Flashback: Rev. Jacob Noordewier—Fund-raising in 1890
by Richard Harms, College Archivist

The Theological School first occupied two rooms on the second floor of the Christian school operated by the First Grand Rapids Christian Reformed Church. After the school began, it became clear that the inexpensive space was too small for the growing student body. In 1889 the governing body of the Christian Reformed Church appointed a committee to find a suitable site for a separate school building and begin the process of constructing an edifice on this site.

Theological SchoolThe subcommittee was directed to report to the school's trustees, which controlled the physical assets and was a subcommittee of the curatorium, which oversaw the overall operations of the school. (Today there is one board of trustees that does both.) The committee of Mr. J.W. Garveling, Rev. L.J. Hulst and Rev. Jacob Noordewier identified a suitable location at the corner of Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue (now Franklin Street) and received approval to purchase five residential lots for $5,150.

To raise the money, Rev. Noordewier's church, First Fremont Christian Reformed Church, gave him permission to visit other churches during the summer of 1890 and ask for funds for the school buildings. In exchange the denomination provided First Fremont with seminary students to preach on Sundays.

Raising the necessary funds did not occur as quickly as hoped. By September 1890, Noordewier had visited churches in Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Indiana and in Kalamazoo, Mich., and received $878.21, plus promises for $1,170 more. During the fall he continued fund-raising during the week, returning to Fremont on weekends to preach. By December he had collected almost $5,000, enough, when combined with some funds the denomination had on hand, to pay for the land.

Jacob NoordewierNoordewier realized such part-time fund-raising would not gather the remaining $15,000 estimated to be needed for actual construction. Fremont could not give their minister more time for the work, so Noordewier suggested to the committee that the denomination hire someone full time to canvass the entire denomination for the funds, with expenses to come from the funds collected. The committee agreed and called Noordewier to the work. It was thought he could visit families in all the 99 congregations from New York to Nebraska in a year. It took him two years, but when he was done he had collected the $15,000, above his expenses, in addition to the original $5,000. The total included Noordewier's own contribution of $500 (his annual salary was $900).

Actual costs for land, construction, furnishings and supplies had increased the total to $27,000. Given the hard work that had been expended to collect $20,000, when the facility was completed in the fall of 1892, the remaining $7,000 was borrowed.

Well heated, lighted and ventilated, the facility featured more space than was needed and the assumption was that it would meet the needs to train ministers for decades to come. Two years later the decision was made to also teach prospective teachers. As enrollments grew from 20 to 150 in just over 12 years, the Theological School was divided into what became the college and the seminary, and by 1910 fund-raising was again under way for a new campus, a few blocks east on Franklin Street.