Stately Century-Old Residence
Is Home To Hope College Presidents
The proposal to build a stately residence on the Hope
College campus to house the presidential family first surfaced at a meeting
of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in Grand Rapids in 1884,
22 years after the first college student had been enrolled.
It was a rather startling proposal, since the college was still very
small and struggling to survive under difficult financial constraints.
In that year, 1884, the total college enrollment was 24 students with
an additional 104 enrolled in the preparatory department. The campus
consisted of seven plain wooden structures and one more permanent brick
building - Van Vleck Hall, the main portion of which was used as the
residence of the former president, the Rev. Philip Phelps, and his family.
The provisional president of the college, the Rev. Charles Scott, had
just listed in his annual report the urgent needs of the institution:
funds for library books and a reading room, for science laboratory equipment,
and for lecture rooms and a teaching museum. There was no mention of
a house for the president.
The impetus for this idea came from delegates to the synod who had visited
the campus and had voted to invite a noted eastern clergyman, Dr. John
De Baun, to become the new president of the college. An impressive new
residence might be the enticement sufficient to get him to leave his
comfortable position and home in New York. Synod delegates pledged $3,100
for the project. Despite the fact that De Baun shortly thereafter declined
the presidency, steps were taken to design a large residence, and bids
were solicited. Unfortunately the money available was not adequate to
carry through the entire design, but in faith the building was begun.
By 1886, with no additional funds on hand, the half-completed home was
boarded up until more money could be raised.
The home was finally completed in 1892, but the new president, Gerrit
Kollen, a member of the faculty who succeeded President Scott in 1893,
was reluctant to leave his newly-built home, one block from the campus.
Finally, in 1895 he and his family moved into the house and became the
first of the presidential families to reside there (1895-1911), followed
by the Rev. Ame Vennema and his family (1911-1918).
When President Vennema's successor, Edward Dimnent,
moved into the President's Home, he faced a domestic problem. He was
a bachelor, the house was large, and the details of housekeeping and
of hosting the many college and community gatherings, as his predecessors
had done, were somewhat daunting. He resolved the dilemma by prevailing
upon his sister, Mrs. Nellie Dykhuizen, and her family of three children
to live with him and to help him carry out his social role during the
years of his presidency (1918-1931). Subsequently the presidential families
of Dr. Wynand Wichers (1931-1945), Dr. Irwin J. Lubbers (1945-1964),
Dr. Calvin A. VanderWerf (1964-1970), Dr. Gordon J. Van Wylen (1972-1987),
Dr. John H. Jacobson (1987-1999) and Dr. James E. Bultman (1999- ) have
lived in and presided over a rapidly-growing college community from the
house that was the center of an ever-expanding campus, not only its geographical
center but also its social and cultural center, the heart of the Hope
The President's Home has hosted receptions, teas, dinners, and recitals
for thousands of Hope students, alumni, faculty and staff. Countless
members of the local community and parents of students from all over
the world have been welcomed here. Through its doorway have entered distinguished
leaders from all walks of life. Queens and presidents, astronauts and
medical pioneers, prime ministers and ambassadors, missionaries and civil
rights champions, opera divas and Shakespearean actors have all been
entertained within its walls.
In the early years of its history the President's Home was regarded more
strictly as a private residence. The president and his family were responsible
for furnishing and decorating the house and keeping it in repair. As
the house increasingly became, symbolically, the Hope College home and
the site of many cultural and social affairs of the college and community,
the college has assumed larger responsibility for its furnishings and
maintenance, at the same time seeking to preserve for those living in
it a feeling of ownership and privacy.
The appearance of the house was changed considerably in 1913 with the
addition of the enclosed front porch. In the early 1950s the college
undertook its first major modernizing and redecorating of the home, without
altering the structural features of the exterior or interior in any significant
way. In 1986 a more radical renovation was carried out. In addition to
major electrical, plumbing, plastering, and roofing repairs and extensive
redecorating, the kitchen area was completely redesigned and a new serving
area created to enable the food service to operate more effectively for
college receptions and dinners. A breakfast room for the president's
family was added, the downstairs bathroom relocated, and new entrances
to the inner campus and the garage built.
The home was extensively redecorated during the summer of 2008. The interior
was repainted and received new wallpaper, window treatments, lighting
fixtures and carpeting throughout. Treasured furnishings that are part
of the home’s history were reupholstered, and new pieces were added,
and the downstairs bathroom was remodeled. The college also reroofed
and repainted the exterior of the structure in addition to upgrading
its electrical service.
Even as the home has been updated, however, its basic Victorian architectural
design has been preserved, and the redecorating and refurnishing of many
of the rooms by the college have been carried out to provide modern conveniences
in keeping with the 19th century charm and stateliness of the century-old
The furnishings of the President's Home are a combination of the private
possessions of the present president and his family, of gifts to Hope
College designated for the home, and of items purchased by the college.
Many paintings, prints, sculptures and pieces of antique furniture are
of artistic interest. Their presence in this historic home underscores
the important role this house has played for nearly a century in the
cultural life of Hope College and in the Holland community.