Van Raalte Statue Dedication
By Erika Schlenker
The monumental bronze statue of Reverend Albertus C. Van Raalte, Holland’s founder, stands on the eastern side of Centennial Park across from the intersection of Central Avenue and Graves Place. On May 1, 1997, the statue was unveiled and dedicated. Residents paid tribute to Van Raalte and honored his role in creating the dynamic community of Holland.
Holland’s 75th Anniversary
Seventy-five years after Holland Van Raalte established Holland on February 9, 1847, a committee led by Gerritt Van Schelven proposed that the city build a statue in honor of their founder. Leonard Crunelle, a Chicago sculptor, was hired to make a maquette, or wax model, of the monument. His design, which portrayed Van Raalte standing with his right arm reaching out, was estimated to cost $25,000. Civic leaders unfortunately denied the proposal because they did not want to spend the money when they already had to pay for street lighting and other city projects.
The Making of the Sculpture
In 1996 he dream of creating the sculpture was revived. Peter H. Huizenga, on behalf of his entire family, pledged to fund the the statue project. As descendants of Dutch immigrants, the Huizenga family expressed that it felt indebted to Hope College and Holland, Michigan for preserving and promoting Dutch-American heritage, and therefore wanted to give back.
The monumental bronze statue was crafted by James L. Gafgen from Johnson Atelier of Mercerville, New Jersey. His design matched the official portrait of Van Raalte and the original maquette design by Crunelle. On March 25, 1997, the final sculpture was completed. On April 16, 1997, the bronze figure was delivered to Centennial Park. The statue faces Hope College and Pillar Church, which Van Raalte established.
Unveiling and Dedication Ceremony
On May 1, 1997, the unveiling ceremony took place at 5 p.m. Invitations to the event were sent to Van Raalte’s descendants and members of the institutions he founded. The ceremony was also announced on the radio and in newspapers. Elton J. Bruins, director of the A. C. Van Raalte Institue, opened the ceremony with prayer. Additional speakers included John Jacobson, Hope College President, William R. Mayer, Chair of the Hope College Art Department, and Jacob E. Nyenhuis, Hope College Provost.
Peter H. Huizenga also spoke on behalf of his family:
When I was a new member of the board of directors of Hope College, Jim VerMuelen and I wandered into a conversation about Van Raalte. We were both bothered by the lack of honor and hero status accorded to this founding father. Since Van Raalte Hall at Hope College had burned down, there was no monument for this hero and there was no quality book – either light and readable or heavy and academic – to tell future generations about the life and great deeds of this man. Every hero needs someone who, after death, will continue to tell of his greatness and raise him up as an historic legend.”
Jacob E. Nyenhuis
Jacob E. Nyenhuis gave a speech titled “A Monument More Enduring Than Bronze”:
Today we have unveiled and dedicated a bronze statue, a bronze monument erected to honor the memory of the founder of our city and of Hope College. It is a monument that is long overdue, a monument that was envisioned over 75 years ago.
If we see nothing more than a bronze statue erected here in Centennial Park, if we think of it as nothing more than an arcane dream fulfilled, we will have missed the entire point of erecting this monument. This statue of the Reverend Dr. Albertus Christiaan Van Raalte of course is intended to honor him and his establishment of this community and of a distinguished liberal arts college, but it is intended to be much more.
This monument has been erected not only to honor the vision of our founder, not only to celebrate its realization over the past 150 years, but also to symbolize for current and future generations the power of vision, faith, dedication, and hard labor. It took faith, vision, dedication, and hard work to transplant a group of immigrants in a foreign land, to transform a wilderness into a thriving city, to transform a group of individuals into a community. It also takes vision, faith, dedication, and hard labor to transform an ethnically homogeneous community into a vital, coherent heterogeneous one, to build a free society with shared values when there are so many destructive forces that drive us apart, to sustain community without trampling upon the rights of the individual.
If this statue of our founding father motivates us to learn more about his vision for Holland and for Hope College, if it encourages us to tell our children and our students about the rich heritage that Van Raalte left for us, if it leads us to enrich that legacy – and I passionately hope that it will do all this, and more – then this bronze statue will indeed be a monument more enduring than bronze.”
The Hope College Chapel Choir sang “Cantate Domino” at the dedication ceremony. You can enjoy a recording of the 2013 Hope College Chapel singing “Cantate Domino” below. This audio was provided by the Joint Archives of Holland.