Elim: A History of
Robert P. Swierenga
Christian Educator, Scholar, Visionary
Elim parent and Illinois State Representative Lee A. Daniels
In recognition of his support and efforts on behalf of Elim Christian Services
Chapter 1 Beginnings
Chapter 2 William Kok and John Kamp: The Dynamic Duo
Chapter 3 Elim Goes National
Chapter 4 Administration
Chapter 7 Beginning of Bethshan
Chapter 9 Transition at the Top: The Early 1980s
Chapter 10 Difficult Times: The De Jager Years, 1986-1988
Chapter 11 The George Groen Era, 1989-2000
Chapter 12 Extracurricular Activities
Chapter 13 The Bill Lodewyk Era Begins
after publishing my book, Dutch
"Many hands make light
work," the adage goes. I am indebted to Elim Christian Services' executive
director, William Lodewyk, who gave me full access to the official records, documents,
publications, and photo collection. Dr. Richard Harms, director of the Calvin
College Archives, provided access to the Elim Executive Board minutes on microfilm
in the Archives. Postma made available the minutes of the Women's Service
League Board, and Rose Van Reken provided materials relating to the Board of
Trustees and Key Ladies. Brian Boss and John Kamp provided the information for
Richard Boomker to design maps of the campus (Fig. 1.2) and the buildings (Fig.
1.3). Dan Vander Plaats of Elim's advancement staff helped gather and scan many
of the photographs. Sharon Stremple and Lorye Postma of the office staff
gathered additional materials for my use. Originals of all records, documents,
publications, and photographs are in the archives of Elim Christian Services,
unless noted otherwise. Copies of board minutes and other documents can also be
consulted at the libraries of
For reading the manuscript and giving me the benefit of their knowledge, I am indebted to executive directors John Kamp, George Groen, and William Lodewyk; board presidents Rose Van Reken, Frederick Wezeman, and Heidi Huizenga; staff member Jake De Lange; Dean and Ruth De Jong Koldenhoven; and Elim Foundation director Peter Huizenga. Gordon De Young, a Chicagoan by birth and retired Baker Book House editor, applied his sharp editorial pencil to good effect, as did Lodewyk and Groen. Kamp encouraged me from the outset, carefully read each draft, and suggested names of participants for me to interview. His vivid recollection of persons and events is remarkable, given the passing of many years.
the production of the book, Russell Gasero, archivist of the Reformed Church in
Peter and Heidi Huizenga provided a generous publication subsidy. Heidi also assisted in securing "action" photographs. I am grateful to the Huizenga family for their commitment to keeping alive our Reformed heritage and the educational institutions nurtured by that tradition.
Map of greater
1.2 Elim site acquisitions, 1950-1983
1.3 Buildings on Elim's campus, 1950-2001
6.1 Financial "pie charts," 1955 and 1975
11.1 Elim Foundation assets 1981-2000
Everything changed in the late 1960s, under the impact of new federal and state education mandates for special education in 1968. This was followed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975, which guaranteed equal education to all children. The laws came with some funding, but public schools, required for the first time to serve the lowest functioning pupils, were overwhelmed by the new entitlement and responded reluctantly. Even with the prodding and generous funding, for many years they fell short of the standards of Christian schools.
could only have happened in the
In 1988 the mission statement was revised substantially to meet federal anti-discriminatory guidelines for admission, so as to ensure continued public funding. Elim then stated explicitly what had been policy for years, that it would accept children "regardless of race, creed, sex, or national origin." The overt Reformed doctrinal base of the 1948 constitution was softened to read that Elim's education "is carried out within the context of the Christian faith." But the Calvinistic principle of "God's sovereignty in all of life" was reaffirmed, as was the ideal of helping each student to find his or her unique place in the "plan of God" as a valued and loved individual.
The purpose of
Elim achieves this purpose by providing the necessary staff, facilities, and resources to carry on quality programs, including the day school, sheltered workshop, and dormitories for residential care.
Elim accepts children regardless of race, creed, sex, or national origin. However, the education of these exceptional children is carried out within the context of the Christian faith. The Board of Trustees, administration, and staff affirm God's sovereignty in all of life and recognize their corporate and individual responsibility as stewards of God's kingdom. Each child, according to his or her abilities, is taught his or her place in the plan of God as a valued and loved individual. Each is expected to develop his or her potential and to participate to the appropriate degree in the school, in the church, and in society. ]
the 1940s special needs children commonly had been ignored out of ignorance or
shame, and parents often kept them behind closed doors for their entire lives.
