Dutch Heritage in Kent and Ottawa Counties
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On February 9, 1847, Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte chose a site on Michigan's Black River and founded what became Holland. Motivated in part by a potato famine and crop failures, the settlers also sought religious freedom. Other countrymen followed, leaving an indelible mark on the character of southwest Michigan. Jan Douma and Matteus Notier, Union soldiers from Graafschap, guarded the bier of slain president Abraham Lincoln. Newbery Medal-winning children's author Meindert DeJong came from Grand Rapids, as did Caldecott Medalist Chris Van Allsburg. The legacy includes Hope, Calvin, and Kuyper Colleges, the world-class Fredrik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center at Spectrum Hospital, DeVos Performance Hall, Van Andel Arena, the DeGraaf Nature Center, Windmill Island, Dutch Village, and Veldheer's Tulip Gardens. The Dutch forefathers passed their values on to their progeny to make the area what it is today.


Norma Lewis writes travel, feature, and humor articles for national and regional magazines. She is the author of Grand Rapids: Furniture City and Going for the Gold. Jay de Vries, a descendant of Dutch immigrants, has lived in Kent County for 42 years. He is a graduate of Calvin College and Calvin Seminary.


Title: A Dutch family album - Pictorial history goes on sale today

Author: Stephen Kloosterman

Publisher: Holland Sentinel

Date: 8/16/09

Think of it as a family album for Dutch West Michigan.

A pictorial history book, "Dutch Heritage in Kent and Ottawa Counties," goes on sale today at local book stores -- a product of husband-wife author team, Norma Lewis and Jay de Vries.

Lewis and de Vries -- who split their time between homes in Byron Center and Grand Haven -- are on a roll publishing local histories with Arcadia Publishers, a national firm that specializes in pictorial histories. "Dutch Heritage" is their second book, with a contract recently signed for a third book on Wyoming, Mich.

Lewis --an experienced magazine writer -- found her husband to be a valuable resource for the Dutch Heritage book.

"I'm only Dutch by marriage -- we married six years ago," she said.

The two gathered photos and data for the book, working through libraries, churches, and local museums, "just snooping around and seeing what kinds of things you uncover," Lewis said. "Some of the libraries, like the one in Hudsonville, are pretty accessible."

Occasionally, research involved phone calls to Dutch friends -- and even calling businesses with Dutch-sounding names.

"We needed fruit (photos) in the agriculture section," Lewis said. "I finally just opened up the yellow pages and started calling orchards."

Research turned up a few gems, for instance, a photo of Grand Rapids auto dealer Dan Pfeiffer as a toddler, sitting behind the wheel of an old work truck.

"We have Fred Meijer, painting prices on the window of his father's store," Lewis said.

The research also gave Lewis some insights into the Dutch immigrant culture. Two separate photos discovered in the Hudsonville Library show how much resident Norma Alward changed from girlhood to eighth-grade graduation. In the first photo, from, 1915, Alward wears traditional Dutch garb: a lace bonnet, and a white apron over a dark dress.

"She dressed like that every day," Lewis said. "But here she is in graduation, she's completely Americanized."

Alward's 1927 graduation photo shows her wearing a stylish dress and pearls with her hair cut short in the 1920s "flapper" style.

In a way, the book turned out to be a family album for interconnected Dutch families.

"This wouldn't have surprised Jay, but I was surprised how interconnected all the families are," Lewis said.

Some family connections go beyond connections to The Netherlands de Vries said. German families from Bentheim were fast friends with families across the border from Holland's Graafschap, and remained friends after immigrating to Michigan.

"The Dutch culture here also combines the German element from across the border," de Vries said. "The Reformed faith really sort of tied them together."