The Kibbutz

In Alumni, Winter/Spring 2019 by James Schaap

“The scariest part was cooking,” or so Clarence Witten (’78) remembers. “I’d never cooked a meal in my life, probably didn’t even boil an egg, and suddenly there were nine hungry guys coming to the table expecting to be well-fed.”

In housing almost unknown to Dordt College students today, for years scores of their predecessors lived off-campus, many in sometimes dreary basement apartments in ordinary houses in town. Most upperclassmen left dorms as soon as they could because what off-campus housing lacked in convenience—cold, windowless apartments sometimes a mile away from classrooms—they made up for in freedom and real-money savings.

And, if you were really blessed, you got a palace, where you ate more sumptuously than anyone on campus. Down in the spacious basement at the Van Groningen house on South Main, Paul Van Dyken (‘77) baked 15-17 loaves of bread every week for his eight voracious roommates, not to mention a pan full of cinnamon rolls for Sunday morning brunch. That’s the kind of chef-manship that scared Witten when he moved in.

The Van Groningen basement offered some regal living, right across the street from the A & W (yes, there was one out there long ago), and spittin’ distance from Wal-Mart (which wasn’t on anyone’s radar, of course). On the menu, real meat too—steaks, chops, ribs—and lots of it. And vegetables. Some guys had never heard of kale before it snuck into their salads after Charlie Claus (’78) planted it in a garden in the backyard.  

Jack Oudman (’79) remembers juicy hams festooned in pineapple and cloves. Daryl Sas (’77) claims he probably relied on ease when it came his turn to cook: tater-tot hot dish, rice-tuna casserole, and some casserole with hamburger and rice. Daniel Van Heyst (’78) spent an entire Saturday picking apples from a backyard tree, then cooking applesauce that became a year-long staple of the Kibbutz diet. More with Less, an evangelical best-seller cookbook, the guys claim, was their food bible.

They called themselves—and the place they occupied—the Kibbutz, even though no one spoke Yiddish or blew a shofar. Dave “Bunny” Groenenboom (’78) pulled some tunes out of his harmonica and rather liked playing Larry Norman on the stereo set up just outside his room. Basically, Kibbutz-ers were good guys and terrific students. Take my word for it; I should know. My wife and I and our new baby lived just upstairs.

And studious. Very much so. With nine guys in a basement apartment, physical space was at a premium. Each little bedroom (there were five) had a desk or two. Some guys stayed home to study; others regularly visited the library, hung out there, even though it took a half hour to walk back to the apartment—often in January cold.

And, because they had to, they improvised. Craig Stockmeier (’77) used to crack his textbooks in a little projection room opposite the stage in what was—long, long ago—the Dordt gym. Groenenboom, who lugged hogs three nights a week at Supreme Pack, often studied, when he could, in the downstairs publication room of the SUB, a campus hangout that’s also long gone.

Most guys had bikes, although Kibbutzers caught rides to and from campus from a couple of guys with cars. Witten had a ’64 Chevelle wagon (see photo), a beast, he says, that became a Kibbutz taxi long before anyone ever heard of Uber. Groenenboom had a sweet old ’64 Rambler that got more than its share of use. Sas (’77) had a flame-orange ’74 Chevy Malibu, a cherry gas hog with a vinyl top. He says he kept it parked most of the time (“I’m Dutch. Cheap,” he says).

But most guys biked most of the time and walked when they just plain felt like it. Ed Kruis (’78) remembers those long walks, alone, almost rhapsodically.

“Some of the best memories I have are of the times I walked alone the two miles to and from campus in midwinter with frost encrusting my beard and mustache by the time I arrived at my destination,” he says. “Sometimes I would practice vocal exercises on the way, often I would pray or review for tests.”

Hard as it is to believe, those walks to campus could be insanely early. “I particularly recall marching to campus up Main Street for a 7:30 a.m. Philosophy 201 final just before the Christmas break,” he says. Students today might consider mid-winter 7:30 a.m. exams a form of abuse.

Sas claims living in the Kibbutz prompted an invention he modestly says was his own. “I don’t want to claim that I invented the now ubiquitous book bag, but I was one of the first to buy a camping-style back pack and use it to transport books to and from campus as well as the occasional laundry run!  I still have it!” Just as he still has the red, winter “snorkel” coat that, way back when, kept him warm on those long trips. And the receipt from his second semester tuition? $1250, he says. Still has that, too, if you don’t believe him.

Dust-ups between nine roomies? Very few. Once, Kruis remembers catching some ire from his cousin Stan Kruis (’78) for not shaking up the milk before he poured it on his Raisin Bran—the milk was raw and from some local dairy. And Stockmeier claims smoke from the only cigar he ever lit up in his life (a friend’s wife just had a baby!) got him chewed out but good by a handful of roomies.

By the way, did I mention there was only one bathroom?

