A collection of memoirs by members of the Hope College family preserves memories from a generation that is fading with time and reflects how the events of World War II shaped not only individual lives but the future of the college itself.
Titled "Hope at the Crossroads: The War Years," the volume examines the Hope of the 1940s through recollections penned by some 35 students, faculty and others on campus at the time. Through their accounts, the extensively illustrated book demonstrates how events thousands of miles away ultimately shaped the college, which grew from a modest institution with just 550 students before the war to a post-war, sardine-packed beehive of some 1,350, many former GIs whose seriousness about the future and education enlivened the learning environment in ways that continue still.
The book is dedicated to those who never had an opportunity to experience the change: the 43 students or alumni who gave their lives while serving in the U.S. armed forces during the war.
"Hope at the Crossroads: The War Years" has been edited by Eileen Nordstrom and Dr. George Zuidema, two alumni and Holland residents who developed the idea through their participation in the Hope Academy of Senior Professionals [HASP].
"We both go to a memoir group at HASP," said Zuidema, who is a 1949 Hope graduate. "Glenn Bruggers was writing about the day that he and Gord Brewer took the train to Muskegon to enlist. He had some interesting stories, and that got us thinking, and one thing led to another..."
"...and George said, 'I think we ought to do a book,'" said Nordstrom, who attended Hope in the following decade, graduating in 1956.
Nordstrom and Dr. Zuidema had previously worked together on Zuidema's autobiography "Moving On: A Memoir." Zuidema, who enrolled at Hope immediately after high school, also has a chapter in the new book about his experience at the college.
Hoping to provide a broad overview, they resolved to feature a mix of perspectives in the volume. Even with nearly three dozen contributors, however, they recognize that those included are representative and not exhaustive.
"We could have had a hundred," Nordstrom said.
There are accounts of typical pre-war student moments - sodas at the local drug store, the Pull tug-of-war, the thrill of watching the "Blitz Kids" of the men's basketball team at the Holland Armory. And then the times change - most of the men leave campus for service in the military; the college hosts an Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) unit; the students raise money for a jeep in support of the war effort; a young student sits sadly at her professor's home, not knowing what to say when he and his family learn that his son has been killed. Some tell of the war - Gord Brewer, who returned and graduated in 1948 after serving in the Army Air Corps, shares his experiences as a ground crewman with a fighter group in England and of the pilots who were lost. With the war over, times change again, with former servicemen on the GI Bill filling the campus, their wartime experiences giving them a perspective and focus that shaped the character of the education for their non-veteran peers as well.
In his memoir "On Campus Living - Men's Residences 1945-1949," 1949 Hope graduate Dr. Roger Kempers of Holland reflects on the impact of the veteran students. "They came from all the branches of military service and seemed uniformly glad again to be civilians. However, behind the facades of carefree college students lay many untold stories of great courage and heroism," he writes. "The maturity and sense of purpose that the returning men and women of World War II brought with them changed HopeCollege forever."
Most of the memoirs were prepared specifically for the book, but some are shared from other sources. An essay by Roy Berry, who came to Hope through the ASTP program (and while on campus met his wife Myra, a member of the college's Class of 1945 who also wrote a chapter) was prepared through the Oral History Project of the Joint Archives of Holland. An article by now-deceased retired faculty member Dr. John Hollenbach, which chronicles how Hope's response to the overwhelming growth in the student body immediately after the war was guided by President Irwin Lubbers's commitment to helping the returning servicemen, was previously published through a HASP "History Writing" project in 1993.
Reflecting the reality that the U.S. is losing its "Greatest Generation" to the passage of time - nationwide, according to some estimates, more than 1,000 World War II veterans die each day--some of the voices that were present at the start of the project have since fallen silent. The Rev. Jim Cook of the Class of 1948 and the Rev. Bill Hillegonds of the Class of 1949, who both wrote chapters, each died this past year, as did the Rev. Glenn Bruggers (Class of 1948), whose eloquence at the HASP meetings had inspired the volume.
Copies of "HopeCollege at the Crossroads: The War Years" are available at the Hope-Geneva Bookstore for $30.00 plus shipping and handling. Proceeds from the sale will support a scholarship at Hope named in memory of the 43 Hope servicemen who gave their lives during the war. Located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, the bookstore is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The bookstore may be called at (616) 395-7833 or 1-800-946-4673 or visited online at www.hope.edu/bookstore.
The book's introduction is by Gordon Van Wylen, president of Hope from 1972 until retiring in 1987, who is himself a World War II veteran, having served as a submarine officer in the Pacific Theatre.
The contributing authors are Myra Berry, Roy Berry, Vern Boersma, Gordon Brewer, Glenn Bruggers, Elton Bruins, Jim Cook, Vivian Cook, Elaine DePree, Russell DeVette, Lamont Dirkse, Pinks Dudley, Paul Fried, Wallace Friedberg, Carol Granberg, Lars Granberg, Bill Hillegonds, Libby Hillegonds, John Hollenbach, Roger Kempers, Robert Kranendonk, Arend D. Lubbers, Rosey Maatman, Barbara Mulder, Don Mulder, M. Eugene Osterhaven, Robert Snow, Barbara Dee Timmer, Trudy Vander Haar, George Vander Hill, Robert Van Dis, Arthur O. Van Eck, Gerard Van Heest and George Zuidema.
The book was printed by the Steketee-Van Huis Group of Holland, Mich.