Alice Sluiter De Boer mows her own lawn, bakes pies, drives herself around her rural town, and attends weekly church activities. She doesn’t take medicine for anything that ails her because nothing much does. What’s remarkable about that? Alice turned 100 years old in November. Her only impediment is encroaching deafness.
When Alice was born on a farm near New Holland, South Dakota, the Christian Reformed Church was celebrating its jubilee. Now, at its sesquicentennial, Alice looks back over her own century of life to consider her faith and her church.
Hard work and curiosity about God’s world have been the key. The eldest of three girls, Alice helped her father on the farm. She isn’t nostalgic for that long-ago time. “It wasn’t much fun.” Church wasn’t either, she confesses. “It was very strict” but could be unexpectedly entertaining. She enjoyed sitting in the balcony of New Holland CRC, watching early-rising farmers nod off during the lengthy sermon.
Alice vividly recalls being examined by the consistory when, at 21, she wanted to publicly profess her faith. “They asked, ‘Will you promise to never attend a movie?’” She told them, “I don’t think I can promise that because if I ever do go, I will feel guilty.” The elders had no difficulty recognizing integrity and true faith.
Dutch was still the only language of the church at that time. By 1927, when English was added, the dissension it caused disturbed Alice. “I thought it was sinful,” she states simply. English services were at first held at the town hall, ironically reflecting the attitude that English would lead to secularism. The Dutch immigrants also felt they were losing their culture. But Alice saw some hypocrisy. “I felt like telling the men who were fighting, ‘Why don’t you quit smoking and chewing and spitting [tobacco] in church? Is a service in English worse?’” (There were spittoons in the church.)
Alice relished learning: first in a country school; then at New Holland Christian, where she arrived by horse and buggy or her own foot power; then at a Christian academy in Iowa. “Girls were not supposed to go to high school,” she explains, but her father supported her desire for education before courtship and marriage. Two years into the academy, however, caring for an ailing aunt back home took precedence. So Alice finished school in Corsica, 10 miles from New Holland, where she has lived ever since. Then a year of college earned her a teaching certificate in an era when many began teaching right after high school. Alice wanted to be prepared.
Her first job in a 35-year career sounds like a chapter from Little House on the Prairie . Alice made $1 a day teaching 26 students of all ages and grades in a one-room school. Some of the boys were bigger than she was, but she wasn’t intimidated. Later many told her that she had been their best teacher. On her 96th birthday she got an appreciative card from a fellow church member who had been a feisty, misbehaving student of hers 75 years earlier!
In 1931 Alice married John De Boer, who would own a local store. They had two daughters, and a son who died in infancy. Alice has now been a widow for many years. All her adult life she has attended Corsica CRC, which observed its 100th anniversary last summer.
The practical changes in the CRC’s 150 years have been good, says Alice. She likes to see elders and deacons sitting with their families rather than austerely occupying a pew or two at the front. She likes to see people converse together in the foyer before church instead of entering in silence with nary a word. And what of “blended worship” with its contemporary Christian music? She smiles broadly. “I love those songs.”
Alice still participates in a women’s Bible study twice a month and always comes prepared, says Sharon Buwalda, whose husband, Jerry, is Corsica’s pastor. “She has a study Bible and uses it. She always has worthwhile comments to make.” Alice’s reply summarizes her 100 years of life and faith: “I come to learn.”