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«* ****  Introduction  Historical Notes  Related Materials  Arrangement and Series Description © 2015 Northwestern College Archives * ...»

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Finding Aid



1928 - 1960


* ****

 Introduction

 Historical Notes

 Related Materials

 Arrangement and Series Description

© 2015 Northwestern College Archives

* ****


The Northwestern Junior College (NWJC) subgroup of the Northwestern College Record Group

(NCRG) documents the life of the NWC institution which was added to the Northwestern Classical Academy (NWCA) in 1928. The records include catalogs, promotional materials, newspaper articles, accounts ledgers, minutes, scrapbooks, diplomas, photographs, and memorabilia. Collectively, these archives provide evidence for the development of faith-based higher education in the maturing Dutch American communities of northwestern Iowa, southwestern Minnesota, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

Size: 3.24 m.

Provenance: Creators of the records, or their successors or appointees, have preserved these materials.

Restrictions: No restrictions.

Copying: Single photocopies may be made for research purposes.

Permission to Publish and Citations: Written permission to publish material in these archives must be requested of the Director of the Library. Citations should include the following

information and acknowledgements:

Identification of item; date, if known; Northwestern Junior College, box and folder number;

Northwestern College Record Group 2; Northwestern College Archives and Special Collections.

2 Processing Notes: This arrangement and finding aid were completed in April-May and October 2015 by Doug Anderson.

* **** Historical Notes The Academy (adapted from the Northwestern Classical Academy finding aid, rev. 2015) Dutch settlers from Pella, Iowa purchased land in Sioux County and founded Orange City as the center of a northwest Iowa colony in 1870. By the summer of 1882, the colony was large enough and stable enough to launch a private educational institution. Such an institution had been in view from early on, since the town-site by-laws provided for setting aside one-fifth of the proceeds from the sale of town lots for a “college.” On July 19, 1882 Northwestern Classical Academy (NWCA) was created. Under the leadership of the Rev. Seine Bolks (retired from the pastorate of First Reformed Church, Orange City) and Henry Hospers (farmer, store and land office proprietor, notary public, county supervisor, newspaper editor, and banker), NWCA was incorporated with a constitution, by-laws, and a Board of Trustees. Hospers donated the land and led in pledging funds on August 1, in words of the formal subscription list, “for the building and maintaining of such Academy.” NWCA opened for instruction in Orange City in the fall of 1883.

The purpose of NWCA was, according to its 1882 constitution, to be “an Institution of learning for the promotion of Science and Literature in harmony with, and Religion as expressed in, the Doctrinal Standards of the Reformed Church in America” (Article II). It was a “Classical” Academy not only because of its curricular emphasis on language and literature, but also because it was “to be under the care of, and subject to, the supervision of the Classis of Iowa of the Reformed Church in America” (Constitution, Article III). This classical supervision was directly expressed in the composition of the Board of Trustees. Originally, the Iowa Classis was to appoint the trustees (Article VII). Later, after jurisdictional reorganization, East Sioux, West Sioux, Dakota, and Germania Classes—particularly the first two—were entitled to elect significant specified proportions of the Academy Board.

While the trustees administered the property and finances of NWCA and oversaw the doctrinal and education integrity of the institution on behalf of the churches, a principal led the daily operations. The turnover of instructors at the academy was generally high, due to low and sometimes uncertain pay, changing curriculum, and heavy teaching loads. Principals not only served as administrators, they also taught, and, when necessary, went beyond their normal loads in order to fill in curricular gaps.

–  –  –

first two years, New Testament the junior and senior years), 4 years of the Heidelberg Catechism, English, and mathematics, 3 years of history, and 2 years of Latin.

At first, rooms were borrowed for classes at First Reformed Church and at the local public school. In early 1884, a two-story wood frame building—the Pioneer School—was erected for the Academy. This was replaced by the purchase and remodeling of an abandoned two-story wood plank skating rink (formally named Academy Hall, but informally dubbed the Rink and also Noah’s Ark). Continued growth led to the sale of the Rink and the building of a new Academy Hall, a vertically imposing classroom and administration building opened in 1894.

