FLASHBACK: The first faculty, Geert E. Boer

By Richard Harms, College Archivist, Heritage Hall

See the timeline of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary.

Geert BoerCalvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary began when the program to apprentice students for the ministry—that had begun in 1863—ended in the fall of 1875 due to the ill health of the instructor, Rev. Douwe Van der Werp. Rev. Geert E. Boer, serving the Grand Rapids congregation, was chosen to temporarily replace Van der Werp as meetings were held to find a permanent replacement. After two unsuccessful efforts to obtain an instructor from the Netherlands, in February 1876 all of the Christian Reformed Church’s 16 ministers were nominated to teach students. On the first ballot Boer received 25 of the 39 votes, and he was selected as the instructor for the new theological school on the second ballot.

Born in Roderwolde, the Netherlands, in 1832, Boer had hopes of becoming a teacher. He was 29 years old before he had saved enough to support himself while in school and according to Dutch law was too old to become a teacher. Others suggested that he enter the ministry instead, and in 1865, having completed the six years of study in four years, he was ordained a minister. That same year he married Jetsche Holtrop, and they would have eight children. In 1873 he accepted a call to become the minister of what is now First (Grand Rapids) Christian Reformed Church.

Boer was installed as the first faculty member on March 15, 1876, and began holding classes the next fall. Boer taught all 21 classes in the six-year program, including Dutch, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Seven students, ranging in age from 24 to 51, formed that first class; Boer was 44, seven years younger than the oldest student. In addition to teaching, he edited the church’s periodical and continued preaching on Sundays.

Like Boer, five of the students were married, one of whom, Geert Broene, had four children. All but two of these students had already had varying amounts of instruction, so Boer began by teaching classes based on what each student needed to complete the training. All but one completed the program and became a minister while the lone person not to finish accepted a call to be a minister before taking his final exams.

Tuition was $52 per year. Examination and other fees raised the total cost for six years of study to $352, a considerable amount considering that 80 acres of government land to be used for farming could be purchased for $100 at the time.

As enrollment increased it was necessary to hire a part-time teacher in 1882, and in 1884 the second full-time faculty member was hired. Boer retired when he was 70, just before the school’s curriculum was expanded to include John Calvin Junior College, and enrollment had reached 78 students taught by eight faculty members. Two years after retiring, in 1904, the college’s and seminary’s first faculty member died.

— Richard Harms, Archives