Monday, September 12, 2005

Christian Examples: A History of John and Elizabeth Ten Harkel


[My first semester at Calvin, my English 100 teacher had a really cool idea for our final paper. Each of us would be paired up with a couple in an old folks home, interview them for one hour every week, and then at the end of the semester write up their life story.
Actually, I say it was a really cool idea, but that's in retrospect. At the time I thought it was a huge pain in the ass to bike out every week and talk to these old folks for an hour.
Maybe this is the kind of project you really just don't appreciate at 18, I don't know. In some area of the brain, where subconscious feelings are stronger than rational thought, I had the feeling that I would always be young, and that old people had always been old and boring. On some level it hadn't yet fully registered to me that life is a process we all have to go through, and I wasn't quite as interested in hearing about people's life stories as I am now.
Anyway, I didn't have a choice in the matter, so I did it. I biked out to the rest home once a week. I don't remember the exact name of it or exactly where it was, but it must have been somewhere around Aquinas College because I remember passing Aquinas on my way out there.

One time biking out there (or biking back, I don't remember) I got caught in a downpour and got soaked (as I related in this e-mail here).
Another time, I witnessed a car accident while waiting for the light. Not a big accident. Some car turning left hit another at the intersection.

Calvin did actually have a transportation service for students. I forget the name of it, but it was pretty cheap. You had to pay something like $1 per trip or something, and I think it was free if you carpooled with another student. Most (all?) of my classmates used this service when going out to the rest home. I never did, partly because I couldn't be bothered making an appointment in advance (typical me) and partly because I was always intimidated figuring out the rules of a new service (typical me). So I just biked. I justified it as getting exercise anyway.

The couple I was paired up with were John and Elizabeth Ten Harkel, who were really nice people and happy to talk to me. John Ten Harkel was suffering from Parkinson's disease, and was not always altogether there. Some days I got more information out of him than others, so he must have had good days and bad days. (Although I don't remember exactly.) Some days his wife just did most of the talking.

I didn't think I would, but over the semester I did actually grow fond of the Ten Harkels. I enjoyed talking to them. And over the semester they became familiar faces that I became used to, and fond of.

Our class hosted a party at the end of the semester in which we presented our papers to our respective old couples. I don't remember much of the party except being happy to see the Ten Harkel's there, and talking to them.

Our English professor had encouraged us to stay in touch with our old couple after the semester finished. At the beginning of the semester this sounded like the last thing I wanted to do, but by the end of the semester I felt like I had developed enough of a bond with them that I genuinely wanted to stay in touch. The Ten Harkels had encouraged me to drop by after I finished the paper and I promised them I would.

And at the time I said it, I had every intention of doing so. But (typical me), it just never happened. I just never got around to making an appointment, or heading out there.

Who knows what happened to that paper I wrote for them. It could be a cherished piece of family memoriablia, or it could have gotten thrown out.

I still have my copy though, so I thought I'd post it here. It has it's faults to be sure (it was, after all, a freshman paper), but it still documents a little piece of local history. And, like my own Grandfather's memoirs, it's probably useful to preserves these things for future generations.

There are two papers below. The first one is the Ten Harkels' life story. This is the version I submitted to my English professor for a grade. She and her assistant marked it up, and returned it back to me. I made some changes that they suggested, and then I presented the final version to the Ten Harkels. (I didn't save that final version, so this isn't exactly the same as the one the Ten Harkels received, but aside from a few minor changes should be nearly the same.)

The second paper is a research paper we did for the same English class. Our professor instructed us to find out what was the most important thing in the lives of our old couple, and then write a research paper around that. (This was an introductory English class in which we were learning to write a wide variety of papers. This paper here, in which I had to write about a life experience in which I learned a lesson, was also part of the same class.)

I asked the Ten Harkel's what was the most important thing in their life. Elizabeth Ten Harkel told me that their marriage had been the most important thing. I didn't really know what to do with this. I briefly considered trying to do a research paper on the institution of marriage, or wedding ceremonies, but after some consultation with my professor I just did my research paper on the year they got married. This suited me fine because I was a history nerd anyway, although it had absolutely nothing to do with the actual lives of the Ten Harkels. In retrospect the topic may have been a bit of a cop-out. Looking over the Ten Harkel's life story now, I'm not sure why I didn't do something related to the printing industry, because that clearly seemed to be an important part of John Ten Harkel's life. Oh well.
For better or for worse, below are my papers.]

