"My Life" by Martin Bakker (Part 18)

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Editor’s note:  All images featured in this chapter are taken from historical sources.

(Continued from Part 17)

In 1948, Jo and her family in Flint were regularly broadcasting on behalf of religion, bringing the Gospel in song, poetry and prose. In a letter in February she invited me to be her guest speaker, leaving the subject to me. I did not feel competent to do so and declined. But the Lord has His own way to move people to do his bidding. A week or so later, I was lying in bed and was thinking on the need of Christians outside of our denomination to provide for their children Christian instruction in Christian schools. They should be first made to see their responsibility. It was as though the Holy Spirit said to me, accept the chance to speak over the radio of this great responsibility to these parents. I wrote a letter to Jo and it was arranged that I should speak for her in April. She typed the speech in duplicate and suggested to send the duplicate to Mr. Falkema, President of the Christian School Association with office in Chicago. This resulted in that he later looked me up and asked me to become the Association’s agent in Grand Rapids and vicinity. After some hesitation, I accepted this appointment without any remuneration whatsoever.

For several weeks I wrote a few inches on Christian instruction and placed it as an advertisement in the Grand Rapids Press at my own expense. The man in the press office who took in these little advertisements was a Baptist.  He read them and was much impressed. When I gave him the copy of the last one, because I could not afford to keep it up to pay for it, he said to me, “You have there the right idea. I will speak to Mr. O. of the WFUR broadcast station, and then you can see him later yourself, and I believe he will give you free time to broadcast.” I saw him afterward and he told me to come a week or two later. From then on I broadcasted every Sunday morning for 15 minutes. Only thrice did someone else take my place. At the suggestion of a friend I visited many ministers of different church groups. There were only very few that did not agree and saw the need of Christian instruction. The first one to take my place was the Rev. Potts of the Plymouth Congregational Church on Franklin Street, and the others were the Reverends Gerard Know, President of the Grand Rapids Baptist Theological Seminary and Bible Institute, Dr. Davis Otis Fuller, pastor of the Wealthy Street Baptist Church and Henry A. Berends, pastor of the Good News Baptist Chapel corner 28th & Eastern Ave.

The last broadcast I delivered Nov. 27, 1942. WFUR was sold and the new owner Mr. Kuiper would not give me free time. [1] I could not persuade a few Reformed ministers to broadcast.

As I mentioned before, it was in 1943 that mama died. Since then many things happened. I felt very much forsaken and everything seemed to me that it was too much to bear. One of the first things I did was to rent the house to Bernie and Jeanette. Then Clarence (Clare) and I moved upstairs.

My duty prompted me to return to my daily work as agent for the Pine Rest Christian Psychopathic Hospital at Cutlerville. That work naturally diverted my mind from my grief. Many of the people whom I contacted daily expressed their sympathy and showed their concern. It was not long after the death of mama that I sold the house to Bernie and Jeanette, which afforded me some income, I thought for years to come, but it did not take long and they paid up the total amount and I had to pay out rent instead of getting revenue income from property.

About three years after mama passed away, we got a letter from Joan, Johnny’s wife, that he was seriously ill. My son John was living then in Topeka Kansas and was co-director of the Menninger’s Institute, an institution where many problem mothers and children were treated and recovered. As doctor in Education & Psychiatry at a Chicago school, John wrote articles and delivered addresses in the eastern states and in that way became known to the Menninger’s Institute people of Topeka, Kansas. Being interested, they attended some of his lectures in New York and then and there they proposed to him that he become a co-director of their Institute, but he did not accept. However, this offer was repeated in writing 3 months later. Even then, at first, he did not feel like taking it, but since it was much more remuneration, John and Joan decided on second thought to accept and they moved to Topeka. But alas, after a year John was taken sick and did not recover. He could not even enjoy a little daughter that was born to them when they were married for 16 years. During his sickness we visited him twice. It was rather a discouraging experience when we were there the first time. We found him in a weakened condition, but still he expected to regain his strength and health, and likewise he was not thinking that death was approaching. We offered to pray together and he reluctantly said yes, but make it short. We felt instinctively that he, as yet was not prepared to meet his God. When we returned home we told ourselves and the other children to pray more earnestly for Johnny, that the Lord might have mercy upon him and would cause him to see clearly his lost condition and the need of the Savior. We were praying that the training which he received in his youth would not be in vain.

Close to four months later, we received another letter from Joan that by now his condition was very serious and he was not to make it much longer. We again went to see him. It was plain to us then that the end was not far off. We will never forget it. We were sitting by his bedside and to ease his heart condition he was sitting up in bed, his hands folded around his knees. We did not talk much. In fact, we were afraid it would tire him. He said, he could not enjoy the baby for to hear her cry was too much for him. This time we did not offer to pray with him like we did at our previous visit. We did not know his thoughts about it. He probably expected us to offer prayer, but we did not do so. It was to our great joy that he asked us this time to pray with him. Of course we did, and when we had finished she said, “That is wonderful. Thank you, Pa.”  And with a smile on his face he fell backward and we thought that the end had come, but the exertion and emotion that developed in him during the prayer had so sapped his strength that
he could not keep himself in a sitting position anymore. We saw then plainly that he was a marked man and that he would not recover and get up from this sick bed.

