Alumni Profile • Pater Reunion
Reunion recalls several leaps of faith

The Pater siblings with Buursmas at the reunion
From left, back row: Margaret Pater Franklin ex'76, Casey Pater ex'74, Adrian Pater '66, Raymond Pater ex'73, Betty Pater Stammis '66, Tony Pater. Front row: William Buursma '49, Althea Kass Buursma '49, Calvin Pater '62, Claire Pater Turner ex'71.

Sixty-eight people from 11 states, Canada and the Netherlands traveled to Calvin's Prince Conference Center last summer for a 50-year reunion, but not a class reunion. From July 1 through July 4, members of the Pater family celebrated 50 years at home in the United States.

On Christmas Day 1956, the ship Zuider Kruis docked in New York harbor. On board were Cors and Marrigje (Margaret) Pater and their eight children, who had left their home in Baarn, the Netherlands, 15 days before.

Just outside Chicago, in Munster, Ind., the Rev. William Buursma '49 and his wife, Althea Kass Buursma '49, prepared the family's next home. Buursma had proposed to Munster Christian Reformed Church consistory that the church sponsor the new immigrant family. His request, after much discussion, was met with what Rev. Buursma called "a painfully firm 'No.'" So he and Althea decided they themselves would sponsor the Paters. The Buursmas signed a government form pledging their financial responsibility should the family not be able to support its 10 members.

"It was a leap of faith," Buursma said, "but it turned out wonderfully well." In fact, he remembers, "It wasn't long before many in the congregation who were once opposed were saying to me, 'You were right; we were wrong.'"

The Pater family in the '50sThe Paters quickly settled into the community where many residents were second- and third-generation Dutch immigrants. "Dad's philosophy," said son Ray, "was 'When in Rome, do as the Romans.'"

The school-aged children were enrolled in the Lansing (Illinois) Christian School and quickly became fluent English speakers. At home with the younger ones, Margaret learned the language listening to the radio and singing hymns from the English Psalter Hymnal. Three days after their arrival, Buursma helped Cors get a job as a laborer at Midland Steel. When a strike at the mill stopped his paycheck, the entrepreneur Cors had been in Holland took charge. He started an egg route, buying fresh eggs from farmers around Munster and selling them on Chicago's South Side. It became a whole family enterprise, and still all the members tell stories of life-threatening encounters on those streets.

By 1957, oldest son Calvin Pater, prodded by Buursma, enrolled at Calvin College. Betty, then Adrian, similarly urged, followed a few years later. In fact, seven of the eight Pater children attended Calvin; three later earned advanced degrees.

Cors and Margaret didn't insist their children obtain more than a high school diploma; they didn't even strongly urge it. More than formal education, respect for learning was in the air at their home. Despite only four years of grade school, Cors became a self-taught theologian, familiar with four languages and a friend of well-known Calvin College philosophy Professor H. Evan Runner. A prized possession was the family's full-volume set of the Winkler Prins encyclopedia. Dinner conversations, all the Paters agree, were loud exchanges of ideas and opinions.

The life of the mind was balanced in the household by the strength of Margaret Pater's heart. Generous almost to a fault, her children say, loving and sweet-except when held up on the egg route. More than once, Betty remembers, she resisted thieves, snatching back checks customers had written to her-"No one vil cash dat for you anyhow"-and chiding them: "I vork for my money. Vhy don't you try dat?"

Told in tribute to the couple, both of whom died in 1997, stories like these were the center of the reunion's opening banquet. Over the following three days, the stories multiplied, as did a sense of wonder and gratitude: from so small and simple a beginning, how much has unfolded, and how intricately.

"When I see all of them," Althea Buursma said of the Paters, "I'm so happy. I see how much the Lord has blessed them and, through them, has blessed not only us but many, many people."