Done in Richardsonian Romanesque style, the three-story red brick structure, trimmed with light tan stone, and with a cornerstone motto DEUS EST LUX (God is light), was renamed Zwemer Hall in 1924, perhaps for the entire Zwemer family, not just Principal James Zwemer. It was added to National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and extensively renovated in 1995-1997.

In 1928, the Academy became a department in Northwestern Junior College and Academy (NWJC). When the Academy closed in 1961, NWJC had become Northwestern College (NWC), a 4-year Christian liberal arts institution of higher education.

The Junior College From its beginnings, NWCA’s founders and supporters aspired to offer college-level education.

Orange City’s town-site by-laws specified a “college” for a portion of the proceeds from lot sales. First-year college courses were actually offered in 1907-1908, but the three enrollees were not enough to sustain the program beyond one academic year.

By the 1920s, the difficulty that the Academy was having competing for students with the public high schools renewed efforts to launch sustainable college-level courses. With endorsements from West Sioux, East Sioux, and Dakota Classes, in June 1926 the NWCA Board of Trustees approved adding a junior college program. Desiring wider denominational support, the Academy board and administration then approached the Reformed Church in America (RCA). However, the proposed new program raised alarm among many supporters of the denomination’s two colleges, Hope (MI) and Central (IA); they worried that a Northwestern Junior College would take away students (and funds) which would otherwise go to Hope or Central. The RCA Board of Education studied the junior college proposal prior to the General Synod of 1928 and cautiously recommended support. The General Synod agreed to endorse the junior college—for a 3-year trial, with all financing left up to Northwestern and its local supporters. Furthermore, the General Synod stipulated that “the institution should remain a Junior College unless authorized by the General Synod to expand.”1 Despite the less than robust denominational endorsement, Northwestern’s Board hired the Reverend Jacob Heemstra (1888-1958) in the summer of 1928 to be both principal of the Academy and also president of the new Junior College. Like the other 8 NWJC instructors that first fall, Heemstra did not have a doctorate. Born near Orange City, he was an Academy alumnus and a graduate of Hope College. However, besides earning a Western Theological 1 As quoted in Gerald F. De Jong, From Strength to Strength: A History of Northwestern, 1882-1982 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, [1982]), 127.

4 Seminary degree (1914), he had taken graduate courses at Princeton University and the University of Chicago. In addition to parish work, he had been on the faculty of Central College (education, religion, and psychology), where he also had been registrar. (In 1939 Hope awarded him a doctor of divinity degree; thereafter, he was commonly referred to as Dr. Heemstra.) When Heemstra retired from the presidency at the end of spring semester 1951, he had led NWJC in weathering the financial and enrollment challenges of both the Great Depression and World War II. The first college year was launched 1928-1929, and the sophomore year was added in 1929-1930. Ironically, then, the Junior College program was fully up and running just as the worst economic downturn in the history of the U.S. was unfolding. In the summer of 1931 the 3-year “trial” the RCA granted Northwestern ended. The General Synod renewed its endorsement, but the Junior College was hard pressed to collect tuition and pay faculty. (Income at NWJC for 1929-1930 was $34,148; for 1931-1932 it declined by than half to $14,966.) NWJC requested financial support from the RCA in 1932, and the General Synod agreed, but it left the amount up to the denomination’s Board of Education. The RCA Board recommended that the Junior College close “temporarily.” Heemstra rallied support and vigorously pushed back against the Board of Education. The Board retreated and eventually granted some funds to NWJC in

1933. Then ten years later, the Second World War brought a steep decline in Junior College enrollments (from 128 in 1939-1940 to 33 in 1943-1944). Faculty turnover was also up.

Heemstra oversaw institutional retrenchment once again.

Nevertheless, by the mid-1930s, the Junior College was developed enough to sustain increased numbers of instructors (as many as fourteen full- and part-time), a student newspaper (The Northwestern Beacon), men’s basketball and football teams, and choir tours in college-owned buses. NWJC students remained largely local and from either the Reformed Church in America or the Christian Reformed Church.

