Grace Episcopal Church and the Van Arks
This is by no means a comprehensive telling, but a gathering of various memories.
My Great, Great Grandfather, Graadus Van Ark came to Holland in 1866, with his wife Aaltje and three of their eventual nine children. Graadus was a builder and among other structures, built the current Third Reformed Church (before all its additions) and Isaac Cappon’s house (the current Museum house). He was an Elder at Third Reformed, as was his son Herman, my Great Grandfather, also the father of nine children, including my Grandfather Jurry.
Jurry met my Grandmother Velma Ogden while working in Chicago, and brought her back to Holland. She had moved there from Pennsylvania to find work. They married and had three children, my father William, Dorothy and Robert. Grandma eventually divorced Grandpa, and raised her three kids, working as a waitress and cook, and eventually bought the Owl Tavern from her boss. Not actions appreciated by her very conservative in-laws at Third!
According to my brother Charles, Grandma wanted Uncle Bob baptized before he went off to the Army and since the Episcopal Church was very similar to Grandma’s German Lutheran background, and was right up the street (she lived at 9th& Pine back then), that’s where they went. And the whole family started going to Grace. Charles says the best part was going to Grandma’s after church for brunch!
My five oldest siblings, Bill, Charles, Jim, Dawn and Velma (born 1945 to 1950) were all needing to be baptized, but the new church was being built, so it was decided to wait until the congregation had moved to perform the baptism. They were baptized on March 28, 1954. So this makes Dawn one of the longest, continuous members of Grace around today!
Dawn and Charles remember potluck suppers on Thursdays during Lent at Grace, and how Grandma was made a fuss over because she had the most grandkids there, the eight in our family (add Bob, me and Sally to the above list), and the eventual seven Matchinskys (Aunt Dorothy’s kids). Dawn also remembers that Kids choir got to about 30 kids in it, the 5 older Van Arks, the Matchinskys and the McWilliams making up a large segment. See the pictures, from 1958 , 1962 and 1963 (all est.). I remember hearing the stories of the director Larry Clark and his wife Maxine the organist – I wish I had known them!
I loved going to church as a child. I sat in front pews with my Dad (where I sit with Mom now, but now it’s the back!). Mom and older siblings were in the choirs at the front of the church. My Dad always had anise candy in his pocket for us little kids. I loved singing the hymns. I remember Fr. Warner, and the cool hat and cape he would don to go outside to greet parishioners as they left the church. Unfortunately my parents quit going to church about 1963 or so, when I was in about 2ndgrade, I think, but my older siblings kept going, at least in part because of being in the choir with Larry Clark.
Fast forward to 1970 – that’s when I started back at Grace. I almost went to the Methodist Church because a good friend went there, but she encouraged me to return to my roots. My sister Velma was helping with the Junior Choir at that point and asked me to come help them with a song, and that got me in the door. Bill O’Brien was Rector, and what a marvelous Priest he was for a teenager with an attitude. (Me with an attitude? I know it shocks you!) It seemed that every week his sermon had been written for me.
We were relying on Hope College Music Department to supply us with choir directors at that time, and finally ended up landing Al Fedak. What a wonderful director he was. I think we had him for 2 or 3 years. It was terrific having him return for the first Joy Huttar Memorial Concert this past fall.
While Dawn has been consistent at Grace from 9thSt (1952? 1953?) to the present, I left town after college for 15 years, but was back for holidays and vacations, returning permanently in 1994.
Grace provided a wonderful opportunity for the Van Arks to do more with music. In 1986 Ann Nethery had a recital series. Dawn’s string quartet was asked to perform, but didn’t feel they had enough repertoire for a full concert. So the four Van Ark sisters (current three choir members Dawn, Laurie and Sally, plus Velma), brother Charles, and Velma’s brother-in-law and Laurie’s good friend Steven Neau formed a choral group for the 2ndhalf of the concert. And thus was born “Van Arks and Friends”. We performed annual concerts at Grace from 1987 to 1992, involving all eight siblings (our “Ark-Tet”), Mom and HER siblings Jane Wiersma, Celesta Root and Adrian Van Houten, a number of Van Houten cousins, and some friends, including the year David Mayer joined us. The concerts were always half sacred, half secular, and were a lot of fun. (We like to think they were also pretty good!) Thank goodness we have recordings of all those concerts, a true blessing.
Choir and the music have always been a focal point for me at Grace. I’ve always been grateful that the church values music so much. We have had some wonderful directors over the years. Al Fedak, Rachel Huttar briefly, Ann Nethery, Karen North, David Mayer, Jim Morrow from Hope faculty, Jennifer Wolfe and now Stephen Jenkins all come to mind. Of course, even I had a couple stints as director of Grace Choir. But let’s face it, I need to be singing! I hope to be doing so for many more years.
Submitted by: Laurie Van Ark