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Disaster Response Pioneers Reunite

Fran and Wes Vryhof, now in their 80s, said they were overwhelmed back in 1972 when they set out to provide disaster relief after flooding in Rapid City, S.Dak.

That was the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s first-ever disaster relief project, led by its first director, Neil Molenaar.

The Vryhofs joined about 50 other CRWRC disaster relief pioneers at a reunion in October. All of them volunteered between 1972 and 1990 and laid the foundation for the program that now sends out 2,000 volunteers every year.

The Vryhoffs, members of Plymouth Heights CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., said Molenaar’s enthusiasm was contagious. “He talked us into going,” they said. “It was hard to turn him down.”

 In those days, guidelines in relief work were few. Molenaar encouraged the Vryhofs just to talk with people to see what they needed. “We talked to people on the street and helped anybody we could,” Wes said.

The Vryhofs, with three other first-time volunteer couples, did everything from cleaning mud-clogged houses to buying appliances for clients from secondhand stores. As they worked, the Vryhofs’ apprehension abated, their enthusiasm for relief work grew, and they volunteered again and again.

Now called Disaster Relief Services, the emphasis is on returning damaged homes to move-in condition, culminating with a “Last Nail” dedication ceremony.

The strong bonds formed on work sites continue to this day. “We made true friends while we went out,” said Ed Mosher, 83, of volunteering with wife, Betty, 81. They are members of Graafschap CRC in Holland, Mich.

Traditions such as starting the morning by holding hands and singing, “This Is the Day That the Lord Has Made,” and wearing dark green shirts on work sites began with those early volunteers.

Why the color green? “Because Neil liked green,” Moelenaar, 78, said.

Molenaar directed DRS until 1990 and Bill Adams is now the director. “The pioneers paved the way for the ‘green shirts.’ It was the Lord who built it,” Adams said.

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