After World War II, the times were flush, for the college as for American higher education more generally. Before President Heemstra’s retirement, a building was purchased for women’s housing (Dykstra Hall, 1945); an addition was made to the Science Hall (1947-1948; the original portion was opened in 1923); thirteen acres of land were purchased adjoining the campus on the east (1949-1950); and a new women’s dormitory was opened and named Heemstra Hall (1950;

Dykstra Hall, enlarged in 1947, then became a men’s dormitory). However, the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools declined to accredit NWJC in 1951.

Accreditation was mandated by the Iowa State Board of Educational Examiners for all teacher training institutions, but NWJC in 1950-1951 still had, among other things, a faculty with meagre qualifications (no Ph.D.s) and a weak library collection.

The Reverend Dr. Frederick H. Wezeman (Calvin Theological Seminary; Ll.D., John Marshall School of Law) succeeded Jacob Heemstra as NWJC president. Wezeman moved to head a hospital in the Chicago area in 1954, but before he left, he oversaw Northwestern’s reapplication for accreditation. The North Central Association accredited NWJC in 1953. Also before Wezeman left, yet another addition was made to Science Hall (Van Peursem Hall, 1952-1953).

Even before the Junior College was accredited, Northwestern leadership was planning for a full 4-year college program. Given that the RCA had provided financial support for NWJC but had 5 also limited the college to a 2-year program, President Heemstra approached the RCA for its endorsement for a 4-year program at some future time. The General Synod agreed to remove the 2-year restriction in 1949, but by a narrow margin of 2 votes. The strong opposition reflected both continuing concern to not weaken support of Hope and Central Colleges and also Northwestern’s unfamiliarity to the RCA community in the East.

In 1955 Dr. Preston J. Stegenga (Ph.D., University of Michigan), a graduate of Hope College, became the third and final president of NWJC. He would also become the first president of Northwestern College, the 4-year institution that was fully in place in the fall of 1960. (Stegenga stayed into 1966, when he moved to the University of Liberia.) Before adding the fourth year of college-level courses in 1960-1961 and the graduation of the last Academy class in 1961, Stegenga oversaw expanding the faculty to eighteen full-time (including 2 with doctorates) plus 8 part-time. Also during the final years of the Junior College, a multi-purpose Auditorium was built (1956-1957), Colenbrander Hall opened as a men’s dormitory (1959-1960), and a new president’s home (1959-1960) replaced the older one, which eventually became Campus Cottage (1964).

* **** Related Materials The history of Northwestern College is recounted in Gerald F. De Jong, From Strength to Strength: A History of Northwestern, 1882-1982 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., [1982]).

In 1928, when the Junior College was launched, The Northwestern Beacon became the student publication during the academic year.

In the Northwestern College Archives, on NWCA, see the Northwestern Classical Academy (NWCA) subgroup. See also the Trustees’ Records, the Jacob Heemstra Papers, and the Jacob Heemstra, F.H. Wezeman, and Preston J. Stegenga Presidential Records.

* **** Arrangement and Series Description Series 1, Catalogues: Catalogues for the Junior College run from 1928-1960. (The title of the catalogue from 1928-1951 was The Classic. The same title was used earlier for the Academy’s first student publication and later for the College’s magazine for alumni and friends.) To date, no catalogue for 1929-1930, 1941-1942, 1951-1952, or 1952-1953 has been found. Academy material is included in the Junior College catalogues. The catalogues are clearly being published in the latter year of dates on the title page (e.g., if 1928-1929 is on the title page for the catalogue, publication was in 1929); thus, the information on students and other people is largely retrospective as the academic year draws to a close. They also usually contain statements of the mission and purpose of the College and its relation to the Reformed Church in America which, 6 over time, get rewritten, reflecting shifting emphases. Frequently, the catalogues contain narratives or chronologies of the history of the College.

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