History of the Atwood Reformed Church

After the 1996 death of Josephine DeGroot Medendorp Wentzloff, daughter of early settlers Jennie DeYoung and John DeGroot, her personal effects were found to include a yellowed newspaper clipping apparently dating to roughly 1943. The clipping did not include the name of the newspaper in which it was printed. The article was headlined “Part Three” but parts one and two were missing. I recently found the entire article in “Dutch Immigrant Memoirs and Related Writings,” selected and arranged by Henry S. Lucas, republished in 1997 by Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. I have not sought any permission to share this article since it was written by a relative and is not being distributed for profit.

In “Dutch Immigrant Memoirs” a preface to the article, entitled “Lucy Klooster’s The Atwood Reformed Church,” states: "The writer of this sketch [Lucy Klooster] who lived all her life the Atwood Dutch community penned this contribution in 1941 shortly before her death. It was first published in Michigan History (magazine), XXXI (1947)." Lucy Klooster died in 1943. A note at the end of the newspaper clipping credits Lucy Klooster with supplying “many of the facts of this history” but it does not credit her with authorship. It also includes information between 1937 and 1943 as an addendum, indicating a gap between writing the original article and printing it in the newspaper. The newspaper mentions that Lucy Klooster was still living with her daughter and son-in-law, Annie and Nick, youngest son of Bert and Johanna DeYoung. Spelling of names follows the spelling used in “Dutch Immigrant Memoirs and Related Writings.” When an alternative spelling was included in the newspaper article, that spelling is shown in parenthesis.

“The sound of wagon wheels grinding steadily over dusty trails, bumping over corduroy roads, splashing into mudholes became quite common in this part of Northern Michigan in the early 1880's. The occupants of such a wagon might have been a young man and woman seated upon two or three boxes containing all their worldly goods. A few hours before they very likely had arrived by train at Traverse City or Mancelona. Weary and worn by the man days' journey from the Netherlands and a several days' train trip from New York City, how good it would have seemed to have rested for a day or two! Why had they come? Money was scarce and land here was very cheap. Should they stay down in the Dutch settlements farther south, the only work for many of them might be that of hired help to other farmers. On the other hand, perhaps some relative or friend had come up to this territory before them and had written in glowing terms of the country, the springs, and the lakes.

“In most cases, however, months of hard labor passed before the dreams of a home were realized. The log cabin of the friend or relative became their home, while laboriously a small piece of land was cleared. Wood was worthless -- $3 a thousand -- and cases are cited of offers made to neighboring lumber companies in which they might have the lumber free of charge, cut from the land the companies would clear; and such offers were refused. Not knowing what else to do, the pioneers piled the logs and brush high and burned them.

“By the year 1886 several clearings had been made and new families were moving in quite regularly. They felt one handicap greatly, the distance to church. Many families walked the four or five miles to the church in Atwood, for on Sunday, if at all possible, they must be in the House of the Lord. Feeling the need of weekday services, in which they might present to Him their prayers and petitions, a new type of meeting was begun, upon which we may surely believe God looked with gladness of heart. Many of the settlers of the community, Dutch and English alike, gathered at the little schoolhouse on the corner every Thursday evening and despite handicaps of language and difference of denomination, together brought their prayers and petitions before the throne of Grace. This is the way an attendant, who lived in Kalamazoo, described it: We had good times in those olden days when that good man of God, Martin van der Scouw, led in prayer -- meetings to the glory of God. After reading and explaining a portion of Scripture he led us in prayer. Then everybody who wanted to pray or testify could do so. The audience in the old schoolhouse consisted of Reformed, Christian Reformed, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc., but they were united around the Cross of Calvary. The road to the meeting place was not so smooth as it is these days. We drove in ox wagons, came over drifting logs, through marsh and swamp. It happened some nights that there were more mosquitoes in the schoolhouse than people, but I for one must confess, that afterwards we could say, 'It was good for us to be there, for the Lord was in our midst.'

