essay
Ruth Keppel's Writings

"When I think what our forefathers did to build a city that would be a worthy place for their children's children to live, I am very humble. I hope I have done some good for our beloved city - Holland, Michigan."

-Ruth Keppel, as quoted by the American Association of University Women


 

Ruth Keppel was not a historian; she studied violin performance in college. Though she loved music dearly, her other passion was local history and genealogy. From a young age, Ruth was fascinated by the stories her father told about the pioneer days. When a bone disease caused her give up her violin in the 1940s, she turned to writing and needlepoint. She decided to record the stories her father had told her and began conducting her own research on Holland's history.

Over her lifetime, Ruth authored dozens of essays on the history of Holland and her family. She also wrote extensively about music history. Her only major publication, "Trees to Tulips: Authentic Tales of the Pioneers of Holland, Michigan," was self-published in 1947, in time for Holland's centennial celebration. "Trees to Tulips" is a 37-page pamphlet that traces Holland's history back to the pioneer days, interweaving the story of the Keppels and other small anecdotes throughout.

She begins with a paragraph evoking the early days of Holland, qualifying her study:

"The history of Holland, Michigan is one of the most fascinating tales of any city in Michigan. It is a story of how within one year seventeen hundred emigrants from the Netherlands braved the dangers of an unknown future to settle in a dense forest and by sheer will power to develop that locality so that it has eventually become one of the beauty spots of our country. The emigrants came in separate groups, ranging in number from three persons to several hundred. We are apt to forget the sufferings that were endured those first few years of the colony. The colonists were molested by the Indians, they were cheated by Americans who took advantage of the fact that the Dutch did not understand the Americans' laws, they suffered disease caused by undrained swamps and poor food. It was only their faith in God that caused the Dutch to endure to the end the hardships that came their way."

Her second-longest work, besides "Trees to Tulips," is a series of essays on her father, Albert. She kept her writing close to home, mostly writing on Holland history and various sketches on important people in the Holland community. However, she wandered over into music history, writing essays on famous composers and styles of music. Ruth felt it was her duty to write down everything she knew about Holland history so that her memories could be preserved, as she had no one to pass them down to orally as her father did to her.

Now her writings and consequently her memories are preserved in the Holland Museum Archives where almost and entire box of only of Ruth's essays lives on.

 
 
 
   
  Contact: Madalyn Muncy

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities, Hope College

Madalyn Muncy, 2012