Flashback • The First Hekman Library
Hekman name on current library dates back to the original
by Richard H. Harms, Archivist

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Less than ten years after Calvin College and Seminary moved to the Franklin Street campus, the original two library rooms in the basement of the administration building proved to be too small for the collection, which had grown to 12,600 items (the current Hekman Library holds 1.3 million items). The financial means for constructing a separate library came from Mrs. Edsko (Hendrickje) Hekman and her sons, Henry, John and Jelle. The family, which previously had donated a total of $4,500 for book purchases, announced in 1926 that they were making $55,000 available for a library.

The family, Edsko and Hendrickje (Ymker) Hekman and their five children, had emigrated from the Netherlands in July 1893, hoping to find better economic conditions in the United States. Edsko planned to shift to the furniture industry since his trade as a Dutch baker required that he work Sunday nights to prepare the Monday morning bread. But the family arrived at the start of a seven-year national economic depression, which made work in the furniture industry scarce. Edsko began baking cookies in the family's kitchen, which the children sold door-to-door. The business eventually specialized in baking crackers and began selling wholesale only in 1905. A separate bakery, the Valley City Baking Co. (later renamed the Hekman Biscuit Co.), was built in 1908 and, after a fire in 1911, rebuilt with a $100,000 bank loan.

As the business grew, the three oldest siblings contracted tuberculosis, a common disease in immigrant neighborhoods in Grand Rapids at the time. The only daughter, Geesje, died in 1901 at age 18. The two oldest sons, Edsko, Jr., and Henry, moved to Denver for their health, opening a branch of the baking company there as well. Edsko, Jr., died in 1914, but Henry recovered and moved back to Grand Rapids in 1917 to head the business when Edsko, Sr., died. In 1922 the family diversified by opening Hekman Brothers Furniture Co. and the Hekman Dutch Rusk Co. in Holland, Mich. Proceeds from each firm were shared equally by the mother and brothers, who in turn jointly contributed money back to the community, including the gifts for the Calvin library.

The original Hekman library - click to enlarge imageThe leading architectural firm in Grand Rapids, Robinson and Campau, was hired to design the library. When completed in 1928, the facility could hold 30,000 items and seat 114 patrons, compared to the 13,000 items and 64 patrons of the previous rooms. Named in honor of the Hekman family, the structure was specifically designed and placed so that wings could be added to the east and west. Expanison became necessary during the post-WWII enrollment surge, and in 1950 these wings were added, tripling the shelving capacity to 100,000 items.

The Hekman Library on the Knollcrest CampusFamily members became involved in a number of business enterprises after the 1920s and contributed much to the community beyond these and other gifts to Calvin. In 1993 Henry's son, Edsko, gave $1.3 million for the expansion of the Hekman Library on the Knollcrest campus.