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ACVR Bicentennial Conference
History

The Albertus C. Van Raalte Bicentennial

acvrThe Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte, the son of a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church, was born 17 October 1811 in the village of Wanneperveen in Overijssel, the Netherlands. After studying theology at Leiden University, he became a leader in the newly formed Separatist Church from 1836 until his departure for America in 1846 in search of economic opportunity and religious freedom. He arrived in Western Michigan with a small group of followers on 9 February 1847. The settlement on the shores of Black Lake grew rapidly, and he devoted himself not only to spiritual leadership, but also to civic and economic leadership until his death on 7 November 1876.

Multiple activities will occur throughout West Michigan in October in celebration of Van Raalte’s two-hundredth birthday, with most activities falling between Friday, 21 October and Tuesday, 25 October. Included are a two-day Founder’s Festival; concerts of Dutch music by the Holland Symphony Orchestra, the Holland Chorale, and Hope College organists Dr. Huw Lewis and Prof. Linda Strouf; a community worship service in Van Raalte’s original church; and an international conference. Also included are exhibitions from September to November in museums, libraries, research centers, and churches in Holland, Zeeland, and Grand Rapids. An updated list of events is available online at www.DutchHeritageWestMichigan.net.

Planning for the celebration is by the Dutch Heritage Coordinating Council, whose mission is to provide a forum to further the preservation and promotion of Dutch heritage in the Greater Holland/Zeeland Area. Their goal is to celebrate a visionary leader who had a major impact upon and left an enduring legacy for the area.

acvrThe A. C. Van Raalte Institute at Hope College

The Van Raalte Institute was established in January 1993 in honor of the founder of Holland, Michigan, who also played a key role in the founding of Hope College. In a letter written 27 November 1846, Van Raalte described his dream as he and his followers headed westward from New York: “I hope that a large colony can be established here in America which will focus its work on the Kingdom of God.” His vision for this colony of Seceders from the State Church of the Netherlands is incorporated into the institute’s mission statement:

The mission of the institute is to honor the memory and the vision of the Reverend Dr. Albertus C. Van Raalte, the founder of Holland, by studying his life and work. From this mission also is derived the scholarly investigation and publication of materials concerned with the immigration and the contributions of the Dutch and their descendants in the United States of America. Furthermore, the institute is dedicated to the study of the history of all segments of the community throughout its history.

(Watercolor by Bruce McCombs, 2005)

Today the institute fulfills its educational mission not only through research and publication but also by sponsoring lectures, presentations, and conferences.
In April 1993, Hope College President John H. Jacobson appointed Blekkink Professor Emeritus of Religion Elton J. Bruins, an authority on Van Raalte, as director of the institute—a post he held until 2002, when he became a research professor. Professor of Classics and Provost Emeritus Jacob E. Nyenhuis succeeded him. Other research staff members are Robert P. Swierenga, Donald J. Bruggink, Earl Wm. Kennedy, and Nella Kennedy. JoHannah Smith serves as office manager/editorial assistant. Honorary Research Fellows are George Harinck, James C. Kennedy, Hans Krabbendam, and J. P. Verhave. Since September 2004, the Van Raalte Institute and the Joint Archives of Holland have shared space in the Theil Research Center, which was given by Eleonore Goldschmidt Theil and the late eminent economist Dr. Henri Theil.