“As the Dutch settlers arrived in the community, the talk of organizing a church became common. More children were coming, and the walk was almost too much for them. How wonderful it would be to have a church in the community which would make possible regular Sunday services for all the members of the family. Finally, in 1889 the request for organization was made and heard by the Grand River Classis and on September 10, a committee composed of Rev. Egbert Winter and Rev. Henry P. de Press were sent. Eight families joined together as a nucleus of the church on that memorable night -- the families of Jakob Klooster, Herman Potter, Melle Klooster, Henry Wassenaar, Corneil Sprik, Gerrit Dykstra, John Adema, John Bos, Jakob Klooster, and Henry Klooster joined on confession of faith. Two elders and two deacons were elected, and it was decided that the church should be called the Atwood Reformed Church.

“They had no pastor to guide them or to preach to them but they were united in spirit so that the church progressed under its consistory. Communion services were held once or twice a year, when an ordained minister could visit the church. One can imagine how they looked forward to partaking of the Lord's Supper.

“In May 1893 the services of elder William Wormser were accepted by the church. In that year the present church property was purchased and a fence was placed around it. It was rented to Mr. Groenink for hay for $8.25. There was a discussion concerning buying the Presbyterian church at Atwood, tearing it down, and rebuilding it, but it was found that this was impossible. In 1894 it was decided to build a church in the following year. Each member was requested to pledge what he could in lumber or money. The Board of Domestic Missions of the Reformed Church in America aided financially so that in the fall of 1895 Gerrit Vyn was given the task of building the church for $375. A good foundation was necessary; Henry Wassenaar and Mr. Groenink were appointed to provide it. After the building was completed, a stove was to have been placed in the auditorium. Two visitors from the Woman's Board of Domestic Missions offered to furnish the sum needed for a furnace. Each family was asked to furnish a cord of wood if possible.

“In November 1896 Mr. Wormser moved to South Barnard and on February 10, 1897, Rev. Williem Pool of Grand Rapids was called. He became the first ordained pastor to serve the church. The house on the Moore property was rented for two years.

“On the twenty-fourth of June 1897 several women of the congregation met and, under the direction of the pastor, organized a ladies' missionary society. The members of the first society were: Mrs. Willem Pool, Mrs. Alle Brower, Mrs. Henry van der Jacht, Mrs. Melle Klooster, Mr. John Adema, Mrs. John Bos, Mrs. Albert van der Jacht, Mrs. Henry Wassenaar, Mrs. Bouke de Young, Mrs. Harm Potter, Mrs. Corneil Sprick.

[Part Three began here.]

“By 1898 the church had grown to forty families, with sixty-two partaking of communion, and one hundred and forty-six baptized non-communicants. Seventy persons were enrolled in Sunday school. In 1898 the parsonage property was purchased and in 1900 the horse barns were built at the rear of the church.

“In July, 1902, the Rev. Wm. Pool left for Kalamazoo, having served the church faithfully for five years. “A Senior from the seminary, B. J. van Heuvelen (Van Houvelon), worked in the church during the summer, and in the fall of 1902 he was called to serve as pastor. In the next year, through the aid of the Board of Domestic Missions, an organ was procured for the church. So happy were the members with this acquisition that a dedication service was held. Besides the address of the pastor, the Ladies’ Aid members sang, “Er Ruist Langes de Wolken (Volken) un (een) Liefelijke (Liefalyke) Naam.” They sang without the accompaniment of the organ as was their custom, but one of the members recalls that the singers did not seem to remain in tune, so the new organ was doubly appreciated after that. [Note: In "Dutch Immigrant Memoirs" that passage omits the words "not seems to" while the newspaper article includes them. There is significant difference in meaning between the two versions.] Two young ladies, relatives of the pastor, sang a duet in the English language to which the listeners were entirely unaccustomed, but the beauty and the message of the number, “The Bird with the Broken Pinion” is still remembered.

“It was soon after this that the young people felt that the church should have a bell, and collected enough money themselves to purchase the bell that still calls us to service. “During the ministry of Mr. van Heuvelen (Van Houvelon), a group of ten families moved from here to Lynden, Washington, and another group of eleven families were organized as a separate church at South Barnard. Thus in the spring of 1908 the church could report only thirty-six families, where previously there had been fifty-five families. At the time this seemed a serious reverse to the growth of the church, but those who remained united their efforts in regaining spiritual ground. In the fall of 1908 the Rev. van Heuvelen (Van Houvelon) left to make his pastorate in Rotterdam, Kansas.

