Submitted by Gayle Harper

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OF THE first two buildings around which the town of Orange City grew up, one was the little district schoolhouse. Within five years there were seventeen rural schools scattered throughout the new settlement in Sioux County. But it is especially worthy of note that prominent among the ideals of the Hollanders was the encouragement of higher education. Henry Hospers and other shareholders in the town site had from the beginning agreed to lay aside one-fifth of the proceeds from the sale of lots as a college fund. To set the academy or university upon its feet there were in 1875 advocates of a plan to buy a section of land, let the soil to tenants for cultivation, and apply the income to the payment of instructors. But other counsellors prevailed, suggesting that the plan be dropped until the country became entirely rid of the grasshopper plague.

Dr. A. F. H. de Lespinasse, a graduate of Utrecht University, announced that he would open a medical school to young men of at least nineteen years of age, for a course of one and a half years devoted to preparatory knowledge, theory, and practice. This school was ambitiously proposed as a part of a university which should later include faculties of law and theology. Orange City was suggested as the proper home for such an institution on account of its Dutch population, its healthful situation, and the cheapness of living. Seven young men presented themselves as students in the month of February, 1875, and they were told that studies would begin as soon as the new county courthouse was completed. In September and October of that year they were worrying over examinations. The school, however, was short-lived.(262)

Summoned from the Hollanders in Michigan to serve the infant church congregations in Sioux County, Rev. Seine Bolks was familiar with the pioneer educational accomplishments of van Raalte in Michigan. Indeed, he had helped other ministers to bring order out of chaos by establishing the first schools in that forest wilderness. He had been a witness of the founding, by van Raalte, of Holland Academy in 1857 and of Hope College in 1866. With these thriving institutions in mind he perceived that Orange City, too, had room for an institution of higher learning. For many years he counselled and encouraged the members of his flock to make some provision: his hopes, however, were blasted by years of distress and adversity. "Grasshoppers", he naively remarked, "flew away with the idea." (263)

In the autumn of 1882, twelve years after the Hollanders came to Sioux County, and after the settlers had recovered from the suffering caused by the locusts, such lively interest was manifested that many Dutch Reformed ministers and a few business men met at Orange City and decided to found a church school, to be known as the Northwestern Classical Academy. They believed that in the absence of high schools at both Orange City and Alton such an institution was destined to supply a great need., if a site for the building were selected at some point midway between the two towns. But when Henry Hospers came forward to donate several acres of land upon the southern outskirts of Orange City, the county seat was selected as the permanent home for the proposed academy.(264)

Plans were at once formulated, money was subscribed by all who were well disposed, and a board of trustees was appointed. In the autumn of 1883 the principal of the Orange City public school, aided by the ministers of neighboring churches, began to prepare pupils for admission to the academy; and in January, 1884, Rev. John A. de Spelder took up his duties as principal. From modest beginnings - one teacher, twenty-five pupils, and scant accommodations in one room of a small, square frame building which the Hollanders called "The Pioneer School" - the academy grew until it occupied two rooms and required two teachers before the end of the first year. Then followed such an increasing enrollment that an abandoned skating-rink was purchased and fitted up for recitation and dormitory purposes in 1886, and later the first building was remodeled and converted into a residence for the principal.

In 1890 Rev. James F. Zwemer was installed as principal. Legacies and subscriptions were received, mortgages liquidated, and in 1894 an attractive three-story brick and stone structure was completed upon the campus at a cost of $25,000. Rev. Matthew Kolyn succeeded as principal in 1898, Mr. Philip Soulen in 1901, Rev. John F. Heemstra in 1906 and Mr. Thomas E Welmers in 1910 During their administrations the academy has been nursed through many financial troubles; but in 1911 it stood upon a solid footing, free from debt. Since its foundation it has been served by nearly forty teachers - all Hollanders, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, and mostly graduates of Hope College.