Christian Examples
(A History of John and Elizabeth Ten Harkel)
as told to Joel Swagman

A lot of memories can accumulate in eighty years, some of them pleasant, some not. For the Ten Harkels, fate has certainly not failed to make their lives interesting. They've seen a lot of changes go by, but they have retained a fresh and optimistic view of life throughout them.

John Arind Ten Harkel was only nineteen when he came to the United States from the Netherlands, leaving his family behind. He learned to speak English while working for the GR&I (Grand Rapids and Indiana) railroad in the freight house. His brother Henry came over separately and settled in Los Angeles, while his other brother Garitt went to Muskegon.

John married Jenny Oliver, who was born in the United States. On January 26, 1913, the Ten Harkels had a son. They named him John after both his father and his grandfather (Jahn (sic) Oliver). He was the only child. Although John and Jenny Ten Harkel had two other boys, one born before John and one after, both were still born.

The young John lived next door to his grandpa Olivier, where he remembers his grandpa's dog Karlo.
When Emerald Road was built, it separated the property of the elder John Ten Harkel from that of his father-in-law Olivier, taking forty feet (about half) off of each property.

When the younger John was eleven years old, the Ten Harkel family traveled to join Uncle Henry in California. Henry Ten Harkel, who had settled in Los Angeles, liked it there so much that he convinced his brother to come out and join him. Henry Ten Harkel remained a bachelor all his life, and was grateful to have his brother's family as company. The younger John still remembers the beauty of California. Jenny, however, didn't like being away from her family, so after a year the Ten Harkels set off to return to Grand Rapids.

Aside from this brief excursion, John spent his grade school days at Creston Christian School, where he went to school through the eighth grade. Although John didn't know her well at the time, Elizabeth Koy also attended the same school. One memory John has of his grade school years is the celebration of birthdays. Unlike today, John didn't go out to eat on his birthday, since there were no places to go. Instead he got together with his relatives at his grandpa Olivier's for a celebration. He also got together with the Olivier family on Christmas and on New Years, which was his mother's birthday.

John started Creston High School in ninth grade. He ran Cross Country and Track his freshman year, but head to give those activities up in favor of the job his uncle, Walk Olivier, got him at the White Printing Company, working for twenty five cents an hour. Starting in tenth grade, he was able to get out of school at 2:30, one period earlier than everyone else. He would work at White Printing Company until 5:30 each school day and on Saturday mornings as well. White Printing Company was not his first job, however. He had already peddled papers for two years when he was younger, working two paper routes, the first set of papers coming at 2:30, the second at 4:30.

John got his first car in tenth grade. His uncle, Frank Yoken, who had married Jenny's sister, Lena, died suddenly. John's aunt Lena and his cousin Ruth moved in with the Ten Harkel family, and John was given exclusive use of Frank Yokem's Pontiac because he was the only one who knew how to drive.

In High School, John Ten Harkel Studied printing, typing for a year, Algebra for two semesters, and Latin.


Martin Henry Koy came over from the Netherlands with his family at the age of five. He married Dora Stob, who had been born in the United States. Elizabeth Koy, born on July 29, 1915, was named after Dora's mother. She was one of four children: Hank was three years older than she, Tressa was five years younger, and James was seven years younger.

When Elizabeth was growing up, there were four children living in one house. The one yard contained a big garden so there was no room for pets. Elizabeth lived next door to her grandparents, but they didn't have a pet either.

On her birthdays, Elizabeth would gather with her cousins and grandparents, who lived in the duplex next door. Cookies and cake were made for the occasion, but ice cream was not served because it was too expensive. Since her birthday was in July, they had the gathering outside. The best gift she ever received was an old firm wood piano at the age of eleven. It was largely because of this gift that she became such a great piano player, and later on in her life gave piano lessons for eleven years.

Another memory of Elizabeth's childhood is the conflict over her name. Saying "Elizabeth" proved to be more effort than her friends were prepared to exert every time they wanted to address her. To solve the problem, they called her Liz or Lizzy. Elizabeth's mother was less than pleased by this practice, and insisted that her daughter be addressed as Elizabeth, or if the name had to be shortened, that it be shortened to Betty.

