Remembrances of My Dad, Nicholas J. Huizenga

Nicholas J. Huizenga
Nicholas J. Huizenga

REMEMBRANCES by Timothy, Ruth, and Susan Joy from the Memorial Service, 22 June 2016


My Dad lived both a conventional and unconventional life. He remained faithful to what he saw as the best parts of his tradition while sometimes pursuing a different path.

Conventionally, he remained a lifelong member of the Christian Reformed Church and maintained devotion to Joan, the one true love of his life. He sent his children to Christian schools and devoted his life to the cause of Christian education. He went to church twice on Sunday (as long as churches held two services) and encouraged his children to do the same, and he always wore his Sunday best. When his tradition told him to observe the Sabbath by not mowing his lawn or allowing his son to play baseball, he followed those rules.

But sometimes he departed from convention. He was a lifelong Democrat when most in his faith community voted Republican. He was an early supporter of civil rights when many in his community were not. He broke with tradition by advocating for inclusion of women in leadership in the CRC, and in recent years he support full participation for gays and lesbians in the life of the church.

My father saw the value in maintaining traditional values and beliefs while at the same time being open to new ideas. He did not just adhere to Christian ideas because he was raised in them. He embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ and the vision of the Kingdom of God with his whole being, and his life reflected the passions of his heart. My Dad and Mom found a home here at COS and I am grateful to the faith community for the challenge and nurture they have experienced here.

I could tell many stories which illustrate my Dad?s many fine qualities, but he was not in favor of lengthy memorial services ? so I will tell just one. Near the end of my senior year in high school I was suspended from school due to an impetuous though rather mild protest. My Dad should have got really mad at me. Here he is ? principal of a Christian junior high school and his son is suspended from the senior high school ? a major embarrassment to him. Well, he did get mad at me, but only a little bit. He did not care about his reputation but he did care about me. He was a forgiving parent.

Anything good I have done in my life is due in large part to the influence of my Dad ? and you cannot ask for more than that of a father.


I?m Ruth, one of Nick?s four daughters. Even though he?s gone, I?m still one of Nick?s daughters.

I?m a writer ? it?s one of the qualities I inherited from my Dad ? so I find myself searching for the right words to describe him. How would YOU describe Nick Huizenga??One of the folks from Church of the Servant told me he was: Funny. Opinionated. Kind. Three words I might add are: Impatient. Adventurous. Generous. I hope you?ll share three more words with me, and with each other, perhaps at the lunch after the service. I?d love to know how you saw my Dad. Because people are so complex, aren?t they? You know a person your whole life, and discover you hardly knew them.

I can say this much about my Dad: He was a man of single focus. The subject of the focus might shift, but for that moment, one thing was all that mattered. It might have been something he was reading about, something that caught his fancy ? a historic building, say, or better yet ? a historic church. It might have been the game of pinochle he was playing ? which he undoubtedly thought was dragging just a bit. RAP RAP RAP ?Whose turn is it?? That might be what I hear him say in my dreams.

This past week while my Dad was in the process of dying ? a time that was the perfect length, by the way, and an incredible blessing ? while he was in the process of dying, one of my nieces, Meg, posted on Facebook: ?Grandpa always sought the truth even when it meant revising his previous opinion.? I was glad Meg knew that about her grandpa. Because she?s absolutely right? my Dad was always on a quest for truth.

My earliest memories ? the 1960s ? include hearing him debate issues of racial justice. Dad had roots in the Chicago suburbs and as ?white flight? negatively affected the Christian schools in that area, he saw it as more than a school problem. He saw it as a justice problem.

In the 1970s the Christian Reformed Church was tearing apart over the role of women. On that subject, Dad was open-minded to a degree that shocked many. His views got him in some trouble. He only strengthened them over time.

In later years, he had surprisingly progressive ideas about homosexuality. A decade ago ? perhaps even longer ago ? it made sense to him that if a Christian loved someone of the same sex, they should have the opportunity to be in a covenantal relationship. Amen!

The truth is that Nick had a generous spirit ? and all the other complexity of him seems to gather under that one truth. Perhaps a better way to express that is to call it moral courage. My Dad had tremendous moral courage.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: Whatever you do to one of the least of these, you do also to me. My father took Jesus? words to heart and applied them broadly. I know that the outreach ministries of this church were one reason my parents joined Church of the Servant in 1987 when they moved to Grand Rapids in retirement. I am so grateful to this congregation for giving them a church home. Everyone needs a place to belong, and this was their place.

I myself left the Christian Reformed Church some thirty years ago. When the attitude about women in leadership loosened up my Dad would say: Why don?t you come home to the CRC? I told him that if I could attend a church like COS, that might be possible. But I have a new home now.?I feel a bit guilty saying this out loud in this place ? do I dare say it? I?m a Presbyterian.

Recently I?ve written a memoir. It?s largely about that journey of me finding a new home. The memoir begins with a traumatic event that shaped all the events that followed. Because of that traumatic event, some parts of the memoir are difficult to read. As I wrote it, I worried that publication would cause pain to my parents. In addition to the trauma, there are passages that shed a less than flattering light on the CRC. And Dad was attached to his denomination. Dad loved God first, and he loved my mom, Joan, with all of his heart ? she was absolutely the love of his life. And he loved us children. But he also loved the Christian Reformed Church.

Even so, he found the space to support me in writing the memoir. That?s what I mean when I say he was generous. I don?t mean he tipped well. After all, he WAS Dutch.