“In July, 1909, the church asked Elder B. Burgraff to take over the leadership of the church and he served until Dec. 14, 1916. Upon his departure he requested that Mr. Nickolas De Young serve as Supt. of the Sunday school, which position Mr. De Young has served faithfully since that time.

“In 1916, it was decided to have English services once each month. The envelope system was also adopted at this time, those who so desired might learn to give systematically to the work of the Kingdom.

“On April 23, 1917, Rev. John Wybenga came to the church as pastor. Under his pastorate the choir had its beginning with Mrs. James van den Berg (VandenBerg), Mrs. H. van der Ark (VanderArk), Mrs. Nickolas De Young, Mr. P. Goonan (Goeman), Mr. Alex Klooster and Mrs. Gerrit Klooster serving as some of its first members.

“In September, 1920, Mr. Wybenga left for Clifton, New Jersey, and in October, 1921, the Rev. Paul Schroeder came to take his place. On July 20, 1923, the church became part of the Muskegon Classis, which was a result of the division of the Grand River Classis. “In 1924 the young people of the church decided that it was time for the church to have a piano. There was, however, no fund from which to draw and no wealthy person to give the desired instrument, and so they set about it to earn it themselves. They gave an ice cream social, and a play entitled, “Brown-Eyed Betty.” With a few other additions they were able to purchase the piano. It was placed in the church in December, 1924.

“Rev. Schroeder (Shroeder) accepted a call to Vesper, Wis., in October, 1925. During the following summer the church was supplied by two different student pastors, the Rev. Rikkers and Mr. Brouwer.

“In September, 1926, the old parsonage was sold and the new parsonage was built during the following winter and spring. “The Rev. and Mrs. Gerrit J. Rozeboom, who came to the church in the summer of 1927, were the first occupants of the new manse. Their stay until the summer of 1929 was marked by great spiritual advancements. Under the guidance of Mrs. Rozeboom, a league for service was organized for the younger ladies of the church. It was during these years that the choir was given a marked honor by winning first prize in the Upper Michigan Choir contest held in Gaylord.

“In July, 1930, Mr. Peter G. Koopman, a recent graduate from seminary, was called to the church and became its pastor. Under his guidance a new basement was built under the church, which in the years since have become an important factor in the life of the church. “In the spring of 1936, during a terrific snow storm, a group of young people of the church traveled to Lansing to participate in a State Rural Dramatics contest. The play, “Kidnapping Kitty,” was so well given that it took second place among many participants.

“In the fall of 1936, the Koopmans left for Redlands, Calif., and in July 1937, Rev. Chester Meengs and his wife came to serve the church. Under the providence of God, the work is still progressing in the church and the community, but much still remains to be done. We praise Him who has given us these great blessings during the past fifty years, and petition before His throne of Grace that he will continue to use us, pastor and congregation, in the work of his Kingdom, that He will help each of us to carry out His great command to present the gospel of salvation to all people, and that finally we may hear from His lips those coveted words, “Well Done.”

“[The ending on the newspaper article] (Editor’s note) This history, which was written several years ago, needs some additions to bring it up to date.

“Rev. Chester Meengs accepted a call to a church in Muskegon, Mich., in the fall of 1942. The church was served by student pastors until Feb., 1943, when Rev. Gradus Aalberts of Harlem, Mich., came with his family to continue the fine work started so many years ago. “It is of interest that there is still one charter member of the church still living from whom, we understand, many of the facts of this history were received. She is Mrs. Lucy Klooster, who is making her home at present with her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Nick De Young.

“Correction: The following was accidentally omitted from the Atwood Reformed church history. Following the pastorate of Elder B. Burgraff, Rev. C.W. Deelsnyder served the church from 1912 to 1914. Rev. A.J. VandenHeuvel served the church as pastor from 1914 to 1914.”

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