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 (1999-2013) 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 College family.
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 the work included and the construction of an attached garage. Additional work was done in both 2008 and 2013. The most recent remodeling has included a complete renovation of the kitchen area as well as extensive redecorating throughout the house. In addition, much care was given to enhancing the grounds, including adding new plantings, expanding the rear deck, constructing a large outdoor fireplace in the back yard and replacing the back yard's wooden fence with a decorative metal fense.
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 charm and stateliness of the 19th century residence.
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.