In Jacob E. Nyenhuis' two-volume history of Hope College, he—with others—brings to life the people and events of a Midwestern Christian liberal arts college from its founding in 1866 to 2016 and today.
The first president of Hope College—Philip Phelps Jr.—arrived in the Holland, Mich., settlement of mostly Dutch immigrants in 1859 at age 33. He was a well-educated Easterner, raised in Albany, N.Y. He represented the vision of the mission-minded eastern churches of the Reformed Church of America. Their intent was to establish a seminary in the West to provide ministers for the frontier.
At its founding, Hope College had 16 acres and one building—VanVleck Hall—which housed President Phelps and his family, 22 students, a refectory, and a multi-use classroom. President Phelps' annual salary was $1,800. In spite of the pioneer surroundings, Phelps carried the dream of fully prepared ministerial graduates who could match the erudition of students in long-established seminaries in the East.
This brief sketch allows readers to notice essential themes present in the existence of a private liberal arts college in the 19th century: the academic program, finances from benefactors such as churches and philanthropists, the need for buildings, enrollment, and student life, and the promise of alumni loyal to the college. These areas of interest, plus others, persisted through the decades, and they form the thematic structure of Nyenhuis' work.
Hope College at 150 is, without a doubt, a fact-filled research treasure, but other attractive features become apparent as one proceeds through the text. Some threads are woven throughout, such as the clearly Christian foundation of Hope College. From A. C. VanRaalte's ideal for the college: "This is my anchor of hope for this people in the future," referencing Psalm 24 and Hebrews 6, to today's student-filled Dimnent Chapel for services, voluntary attendance.
Some themes speak to each other: financial solvency and endowment wealth intersect with alumni support, shifting enrollment, philanthropic gifts, and athletic programs. Meanwhile, all areas of college welfare are affected by wars, national upheavals, economic waves, fires, and other disasters. These volumes speak to all of these.
Considering the broad coverage, this reader judges that Nyenhuis' Hope College at 150 is a splendid monument to VanRaalte's and Phelps' dreams as well as a lasting and very readable history of the successful development of a small Christian liberal arts college from frontier days to the present. (VanRaalte Press)