No Dutch Reformed school in the
had to change. In the years after the Second World War, it became increasingly
apparent to Christian school advocates in
father was the Reverend Dr. William Masselink, pastor of the Second Christian
Reformed Church in
[The Reverend Dr. William Masselink
(1897-1973), founder of the
[son Paul Masselink (1938-1995), one of Elims first students]
and Mary Masselink had three childrenEdna, William, and Paul. The academic
credentials of William Masselink (1897-1973) are notable. He received a diploma
from Grundy College (1918), earned a Th.M. degree at Princeton Seminary (1919),
attended the Chicago Divinity School in 1920, and then completed two doctoratesthe
first a Ph.D. degree from Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky
(1921), and the second, a Th.D. degree from the Free University of Amsterdam
(1937). In 1942, after serving the Second Christian Reformed Church in
Source: Richard Harms, comp. and ed., Historical
Directory of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (
But in 1947 the board thought otherwise. The Depression era crisis of 1936, when every tuition dollar was needed, had long passed. The post-war era brought record enrollments, and the bottom line dictated that a class for a few pupils was too costly. A few parents also objected to "mixing" special and "normal" children, and these parents as members of the school society had a vote on major administrative decisions at the annual society meetings.
Youngsters with physical limitations, including those with orthopedic devices and hearing and visual impairments, were "educable" and thus fared better than the mentally deficient. Although school administrators for financial reasons routinely excused the physically impaired from mandatory attendance rules, yet some large city systems created special programs. And state departments of education opened institutions for the blind or the deaf, complete with dormitory housing. But these public institutions could not provide a Christian education.
Masselinks and allied parents would not be deterred. During the winter of 1946-1947, under their
persistent prodding, the Christian School Association of Chicago took the first
steps to educate this neglected population. Its policy arm, the Educational
Committee of the
some trepidation, the Englewood School Board accepted the assignment,
"provided a real need exists and provided that this project receives the
hearty endorsement of the other
[Letter from the
the Masselinks were the main instigators of the school, the Reverend William
"Bill" Kok, pastor of the nearby First Christian Reformed Church in
Englewood (known popularly as the "71st Street Church"), gave
forceful and effective leadership in the seminal years and deserves accolades
as the true "father of Elim." Many a time, when the board wrestled
into the night with late payrolls due to lack of funds, President Kok
admonished the body "to move forward in faith, the Lord will
provide." Even the name "Elim" was Kok's idea. Elim was the
biblical oasis in the Sinai Peninsula desert where the children of
[Palm tree motif]
Reverend William Kok was pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church of
Englewood from 1942 to 1953. He was born in
The Reverend William Kok (1892-1977), "the
father of Elim" (The Archives,
As important as Kok's role was as
Elim's key originator and guiding star, teacher/administrator John Kamp was
truly "Mr. Elim." For thirty-five years (1950-85), Kamp directed the
school from infancy to maturity and elevated it to one of the finest examples
of its kind in
Elim's special ministry quickly won the hearts of the Chicago-area Dutch Reformed churches. And from this simple beginning sprang a full-fledged Christian school for developmentally challenged youngsters, along with an adult workshop and residential services. The residences were needed to serve children living beyond commuting distance, and the workshop was necessary to provide lifetime employment for graduates of the school program. It also employed adults from outside the greater metropolitan area.
grew rapidly by riding the crest of the wave of special education consciousness
in the 1950s.
Some 225 teachers and 850 full-time staff members have served Elim since 1948, and they are as special as the students. They needed the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon in the classroom and in the dormitories. Effective ways to educate blind and deaf children were just being developed, and the Elim staff had to scour the nation for innovative technologies and methods, such as voice stimulators and leg and hip whirlpools. Then they had to adapt the machines to their students' needs. There were few training manuals to follow; they experimented and refined as necessary, often flying by the seat of their pants.
Ultimately, the story of Elim is the story of its 5,000 students and the physical and mental challenges they met to reach their full potential, under the loving tutelage of a dedicated staff of teachers, administrators, and care givers. When given an opportunity to testify about what they learned at Elim, the students would reply: "It's okay to be differentwe're all the same to God." With that attitude, these youngsters have conquered mountains.
Today Elim is the only residential Christian school in
. John Kamp, "The End of Special Education" Banner, Sept. 1, 1978.
. Robert P. Swierenga, Dutch Chicago: A History of the Hollanders in the Windy City (
. John L. Shaver, "The Churches of Chicago North," Banner, May 20, 1949, 84; "Director's Report," Elim Annual Report, Oct. 9, 1969; George Groen's remarks, Waterfront, Apr. 1994.
. Elim Events, Apr. 1969.
. Women's Service League Board minutes, Mar. 20, 1991.
. 44th Annual Society Report, 1991; 46th Annual Society Report, 1994.