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History of the Institute

The A. C. Van Raalte Institute was established, through the generosity of a Hope College graduate and trustee, in 1993. The initial idea for an institute was provided by James Ver Meulen, a former member of the Hope College Board of Trustees, who had a strong interest in the history of Hope College and the nineteenth century Dutch immigration to western Michigan. Before his death in the mid-1980s, he wrote to Peter H. Huizenga, a fellow member of the Board of Trustees, to discuss his concept of a research institute which would be located at the college. It was Mr. Huizenga who then provided the means to translate the idea of an institute into reality.

On January 19, 1993, Mr. Huizenga hosted a breakfast on Hope's campus to which members of the administration, and members and friends of the Huizenga family, were invited. On that occasion the Huizenga family made a major gift to establish and endow the A. C. Van Raalte Institute. The gift was made in honor of Mrs. Elizabeth Bovenkerk Huizenga, the mother of B. J. Buntrock, Peter Huizenga, Suzanne Huizenga Kanis, Virginia Huizenga Jurries, and J. C. Huizenga. Since that time, many additional gifts have been made to the Institute. The endowment provides support for the Institute, now housed in a suite of offices on Hope's campus.

Hope College President John H. Jacobson appointed Elton J. Bruins, Blekkink Professor of Religion Emeritus at Hope, as director of the Institute in April 1993. Following Peter Huizenga's suggestion, the administration of the college contacted Dr. Robert P. Swierenga, Professor of History at Kent State University in Ohio, and invited him to join the Institute. Dr. Swierenga accepted the offer, and took early retirement from Kent State, thus enabling the Institute to add to its staff the foremost scholar of nineteenth century Dutch American studies. Dr. Swierenga joined the staff of the Institute in May 1996 as the A. C. Van Raalte Research Professor and adjunct professor of history.

In the same year, Dr. Jeanne M. Jacobson resigned from Western Michigan University to accept a position as Senior Research Fellow of the Van Raalte Institute, and to serve Hope College as adjunct professor of education. Dr. Jacobson's background includes an interest in American history and Dutch and Huguenot immigration to America, and extensive experience as an editor and author.

Dr. James C. Kennedy joined the history department of Hope College in the fall of 1997, with one quarter of his time assigned to the Van Raalte Institute. He is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa with a principal interest in modern European history and with a concentration in Dutch history. Dr. Kennedy has lived in the Netherlands, is fluent in the Dutch language, and has published and made scholarly presentations both in America and in the Netherlands.

Simone Kennedy, a native of the Netherlands; William Buursma, a retired Christian Reformed Church minister; Nella Kennedy, an art historian and a native of the Netherlands; and Bill Kennedy, a retired history professor, provide translation services to the Institute on a consultant basis. It is the goal of the Institute to have all major Van Raalte documents accurately translated so that future students and scholars will not be hampered in their research by a lack of knowledge of the Dutch language.

Karen Schakel joined the staff in September 1997 as office manager and editorial assistant.

Dr. Jacob E. Nyenhuis was appointed senior research fellow at the Van Raalte Institute in September 2001, following his retirement from the Hope College faculty in May 2001 after twenty-six years at the college, the last seventeen as provost and professor of classics. He was named the director of the A. C. Van Raalte Institute 1 July 2002. He succeeded Dr. Elton J. Bruins, who stepped down after serving as director since the institute was established in 1994. Bruins remains actively involved with the institute as a senior research fellow.

Since the Institute's earliest years, members have been assisted in their work by Hope College students working in its program. Karsten Voskuil, Elisabeth Dekker, John Krueger, Seth Bruggers, Jodie Grabill, Theresa Hansen, Esnart Sakala, Michelle Lubbers, Ramona Fruja, Vickie Dryfhout, Christina Van Regenmorter, Erica Heeg, and Cindy Bachhuber.have all made considerable contributions to the Institute.