Closed Call

Northwestern College Archives

Faculty and administrators of Northwestern Junior College and Academy—including President Jacob Heemstra, third from right—pose with students in front of Zwemer Hall a few years after the RCA’s Board of Education proposed closing the school.

In July 1932, trustees of Northwestern Junior College were first blindsided—and then incensed—by a letter from the Reformed Church in America’s Board of Education.

The board recommended the fledgling institution close temporarily, “for a year or two” or until the country and RCA emerged from the Great Depression and gifts to the Board of Education increased. The board also proposed that students of Northwestern Junior College be sent to another of the denomination’s colleges, Central College in Pella, Iowa.

“Central College has been approached by this board on this subject,” wrote education board secretary Willard Dayton Brown, “and through its president … has agreed to take care of the students … if this proposition be acceptable.”

It wasn’t. The Board of Trustees of Northwestern Junior College and Academy fired off a five-page, single-spaced reply that emphatically rejected the proposal. They were surprised, the letter said, that the Board of Education would entertain such an idea—“even more so that you should discuss such a matter as the closing of this institution with Central College before even communicating this idea to us.”

The trustees reminded the Board of Education that the denomination authorized the establishment of Northwestern Junior College at the RCA’s General Synod in 1928, formally adopted it in 1931, and voted it aid in 1932.

It was perhaps an appeal for that aid that led to the board’s drastic proposal. In his June 2, 1932, Report to the General Synod, Northwestern President Jacob Heemstra pressed for the promised funding. A month earlier, Northwestern Classical Academy alumni had drafted a petition for more financial support, reminding the Synod that Sioux County residents had loyally given to denominational institutions Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, as well as raised $80,000 from area churches for a Central College fundraising campaign.

Central was a particular focus of the Northwestern trustees’ ire. Comparing the two colleges, they noted Northwestern was better situated geographically to serve the RCA and that a larger percentage of its student body came from Reformed families. They reminded the board that, unlike Northwestern, Central didn’t begin as a Reformed college.

Closing the junior college, they wrote, would also mean closing Northwestern Classical Academy, which during its 50-year history had produced 118 ministers and 30 missionaries.

Faced with firm resistance, the Board of Education backed away from its proposal, and in March 1933, the junior college received a check for $566.65. Though the academy eventually did close in 1961, the same year the junior college became a four-year institution, Northwestern College continues to produce standout graduates decades after its existence was threatened—all due to the refusal of those who loved her to abandon her cause.

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