Not many days after, we attended his funeral. He was not buried but put temporarily in a vault. The funeral service was attended by several highly educated personalities and one of the doctors of the Menninger Institute in expressing his sympathy, grasping our hand said, “Mr. Bakker, you lost a dear son, but we lost a great man.” Yes, he was great in the sight of men and probably great also in his own estimation when yet alive, but as I see and believe the Lord used his four months sickness to make him small and contrite in his own eyes and humble before his God. A few months later John’s casket was moved to Grand Rapids and buried at Woodlawn Cemetery on the east side on Kalamazoo Ave.

We felt more than ever drawn to their little daughter Joanie and to Johanna (Joan). We always found Joan as having such a pleasing character. Little Joanie was well and grew. They returned from Topeka to live in Grand Rapids with the Vandermolens on 646 Delaware Street. Joan found employment by King Seely Co. A few years later this company moved to Ann Arbor and Joan went with them while Joanie stayed with her grandmother Vandermolen.

In 1949 I received a letter from Mrs. Nellie Berenschot. This was a very great surprise to me. It was nothing less than a proposal to marry her. I was not aware that I gave her any reason whatsoever to send me such a letter. Yes, from year to year I called on her, upstairs at 705 Eastern Avenue on behalf of Pine Rest, to receive her contribution for this worthy cause. She lived upstairs, and below on the main floor was the Berenschot Printing Company, the firm founded by her husband and herself. She was probably a great force in building up this printing plant, and when her husband died she kept it going with the help of her son Henry and her son-in-law Arthur Smits. Usually I would call on them after I left Mrs. Berenschot to also receive their support for the institution at Cutlerville. As I said before, I was greatly surprised when I received that letter. I had at that time no intention at all to get married again, and in a letter to her I made this very plain. In fact, I thought, “I will never marry you.” But, the Lord rules in the life of the children of men. I do not remember anymore all the details how things happened, but it was on an evening when I was invited by Dr. Henry Van Zyl to attend a lecture at the Immanuel Reformed Church on the corner of Eastern Ave. and Thomas St. in Grand Rapids. When we left the church there was a congestion of people. Crossing Eastern Ave, I faced several persons waiting to cross Thomas St., and with them was Mrs. Berenschot. I felt constraint to see her across that street and bought her to the Berenschot Printing Co.’s door which also is the entrance to her apartment upstairs. When taking my leave she asked me to go with her to have a cup of coffee, but I kindly refused as I thought that might intimidate me.

About 3 months later, I wrote a number of Christmas cards to relatives and friends. There was one card left. It then occurred to me to send it to Mrs. Berenschot, but I dismissed the thought at first. Still it persisted in my mind to send it and I reasoned, after all, it was not very kind of me that I refused so definitely to have a cup of coffee with her. And so it happened that I sent that Christmas card to her. The remarkable thing was I received also a card from her, which I figured must have been sent by her at the same time that I sent mine to her, so these cards very likely crossed each other. However, my memory fails me how things further went. I remember later we met unintentionally again on Eastern Ave. when I was going to Kregel’s Book Store and she went to Pastoor’s Meat Market and we only greeted each
other, but at any rate, we met again and again somehow and the result was that we married June 15, 1950. She was the daughter of the late Rev. Dekker of the Netherlands.

We were married at her apartment by the Rev. John Ehlers, her brother-in-law from her first husband’s side. Jack Berenschot, her son, and Simon, my son, stood up with us when the marriage ceremony was performed. It was a very quiet common affair. Our married life together was of short duration, for Nellie died the following April 16, 1951, only 10 months and 1 day later. The previous Friday, the 13th of April she went twice to town with her daughter Marie to help her buy and exchange a dress. The same evening we visited friends and were home early. I surmised that all this activity would be too much for her and suggested not to visit these friends who lived on the West side, but she was determined to keep the date. Saturday she was sick and stayed in bed, and we got the doctor. He said there was no cause for alarm, but she got worse Sunday. Monday we called the doctor again, for she had so much pain and again he said he did not see cause for alarm. We also called our pastor and her children. My son Simon also came in and he offered prayer. That Monday all day long she was in agony and cried, “O de pijn, O de pijn.” (Oh the pain). The whole day and evening I tried to relieve her, but it was of no avail. At 10:45 she quit crying, her breathing seemed more normal and I thanked the Lord. After a while however, I noticed that her breathing got weaker. I became alarmed and watched her closely, and finally saw her breathe her last. I was frantic and went to the telephone to tell her son Jack. Winifred, his wife, answered but she did not recognize me because excitement made my voice unnaturally shrill. But I insisted and persisted, saying that it was surely me, and informed her that ma had died. Three days later we buried her at Rest Lawn Memorial Park on Eastern Ave near the airport.

[1] WFUR-AM 1570 began broadcasting in 1947.

(Continue to Part 19)

Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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