The Northwestern Classical Academy was not intended as a mere high school. The chief aim of its founders was to lay a thorough foundation for a liberal education and to fit young men for entrance into college, especially Hope College, also an institution of the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1911 the academy furnished sound instruction in three courses: the classical, the modern classical, and the normal, which has recently been added to prepare young people for teaching, especially in rural schools. Greek and Latin, mathematics and science, history and English, vocal music, German, and Dutch are the subjects taught. The retention of Dutch as a part of the curriculum was explained as follows:

The study of the Dutch language is a characteristic feature of this institution. And it is altogether fitting that it should be so, considering that many of our students come from Dutch homes, that the language will doubtless yet long be used in a section of the church which this institution is especially designed to serve, and that no one, who counts the Dutch his mother tongue, should, while seeking the advantages of a higher education, fail to have or seek an interest in the extensive and rich literature of this people. . . . The work is made optional; one semester is devoted to it, during which the principal points of grammar and syntax are carefully studied in connection with selections from standard authors.

The founders of the academy desired not merely to serve the immediate neighborhood of the school in Sioux County: they had in mind all localities to which the Dutch Reformed Church was spreading, and although most of the pupils have come from Orange City, Alton, Sioux Center, Maurice, Hospers, Rock Valley, and Boyden in Sioux County, not a few have come from Dutch Reformed congregations elsewhere, as in Kansas, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and other States.

The need of higher education on a Christian basis in harmony with the tenets of Calvinism was an important factor in the organization of this academy, and so the curriculum has always included Bible study. The reason has been stated as follows:

     The systematic study of the Bible finds a place in our curriculum. We believe it to be essential. We hold that God is the fountain of all knowledge and that the principles of revealed truth are basic to all true intellectual development and every branch of learning.
     During the first three years one hour a week' throughout the year is devoted to this study. Taking for granted that the student is tolerably familiar with Sacred History, we aim rather to point out the system of truth embodied in this history and trace the great principles which are to be found in God's Revelation from cover to cover. The Reformed Church is distinctly a truth confessing church.
     The Heidelberg Catechism is used as a guide during the first two years, while Sell's Notes form a course for the third year.

In the absence of a more substantial foundation, such as a large endowment fund, the academy has been dependent upon the annual contributions of its friends and upon assistance from the Board of Education of the Reformed Church. Although it is a sectarian or denominational institution, founded, superintended, and maintained by members of the Dutch Reformed Church in America, those who seek admission need only possess "good moral character and studious inclinations ", and many a poor boy or girl desirous of an education has been aided by the academy's Board of Benevolence and the Women's Executive Committee. All pupils are required to attend morning chapel services and recitations, and are expected to be in faithful attendance at some place of public worship. "Dancing, card-playing, and the use of tobacco on the campus is forbidden."

The board of trustees has always been composed largely of ministers of Dutch Reformed congregations in the neighborhood. These gentlemen have been no small factor in developing the school, and to no small degree have they been responsible for a record in which hundreds of Hollanders in Sioux County and elsewhere have taken unconcealed pride. While the number of students has never been large, ranging from sixty to seventy-five, under the tutelage of four or five teachers, the academy has maintained itself in the face of many competing high schools.

Graduates of the academy in their loyalty and enthusiasm point to the past record of the school as a heritage which speaks volumes when mere words fail. Since the first class of three left "N. W. C. A." in 1885, the graduates have come to number about two hundred and sixty. Nearly three-fourths of these have pursued a college course in whole or in part. They have yielded seventeen physicians, ten lawyers, more than sixty teachers, and almost seventy clergymen and missionaries, most of whom received their training at Hope College and Western Theological Seminary at Holland, Michigan. And the names of these young men and women graduates indicate that all, with perhaps two or three exceptions, were Hollanders. (265)


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(262) De Volksvriend, September 19, 1895; and Pella's Weekblad, February 17, 1872. See also De Volksvriend, January 7, February 13, September 30, and October 28, 1875.

(263) Dosker's Levensschets van Ds. A. C. van Raalte, D. D., p. 181; and De Volksvriend, September 19, 1895.

(264) Mr. Gleysteen's article in The Historical Atlas of Sioux County. Mr. Hospers continued to aid the academy until his death. See De Vrije Hollander, January 12, 1900.

(265) This chapter is based on the Catalogue of Northwestern Classical Academy, 1909-1910; articles in De Volksvriend, September 19, 1895, and The Historical Atlas of Sioux County; and Minutes of the General Synod o f the Reformed Church in America, 1909.


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