Elizabeth went to Creston Christian grade school through the eighth grade. Elizabeth was left handed, which became a misfortune since she was the only lefty in her class. In fourth grade her teacher Ms. Veenstra disapproved of Elizabeth writing left handed. During penmanship class, Ms. Veenstra would get a black rag out of the closet and tie up Elizabeth's left hand. Elizabeth was very embarrassed by this, and still remembers how cries of "tie her up!" would herald the beginning of penmanship. Ms. Veenstra remained firm in her decision to change Elizabeth's hand by what ever method necessary, even rejecting an embassy by Elizabeth's mother. "She'll thank me afterwards," Ms. Veenstra insisted. Ms. Veenstra's efforts did not go unrewarded--Elizabeth now writes with her right hand.

Elizabeth went to Davis Tech High School. She played volleyball there, but didn't go out for any other sports. She wanted to be a nurse. Her parents supported her, but there wasn't enough money to go to college.

At high school, Elizabeth studied what was then known as a commercial course, taking two years of commercial typing, and two years of shorthand, and no foreign language.

While in high school Elizabeth worked for Ms. Dekorne at Dekorne's furniture shop for two years, earning about two dollars a week. When she heard about an opening at Kresze's five and dime store that paid twelve dollars a week, she successfully applied for a job there.


John and Elizabeth first encountered each other at Creston Christian grade school, but it wasn't until much later that they got to know each other. When Elizabeth was working at Dekorne Furniture Store, which was located on the same street where John lived, they saw a lot of each other. They were attracted to each other because of all they had in common, both coming from Christian homes and school, and both sharing a love for sports, and the desire for an active social life. They went together for two years before they became engaged. Six months later they were married at Elizabeth's home, 922 Lafayette on March 11, 1936. John's cousin, Don Olivier, played the piano for the wedding. They went to Washington D.C. for their honeymoon and had a good time, even though they didn't see President Roosevelt.

Their first house was on Union street, where they lived for two years. In 1938, they moved to Dyker Street, and lived there for ten years. It was while they were living in this house that they had their first child, Marylin Beth Ten Harkel, born on April 26, 1938. Four years later, Robert John was born on February 17.

While they were living on Dyker Street, World War II broke out. At first, because John did his part by printing out material for the government at the Printing Press, he was deferred from the draft. As the war escalated, however, and more people were needed, he was called to Detroit for a physical, passed it, and was put into the navy. Then, it was announced that anyone thirty-five or older didn't have to join. John was thirty-five at the time, and since he had two children at home, he was happy to be saved from the draft. "Don't go if you don't have to," John advised me.

In 1940, when Harry White, who owned White Printing Company, retired, John bought the company from him. At that time, White Printing Company was located on Division and Lion, in the same building as Dickenson Printing Company. The two companies were separated only by a wall. Dickenson was run on offset press, while White was run by the old fashioned letter press. It was only a matter of time before White Printing Company would have to replace all of its equipment to keep up with the times. Instead, in 1945, John decided to merge with Dickenson. John was given a large amount of Dickenson stock and made vice-president of Dickenson. The wonderful thing about this merger was that not a single employee was laid off in the process.

In 1948, the Ten Harkels moved from their house on Dyker to Tamarrak. Also that year Carol Jean Ten Harkel was born on January 26, sharing the same birthday as her father. The year also saw the introduction of a dog to the family, a toy Manchester named Teddy. He was a year old and fully trained when they got him. He was well behaved and never tried to climb into any of the beds. He was able to tell when it was Sunday because on that day the whole family would be eating breakfast. He would go to the door and wait for John to take him on a walk around Richmond Park. Once the walk was over, Teddy would look at the Ten Harkel family as if to say, "you can go to church now, I've had my walk." The Ten Harkels had Teddy for fifteen years, at the end of which he died of cancer. Besides Teddy, the Ten Harkels had one other pet, a bird Trixy, who greet the family with "Merry Christmas" all year long.

Although the exact date has long been forgotten, sometime in the late fifties, someone set fire to Dickenson Printing Company. John was contacted at church Sunday evening and rushed to Dickenson. Whoever started the fire was never caught, but insurance covered most of the damage. People rescued what equipment they could from the flames, and Dickenson press moved its location to Myrtle Street on the West Side. Much later, Dickenson was moved again and is now located near the airport on Patterson.

