The college’s anniversary celebrations themselves have a history, with activities through the years including three-hour historical pageants, parades, concerts, lectures and the first-ever Community Day picnic.
The 25th-anniversary celebration in June 1890 (the beginning of the anniversary year) seemed to be heading for disaster.
It didn’t start out that way. Beloved founding President Philip Phelps Jr. was returning for the event, during which the alumni would be presenting the college with a portrait they’d commissioned of him. The festivities were scheduled to coincide with Commencement, itself a magnificent celebration.
Unfortunately, most of the senior class boycotted the graduation ceremony.
The seniors were upset about the schedule. Commencement in those days was held on a Wednesday, and in recent years had taken place in the evening. To accommodate a banquet in Phelps’s honor, however, the Council of the college (the equivalent of today’s Board of Trustees) had returned Commencement to the morning, which was the time frame specified for the annual ceremony despite actual practice.
Almost no one backed down. The events took place as planned, with only one of the seven members of the Class of 1890 present for the graduation ceremony. That might well have produced a rather gloomy result, but the opposite happened. Those gathered recognized the absurdity of the situation, and simply forged ahead and enjoyed their time together.
And the portrait? It’s still a part of Hope, hanging in the Presidents’ Room in Graves Hall.
By the time of the semi-centennial in June 1916, the college had opted to celebrate at the end of the anniversary year instead of the beginning. The 50th featured activities across more than a week in conjunction with Commencement, including a three-and-a-half hour (!) outdoor pageant presented by students that retold the history of the community and Hope (some 6,000 attended), and a massive parade that hosted alumni whose graduation years reached back to the debut Class of 1866.
News reports state that “hundreds upon hundreds” watched the parade, with spectators lining “every space” along the route, which traveled from the central campus west around the far side of Centennial Park and back. Holland’s mayor offered a welcome as the alumni passed City Hall, and as recalled years later in the book A Century of Hope by former president Wynand Wichers (Class of 1909), who was a faculty member at the time, “Teachers and pupils of the public schools formed ranks on three sides of Centennial Park to greet the procession.”
It was a special point of pride that the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America was meeting in Holland for the first time, in conjunction with the celebration. Even better, the Rev. Peter Moerdyke (Class of 1866), a member of the college’s first graduating class, was elected General Synod president during the meeting.
The 1916 pageant was such a success that the tradition continued during three more anniversary celebrations (1926, 1936 and 1941). The June 1926 pageant itself marked three anniversaries: the sesquicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch in Michigan and the college’s 60th (the student portraying Albertus C. Van Raalte, founder of Holland and co-founder of Hope, wore Van Raalte’s own silk hat.) As in 1916, the RCA’s General Synod met in Holland during the same month.
The 75th anniversary celebration in June 1941 included the conferral of honorary degrees on four recipients, all of course notable but one especially so: Her Royal Highness Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. The princess and her husband, Prince Bernhard, were in exile from their homeland, which had been occupied by Nazi Germany the year before, and during an interview she expressed confidence that her nation would one day be free.
The ceremony honoring the princess preceded the main celebration by a week, taking place during the meeting of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, held on campus that year. The celebration itself ran five days, and among those who attended was Frances F.C. Phelps (Class of 1882) Otte, daughter of the college’s first president and one of Hope’s first two female graduates. In addition to the student historical pageant, highlights included the placing of the cornerstone for a new science building, today’s Lubbers Hall.
The college’s 100th-anniversary celebration robustly spanned more than a year. It began with recognition of the centennial during the 1965 Commencement, continued during Homecoming ’65 (which featured the dedication of the anchor in front of Graves Hall) and ran in earnest during Homecoming in October 1966. Multiple concerts and lectures were presented across the five-day festival, among them a keynote address by Michigan Governor George Romney. Activity highlights included a community ox roast envisioned by Holland Mayor Nelson Bosman as a way of celebrating the relationship between the college and city that has continued every year since, known for the past several years as Community Day (celebrating its 50th in September).
Hope unveiled its “Centennial Decade Master Plan” as part of the celebration, a vision for the future that ultimately realized the construction of the DeWitt Student and Cultural Center, and the start of funding for the Peale Science Center (today part of the A. Paul Schaap Science Center), the Wynand Wichers Addition to Nykerk Hall of Music and two residence halls.
The commemoration also included publication of the book A Century of Hope by former president Wynand Wichers (Class of 1909). Wichers had himself lived much of the college story, including not only as president but as a student, faculty member and alumnus.
The college marked its 125th anniversary simply, with the publication of an eponymous pictorial volume. The book featured photographs taken by John de Visser across the 1990–91 school year, with additional content including a concise chronology of Hope as well as a 32-page anniversary photographic retrospective compiled by Larry Wagenaar ’87, archivist of the Joint Archives of Holland.