he had expected or now relished. He had indicated a desire (or willingness) to serve in military intelligence, and this led to his being sent a batch of cryptograms that he was asked to decode and return. He worked hard on these mystifying messages, and I assisted him as best I could. One batch followed upon another, and although Hank applied his very considerable talents to these assignments, there was always some puzzle that neither he nor I could solve or some code we could not break. This, of course, contributed neither to our self-esteem nor our equanimity. Moreover, during the whole time he addressed these assignments, no assurance came from Washington that a commission would follow upon their completion. Nor was I hearing anything from the navy. We therefore simply prayed and waited, while attending with divided attention to our duties at the college.
The school community responded to our situation with love and empathy. At the spring banquet put on by the Student Council, Hank and I were thrust forward as the honored guests. We were also featured in the May edition of the Chimes and given accolades beyond our deserving by both President Schultze and the student editor. When on May 18, 1943, I conducted the college chapel service, the exercise had a special poignancy for me, for there were many in the audience who were about to interrupt their studies and venture into an uncertain and precarious future. I noted in my brief address that world affairs were driving a wedge between us, drawing some into military camps, some into battle, and some perhaps even into death. But I bade my friends to go forward unafraid. I indicated that it is not what happens to us that counts, but how we stand up under what happens; it is not what we must bear but how we bear it that lends quality to our lives. As we part, to suffer and to endure we know not what, let us, I said, face life calmly and resolutely, not indeed in the proud confidence that we are impervious to fate, but in the sober assurance that no lasting evil can befall those who are called according to God’s purpose. And let us, I added, pray for one another. Pray, not that we be taken out of our involvements with the world, but that in the world we may keep the faith. Pray, not that we be kept from battle, but that in the battle we quit ourselves like men. Pray, not that we save our life, but that if we must lose it, we may find in Christ a fuller life and more abundant.
At its yearly meeting in late May the Board of Trustees did a great many things, but of special interest to Henry Zylstra and me was a report it prepared for submission to Synod. It read:
Last year we reported to your honorable body that Dr. Henry Stob and Dr. Henry Zylstra might possibly be called to the colors. This year we have to inform you to our regret that we shall lose the valuable services of both these men for the duration, since both have been drafted. All our efforts to have them reclassified proved fruitless. The draft board, however, out of courtesy deferred them ’til the end of the academic year. We hope and pray that the Lord may spare these men and may soon open the way for them to return to their respective chairs. The Board decided to keep open the chairs of both these men as long as they are in the armed service and to permit them to share in the promotions.
When Synod met, my thoughts were elsewhere. But I can report that Synod adopted the revised compendium that our committee had submitted after three years of hard labor; that it elected Dr. Cornelius Van Til to succeed Prof. Berkhof in the chair of systematic theology, while naming William Rutgers as his alternate; that it chose John De Haan to succeed Dr. Beets as stated clerk, while naming Ralph Danhof as alternate; and that it authorized the Calvin board to proceed with the erection of a science building as soon as conditions permitted and funds became available. Of special interest to Henry Zylstra and me was Synod’s decision to hold our chairs open until our return, and to count our years of military service as service to the college. It was also gratifying that Clarence Boomsma was declared a candidate for the ministry at that year’s Synod. He would soon be called to serve the church in Imlay City, Michigan, but before he left to take up his duties there, we spent a morning drinking coffee, renewing fellowship, and wishing each other Godspeed.
It was about the time when Synod was holding its first sessions that the mailman brought to our door a notice that would resolve the quandary we had long been in. It came not from the draft board but from the chief of naval personnel in Washington, and it informed me that I had been appointed as a lieutenant junior grade in the naval reserve. The letter was dated June 8, 1943, and accompanying it was a formal certificate signed by Frank Knox, the Secretary of the Navy, indicating that my commission was conferred on May 1, and that I was a bona fide naval officer. I accepted the appointment and took the oath of office on June 16, which was subscribed and sworn to by Henry Denkema, a notary public and friend of the family.
Henry Zylstra, to my great regret, was less fortunate. The commission he had applied for and labored so assiduously to secure was inexplicably not conferred. He was inducted into the army as a buck private and eventually sent to do battle on the eastern front. He suffered a great deal in the company of men who shared none of his interests and concerns, and who by their talk and behavior often offended his refined sensibilities. Later in the war, however, his talents and qualities of leadership were recognized. He was commissioned in the field, and in 1945 was mustered out as an officer with battle citations.
I should mention that, though Henry Zylstra and I were the only members of the faculty to be drawn into the service of our country, there were many of our friends and acquaintances who also left their posts to join the armed forces. More than twenty Christian Reformed ministers had by this time entered the military chaplaincy, among them Harry Boer and Harold Dekker. George Stob, too, had left his large church in Burton Heights, Grand Rapids, to serve as chaplain; and quite a few of my many nephews were now clad in blue and khaki. Lester De Koster, whom I had earlier come to know through the good offices of his then fiance, Ruth De Vries, had also become a naval officer at about that time; and Bill Spoelhof also had entered the service and was deployed in the office of strategic services.
A most gratifying feature of my appointment was the permission it gave Hilda to accompany me on my first real assignment. After a brief period of indoctrination, I was ordered to report to the commanding officer of the Naval Reserve Midshipman School at Columbia University in New York, where I would undergo instruction in military government, and Hilda was allowed to join me there and enjoy the perquisites of our newly acquired status.
On June 18, I appeared for a physical examination in the Book Tower Building in Detroit and was found fit for duty; but I was given until July 28 to report to the training station in the Bronx. This gave us an additional forty days to settle our affairs. As I recall, we were given an allowance for the purchase of uniforms, but it didn’t cover the expenses we incurred when we traveled to Chicago and were outfitted by the clothiers in Marshall Field’s department store. We vacated our rented house on Benjamin Avenue the second week of July, moved our furniture to the back room of Father De Graaf’s old grocery store, sold our aged Plymouth to Simon Heeres, and took up residence with Hilda’s mother, whose two sons, Ed and Andy, had already gone off to war. Before leaving Grand Rapids, I tendered my resignation to the members of the high school board and thanked them for the kindness with which they had received their much younger colleague.
Hilda could not, of course, accompany me to the training school in Fort Schuyler, but I knew I would see her before long and had no doubt that she would put to good use the intervening days of waiting. At 11:35 p.m. on July 27, 1943, I boarded a train for New York and arrived in that city in time to report for duty as I had been commanded. I was required to travel in uniform, and this caused me some embarrassment because I was unfamiliar with military customs and procedures, and I didn’t know how to respond to the many soldiers and sailors who saluted me en route. I suppose I managed, however awkwardly, to simulate their gestures, but I must have breached protocol several times by failing to salute officers to whom I owed this token of courtesy and respect.
As I was about to begin my military service, the war was nearly four years old, and I had reached the age of thirty-five. I didn’t know what awaited me in my new calling and environment. What I did know from reading the daily papers was that Guadacanal was now in the hands of the United States Marines, and that the Allies in Africa had seized Tunis and Bezerte after having taken into custody thousands of German and Italian prisoners. The war, it appeared, was building up toward the eventual defeat of the Axis powers, and I had not yet played even the tiniest role in it.