Another memory of the Ten Harkels is their first television, which they got in 1951. Before then, they listened to radio programs, but television took over things. Over the years they've enjoyed watching "All in the Family," news, and sports.

The Ten Harkels have done more than their share of traveling over their lives. With the exception of Alaska, they have been to every state once and they even went to Europe on the 1978 De Vries tour. Although they did not see the fabled England, they did see Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, et cetera. They had hoped to see the pope in Italy, but he was on vacation. They rode boats in Venice instead. They remember that Germany was beautiful, despite its crowds, and that France was beautiful aslo, especially the Eiffel Tower.

Another memorable trip was the one taken to California and Mexico in the summer of 1965. Driving down there in a car that had no air conditioning was rough, but they still enjoyed themselves. John Ten Harkel was given a good opportunity to see how little things had changed since he had been there as a boy. The trip took a whole month in all.

The Ten Harkels made plans to go to the Holy Land, in 1980, with Doctor Hendrikson, but the trip was cancelled due to a violent uprising there.

The Ten Harkels didn't have to go far away, however, to have a good vacation. They often went camping at Gun Lake with other families. They had a deluxe tent, complete with a kitchen. They would buy food in advance, and go up north for a week. They had a little boat, and John and the children would enjoy water skiing.


Reflecting on their children, the Ten Harkels comment that they tried to raise their children like they had been raised, sending them to a Christian school and to catechism. They never had any big problems with their children, and left the choice of college up to them. Both Marylin and Carol are graduates of Calvin, and both are teachers. Carol teaches at Sylvan Christian. Robert never went to college, but took to printing in high school, and has been working at Dickenson for many years. They are very thankful that all three married Christian people. The Ten Harkels repeatedly emphasized the importance of a Christian environment, but they also mentioned it is important to let their children make their own decisions. "You can't just say 'no no' all the time."

In addition to their strong Christian beliefs, the Ten Harkels have been good Republicans all their lives. They have voted faithfully in all elections, and they very seriously their responsibility to be concerned about government. They support the Republicans because they are opposed to abortion, because Republicans support Christian projects, and because their parents were Republicans. They did vote for Carter, however, because they believe he was a good Christian.

Throughout their life, the Ten Harkels have had many good friends, most of which are from high school and church. The Ten Harkels look for good Christians as friends. Mark and June Meyer, for instance, took many trips with the Ten Harkels, including trips to Europe, Hawaii, and all over the United States. A friend of John's was Peter Wieland, who lived across from him when he met Elizabeth, and attended Christian High.

Many of the Ten Harkel's friends, including the Meyers, were made at church. John Ten Harkel started attending Creston Christian Reformed Church as a young boy. When Elizabeth started dating John, she joined his church. They have never left since and lament that John's present condition prevents them from attending.

In 1987, John retired from Dickenson. Shortly afterwards, he was afflicted by Parkinson's disease. He started to become forgetful, and would not be able to find places when he went driving. In January of 1994, the Ten Harkels moved into Fulton Manor. They are very happy there, and remark how time has flown by in the time they've been there.

The Ten Harkels have survived some pretty amazing events and times. They have taken all of life's bumps and turns with good humor, and have remained dedicated Christians through it all. With thre children, ten grandchildren, and three great grandchildren, the Ten Harkels have been blessed with a wonderful family. They have come through life triumphant.

Professor's Comments: Lots of good information, Joel. I think the Ten Harkels will be pleased.
I've rearranged some sentences, trying to vary structure or iron out bumps.
Professor's Assistant's Comments: I agree. These are good stories and your paper is clearly organized. Nice work
Grade: B


Joel Swagman
Mrs. Walters
English 100
October 30, 1996

Looking back on 1936

On March 11, 1936, the Ten Harkels were married. Though I doubt either of them paid much attention to the newspapers that day, 1936 was a year that saw many changes. In the middle of the depression, events were happening that would have far reaching consequences in such areas as international relationships, politics, the arts, and civil rights.