Sunday June 5, turned out to be the last time my father attended worship. Jack Roeda had read an advance draft of my memoir, and on that Sunday, his sermon on the healing of the Centurion included reading a passage from my memoir. My parents were in their usual spot in the front row ? and I have no doubt that they shed some tears as Jack preached. They esteem him highly ? so for him to use MY words in a sermon was perhaps the most affirming thing that could possibly have happened. It was a gift from God to my Dad and Mom and me ? bringing my story full circle.

There were many other gifts this past week ? it was a week of final gifts. I could tell you about the gospel choir that another niece, Sarah, brought into my parents? living room as my father lay in a hospital bed. I could tell you about the opportunity for some of my siblings and me to be at our father?s bedside as he took his last breath. I could tell you about the ways we have supported our mother, and she has supported us.

But mainly I wanted to testify to my father?s generosity of spirit and moral courage ?so that you can be inspired by those things, as I am. I am grateful to God that I have been, and always will be, one of Nick?s daughters.


This is a teaching moment, a chance to reinforce how significant education can be, both formal, informal and ongoing.?Nick’s education and career as an educator and administrator dominated his life for many decades. Over a period of years, Nick carefully prepared himself for his calling in Christ-centered education.?He took a break to serve in the US army toward the end of WW II. (Although he downplayed his service until recently when he began to accept the gestures of gratitude from various sources. In May 2015 he participated in an Honor Flight to DC).

His early life consisted of being a third son of 8 children (4 sons, 4 daughters) a loving brother, a family farm laborer, and after graduation from Calvin College in 1950 he married the love of his life, Joan Katte, welcoming four daughters and one son into the world and educating a couple of generations of well-behaved, cooperative covenant children during uneventful decades. (Oops!) Those years were eventful and he went from not being hired as a Bible teacher in McBain, MI because of his views on movie-watching to repeatedly getting into hot water over his convictions about racial injustice in both the Chicago area in the 60s and later in the Paterson NJ area when he disagreed with other decision-makers in Christian school communities handling of these controversial matters. Nick did not step away from speaking his truth, but he also was an amazingly effective negotiator.?E.g. When he wanted to leave the school yard gates open after school so that neighbors could play basketball on the ECJHS school property, the board said “Absolutely Not!” So what did Nick do?? He quietly lent a key to a student whom he asked to assume the responsibility of opening up the gate early each morning. This student, a member of my class, who rode the bus which arrived first each day is now Dr. Jim Niewenhuis. Can you imagine entrusting that amount of responsibility to a 7th or 8th grade student? But you see, Mr. Huizenga trusted his students because above all, he KNEW his students, he called forth the best of not only himself, but also his staff, teachers and students, and he took the blame for anything that went wrong. Before bullying was a buzzword, he seems to have instinctively known how to handle them (you know who you are…no show of hands) as well as identifying kids at risk of being targeted by bullies, championing them so quietly and unobtrusively that they probably weren’t even aware of it. (You may not know who you are).?And most of all he was kind.

Nick elevated the high calling of Christ-centered education. He embraced every day as both an opportunity to learn and to teach.?Nick worked for years on the board of National Union of Christian Schools, now known as Christian Schools International.

I would like to share a memory of Nick which Ruth Almroth Kuder sent to me:

Sue,?I just saw your Facebook post in Eastern Christian: Past, Present and Future. Your dad was my Middle School Principal and English teacher. My most significant memory of him was of an assignment he gave me. I’ve thought of it periodically over the years, and really, it is the kind of thing an insightful teacher and leader would do.

As a seventh grader, I was a reading nerd, so grammar and usage came naturally to me. His assignment was to partner me with a struggling classmate. I spent class and lunch time tutoring her in the English class in preparation for the final grammar test. She and I were both proud of her success on the final. That assignment gave me a taste for teaching, and for contributing to the success of others.?I always appreciated his encouragement as a teacher and as a principal.?I didn’t really expect to end up in education, but as you can see from my signature line, that’s where I’ve landed. I have some memory of you as a fellow student in orchestra at ECHS when you were a lofty senior and I was a lowly freshman.

Ruth Kuder,?High School Principal and International Program Director
Eastern Christian School |

Nick put his heart, mind, soul and spirit into everything he did. Although not a sports fan, (when sorting the Sunday paper, he put the Sports section directly into the recycling bin along with the ads and other useless items)…to employ a sports metaphor that sports fans can understand, in all aspects of his life, he “left it all on the field,” and I think he would want to encourage each one of us to do the same.?He was comfortable in his own skin decades before that was a ‘thing’. His gift of humor was unflagging, even when you wanted it to be!

His willingness to change his mind when new information became apparent. E.g. LGBTQ.?Nick could be quiet with his views because he didn’t want to offend and alienate others, nor seek to argue, and as he aged he sought peace and harmony more and more. He was a shining example of a rare commodity…he could embrace and include others without vetting them. He embraced the people in whatever congregation he joined, and expected people to have warts and idiosyncrasies, as he did his own, while always striving to be better, to be more like Jesus. He led by example in many areas, most recently setting a record for crying in church during moving moments. Dad never gave up on himself, his family members, his denomination, his alma maters (Calvin), his employers, his political party, his country…we would be in good shape if we did the same, and be like him in Finishing Strong.

Friends of Jesus Christ, I urge you to live your life so that when you are 90, you are completely worn out, you have no unfinished business, everyone loves you, and there are scads of folks of all ages and backgrounds sobbing at your passing from this earth. Finish strong.

And all God’s children said: Amen.


In memory of Nick, please consider voting Democrat this November. Nick was horrified by Donald Trump.


One response to “Remembrances of My Dad, Nicholas J. Huizenga”

  1. […] Remembrances by Timothy Huizenga, Ruth Everhart, Susan Joy Cleveland (posted in full elsewhere on this blog) […]

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