Still teaching at 99

Bern Koops '34


Spring 2012

When Bern Koops ’34 graduated from South Denver (Colo.) High School, he “had no plans of any kind,” he said. “I thought I would get a job like the rest of the boys at Shwayder’s trunk factory.”

Then his best friend suggested to Koops’ father that Koops come along with him to Calvin. The dominie of Denver Christian Reformed Church, Rev. Karst Bergsma, blessed the idea, and so the Tuesday before Labor Day in 1930, Koops found himself with three other young men in a Model T Ford headed for Grand Rapids. Driving 30 mph day and night, they arrived at 2 o’clock the following Saturday afternoon.

The dorm was full, so Koops took a room nearby in the home of a widow for $8 a week, which included all meals. Another $35 paid his tuition.

“Oh, I loved Calvin,” Koops said. “I had wonderful teachers. Bastian Kruithof ’27 taught freshman English. I got my first paper back with a D and lots of red ink. That was the good part. If he hadn’t made all those red marks, I would have quit. But he was so interesting and interested. He talked about books he read and what we should be reading. Well, I had never had a life like that.”

After four years of a life reading and writing (on a Remington portable typewriter his father sent him by mail), Koops headed west to Hull, N.D., where he taught 19 students in seven grades of a country school for $50 a month.

“Overseeing all those grades—that was exactly the training I needed for what was going to happen to me later on in Lynden,” he recalled.

Lynden (Wash.) Christian School offered Koops a job the next year. For the same salary he taught seventh- and eighth-grade Bible and geography and started a boys’ basketball team. He asked his high school sweetheart, Jean, to come join him. 

At the beginning of his third year, two school board members appeared unexpectedly at the Koops home and told Bern that the board had appointed him school principal.

“I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do as principal,” he laughed. “But the 20 years I spent there were the best of my life.”

Those years included overseeing expansion of the school to include grades nine through 12 and the construction of a high school building. Koops coached the boys’ basketball team and led students on hikes into the Cascade Mountains. With Henry Van Til ’34 he started the first Calvin alumni chapter in the Pacific Northwest.

In 1955 Bern and Jean Koops moved their four sons and daughter to New Mexico, where he became the principal of Rehoboth Mission School and one of three teachers in the high school.

“My own kids loved it,” he said. “We had nine really good years there.”

Teaching at Holland Christian High School was Koops’ last paid post. All told, he spent 50 years in four school systems.

And he’s still teaching, though his students are older. He leads a Bible class every Tuesday afternoon at the Holland senior apartment complex where he lives. He’s also taught memoir writing there.

Other days include making toy barns and rockers for great grandchildren or church auctions, writing stories from his life, reading the latest Calvin Sports Report on the college web page, taking a walk and a long afternoon nap.

In April Koops will celebrate a century of life. When asked for the secret of his long thriving, Koops smiled. “The Lord is good. That’s all I can say.”