Outside the United States, the seeds of World War II were already being planted. Germany reoccupied the Rhineland, which it had lost during World War I (Carruth 504). Italy formally annexed Ethiopia, which it had invaded the year before, and in doing so crippled the League of Nations as an international peace keeper (Carruth 504). Civil war broke out in Spain between the Republican government and the facist army, a war which the fascists were destined to win. France and the Soviet Union ratified the Franco-Soviet Pact for mutual defence (Bandi 14). The Soviet Communist Party began its Great Purge. By 1938, ten million would have been killed under this act (Bandi 14). On July 11, Italy and Germany concluded a secret agreement, in which Italy agreed to let Germany take over Austria. Italy and Germany cemented their alliance on October 25, in the Rome-Berlin Axis (Bandi 15). Germany and Japan signed the anti-cominterm pact, agreeing to mutual protection from the Soviet Union. On January 15, Japan denounced the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and withdrew from the London Naval Conference (Websters 458). On February 14, several prominent Japanese were assassinated in an army uprising (Bandi 14).

Back home, 1936 was an election year. The New Deal was a fierce subject of debate, as its opponents never tired of pointing out that the national debt had increased by twelve billion since 1932. Those in favor of the New Deal would respond that the national income had incrased by 30 billion in the same time (Carruth 504). Polls showed that on June 28, 55% of Americans thought the New Deal was helping recovery, although 90% of Republicans were convinced the New Deal was only making things worse (Gallup 47). The Republicans pitted Alfred Landon, the governor or Kansas, against Roosevelt while the Socialists nominated Norman Thomas (Carruth 504). In an election that holds the record for voter turnout, Roosevelt won in a landslide, taking every state but Maine and Vermont (Carruth 504). After the election, there were only 83 Republicans in the House, and 16 in the Senate (Carruth 504).

Roosevelt's popularity was already causing speculation about a third term. On June 14, 43% of Americans said a President should be eligible ofr a third term (Gallup 44). When asked if they thought Roosevelt should run again in 1940, only 31% of Americans were in favor of it (Gallup 44).

Despite the depression, 1936 proved to be an important year for the arts. Rober Frost wrote A Further Range, but he was over shadowed by Marget Mitchell's Gone with the Wind which sold one million copies in the first six months (Carruth 506).

About five hundred films were released in the United States. It was the most prosperous year for film making since the depression began, despite the fact that four out of every five films were deemed financial failures (Carruth 505). The Academy Awards selected Mutiny on the Bounty as the most outstanding movie (Carruth 505) and The Informer won both the best actor award for Victor McLaglen and the best directoro for John Ford (Carruth 505). Bette Davis received the best actress award for her performance in Dangerous. Walt Disney was given his fourth consecutive award in the cartoon category (Carruth 505).

Progress was also made in civil rights. On December 8, the NAACP filed Gibbs V. Board of Education, which would result in the Supreme court ordering that black school teachers receive the same salaries as white school teachers (Bandi 215). In the case of Murray V. Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled that the University of Maryland Law School must either admit Donald Murray, an African American student, or create a separate school just for him. Murray was admitted (Bandi 141).

As the events of 1936 passed by, we can only wonder how many people really realized their significance. The Ten Harkels freely admit to not having the slightest idea what sort of ramifications many of the events that happened in 1936 would have. Sixty years later we have a much broader perspective on things, but at the time, things weren't so easy to see. No matter how you look at it, 1936 was certainly an important year.


Bandi, Victor. American Decades 1930-1939. Detroit: Gale Research Incorporated. 1995.

Benton, William. The Annals of America. Vol. 15. Chicago: Encylopedia Britannica Incorporated, 1968. 16 vols.

Carruth, Gorton. The Encyclopedia of American Facts & Dates. New York: Harpers & Row. 1987.

Gallup, George H. The Gallup Poll 1930-1960. New York: Random House. 1972.

Webster, William. Webster's Guide to American History. Springfield: G&C Merriam Company. 1971.

Professor's Assistant: OK, you've dona good job of researching events of 1936. And you write in clear sentences. selective with what you include in your paper. I appreciate you're following a construction established in the first paragraph (international events, politics, arts, etc.), but you never come to any conclusions. Don't just tell us about the "New Deal"--tell us what it was- tell us why it mattered. Tell us that Margaret Mitchell's book would one day be made into the most popular movie of all time (which the Ten Harkels would see on their 5th anniversary?...)
Don't just tack the Ten Harkels into your paper-organize the events around their lives, or their life together.
Professor's Comments: Good, Joel. This is your best work so far--which is unusual for a research paper. Keep it up. There is lots of good material here that you can use in the larger paper.

On a whim, searched Google to see what had happened to the Ten Harkels.  I found this video:

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