The other week, I hosted 72 second and third graders at my house on Stolpe Street, where I have been living for the last 38 years. I was wearing my wooden shoes and a Dutch hat to greet them, and gave them each a Wilhelmina peppermint as they entered my home.
They sat on the floor as I shared with them the history of the Roosevelt Park neighborhood. In the 1900s, this was the largest Dutch immigrant neighborhood in Western Michigan. I shared exciting stories about my grandfather, who came to the U.S. all by himself on a boat when he was 14. I also told them about my grandmother, who worked in a wooden factory on the fourth floor. One day her factory caught on fire, and she had to jump for her life. Her hair turned white overnight.
I talked to my young guests about Christian Reformed and Reformed culture back then, and how people walked to church twice a Sunday. I shared about the Sunday night circuit, which was when young men and woman would walk up and down Grandville Avenue in their Sunday best, hoping to catch the eye of someone they could spend a lifetime with.
From there I began to talk about the changes in the neighborhood, and how Hispanic families began to move in. They brought a different language to this community, but were similar to the Dutch in how they valued hard work, education, family, and community. These new immigrants hailed from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.
Woven into all this change were some more stories: A story about the founders of The Potter’s House moving to the neighborhood in 1975 – A story about how this group of recent college graduates began getting to know their neighbors – The story of how The Potter’s House began with twelve students in a church basement.
I concluded the visit by giving each student a windmill cookie and some Dutch black licorice. I warned them that they might not like the salty bitter flavor of this traditional Dutch candy that I myself have never been able to appreciate. These disclaimers were also followed by stern instructions not to spit this potentially unpalatable candy out on my porch or the sidewalk.
From my house, they walked to the neighborhood museum at the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association, put together by Jacque Bouma, Mary Angelo, and Jules Niemchek. I’m glad those 72 second and third graders were given a chance to learn about how the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood has been an area of change for over a hundred years, but at the same time has always been a neighborhood of great dreams, for both immigrants (Dutch / Hispanic) and recent college graduates wanting to make a difference in the neighborhood.
We still experience people sharing and living out their dreams every day in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, and we’re thrilled that The Potter’s House can be a catalyst to help people, through God’s grace, achieve their dreams.