Dr. Elton Bruins of Holland, who across more than 50 years as a member of the Hope College faculty and administration and as a scholar played a leading role in chronicling the Holland area’s and college’s history, died on Monday, March 23, 2020. He was 92.
A 1950 Hope graduate, Bruins was a member of the college’s religion faculty from 1966 until retiring in 1992 as the Evert J. and Hattie E. Blekkink Professor Emeritus of Religion. He was dean for the arts and humanities from 1984 to 1989, was acting provost in the fall of 1989 and had also chaired the Department of Religion.
He played a central role in organizing the Joint Archives of Holland, which opened in 1988. The Joint Archives currently includes the historical collections of the college and the seminary as well as other organizations that contract for archival services, and for many years hosted the collection of the Holland Historical Trust as well. Bruins had previously organized the archives of the seminary, Netherlands Museum and college.
He became founding director of Hope’s A.C. Van Raalte Institute in 1994, a position he held until 2002; he was subsequently named the Philip Phelps Jr. Research Professor at the institute. He retired from his research position in 2008, although he continued to work with the program informally.
His publications included dozens of articles on aspects of church and local history, and several books as editor, author or co-author, among the latter “The Americanization of a Congregation,” on Third Reformed Church of Holland; “Isaac Cappon: Holland’s ‘Foremost Citizen’”; “Albertus C. Van Raalte: Dutch Leader and American Patriot”; “Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches in the Nineteenth Century”; “Albertus and Christina: The Van Raalte Family, Home and Roots”; and “Envisioning Hope College: Letters written by Albertus C. Van Raalte to Philip Phelps Jr., 1857 to 1875.”
He received several honors and awards, including the Friend of History award from the Holland Historical Trust (1998), Achievements in Dutch-American Studies honor from the Dutch-American Heritage Committee (1999), the President’s Award from the Midwest Archives Conference (1999), the Meritorious Service Award from Hope (2009), a Special Tribute from the State of Michigan (2011) and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Western Theological Seminary (2012). The book “A Goodly Heritage: Essays in Honor of the Reverend Dr. Elton J. Bruins at Eighty” was published in celebration of his career in 2007. In addition, the Hope College Alumni Association Board of Directors had selected him to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award, which was originally to have been presented during the college’s annual Alumni Banquet on April 25, an event postponed until next year.
Bruins served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1946, stationed in Chicago, a posting to which he attributed his love of the arts. He graduated from Western Theological Seminary with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1953, and subsequently completed a master’s at Union Theological Seminary and doctorate at New York University. Prior to returning to Hope as a member of the faculty, he served as pastor of two Reformed churches in New York State.
Arrangements are being made through Dykstra Funeral Home and are pending. At the family’s request, memorial contributions are to be made to the Bruins Scholarship Fund at Hope College, and to the Third Reformed Church Memorial Fund of Holland’s Third Reformed Church.