Nine guys might well suggest an occasional crowd of young women. Generally, the dean forbade women in off-campus housing, but being a mile away from administrative power makes some romantic benefits possible. Some Kibbutzers remember female guests for formal Sunday dinner (once Bill Van Groningen grilled great steaks; remember—they bought their meat a half a steer at a time). At Sunday dinner it was easy to entertain women, of course—everything on the up-and-up; but if you wanted some snuggling, you had to go elsewhere—or else cut a deal with a roommate.

And don’t think all meals were gourmet. Kruis will never forget some bombs: “Chicken livers (not fully cooked) with rice, and ‘fruchtreis’ (fruitrice) made with Kool-Aid.” He also mentions sweet-and-sour soy beans, which, not surprisingly, failed to become a classic Sioux County recipe. Steve Frieswyk (’78) remembers the time Kruis created a feast for about $1.50 tops, Frieswyk claims—rice and a bag full of chicken necks from the Auto Dine. Get that?—necks.

There was more (funny how food memories stick): Sas will never forget an ill-fated clam chowder somebody made by dumping a few cans of clams into gallon of milk, for which, by the way, he does take some blame. “I believe we had just dissected clams in an invertebrate anatomy lab.” He says he doesn’t recall hospitalizations.

You might wonder whether moving all students to an enclosed campus, as Dordt eventually did, was as beneficial for students as it was for institutional finance. Living off-campus required students to be vastly more responsible with their time and for their health.

What’s more, life in the Kibbutz demanded a division of labor that doled out strict requirements for each of the roomies. Van Heyst remembers how the work was meted out, the system for “managing meal prep and cleanup.” Two guys were designated shoppers, a couple of older roommates the others knew to be experienced at managing money. That left seven others. Each of them was assigned one day of the week for general clean-up, AND one day for preparing the evening meal. Eventually, he says, some menu patterns emerged.

“All the cooks had one or two specialty meals each, so that simplified shopping and helped us get the quantities right. I seem to remember preparing a lot of spaghetti sauce for my turns.”

Strangely enough, no one remembers being cramped for space (it was a big basement!). If there were big fights, no one’s breaking the silence. Everyone remembers meals, both for the fare (good stuff and not so good) and the conversation and community.

The Schaaps (’70) lived just upstairs, but we were in our own little world, a young couple with a new baby, Andrea Jane (’98), and me with a brand new job—a college prof.

When these guys remember those days the way they do, I sure wish that once-in-a-while I could have been a fly on the wall, because I’m sure those meal-time discussions would have been worth the price of admission.

Several of them mentioned not remembering any tough times really, no nasty entanglements or sparring matches. They all remember a score of blessings.

Dr. Bill Van Groningen was not only a campus cop in 1978, he was also the point man for the whole Kibbutz. After all, they were all boarding in his parents’ house. Today, he’s a dean of students at Trinity Christian College. After reminiscing about life in the basement of that big house on South Main, he couldn’t help summarizing:

“I, for one, was taking five philosophy and one upper level math course in the fall and practice teaching in the spring. And the girl I’ve still never been able to get over agreed to marry me that October. Maybe we were too focused on matters beyond the basement to get too fussed by each other down there. Still, I now look back on that gift of kibbutz comradery as an all too rare gift of congenial community.”


KIBBUTZ BIOS

Charles Claus, who still has his hands in God’s good earth, lives and works at River Mist Farm, Terrace, B.C. where he tends bountiful vegetables in the farm’s gorgeous mountain setting.

Steve Frieswyk, an ex-Marine when he came to Dordt, was a school principal in Newton, Iowa, and then western Australia before returning to the States to enroll at Reformed Theological Seminary. After graduation, he spent nine years as pastor of the Everson, Washington CRC, then moved to Toronto in 2002.Just last year, he and his wife Sandy (’80), originally Yankees, became Canadian citizens.  

For the last 33 years, David Groenenboom has served as an alternative education teacher in a high school in Birmingam, Michigan, a Detroit suburb. Recently, he was named the first recipient of the Nelson Mandela “Invictus” award from the National Alternative Education Association.

After some years as a high school teacher, Clarence Joldersma did a doctorate in philosophy and, for the last 23 years, has been teaching philosophy of education and writing extensively at Calvin College. He is married to Grace Veldhuisen (’79) who is a director of student support at Potters House in Grand Rapids.

Ed Kruis has an MFA in Theatrical Design and Technology and has designed sets for theater in several places. After a few more theatre gigs, he and his wife moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico where Ed began classes in counseling. For the last twenty years he’s worked as a drug and alcohol abuse and clinical mental health counselor. He still wields a hammer well, having recently remodeled a building for his private practice.

Stan Kruis, who has degrees from Calvin and Fuller Seminaries, has almost always taught in an international context. Today, he is head of the Intercultural and Urban Studies Department at the Asian Theological Seminary, in Manilla, the Philippines, where he teaches courses like World Missions, Major World Religions, Church Planting. 

Herb Muether returned to his native New York after graduating, and took a temporary job, assuming that, soon enough, he’d determine directions. That temporary job, at a commercial paint distributor, eventually turned into something more permanent. Today, he inspects and provides specialty paint coatings to hospitals, colleges, universities, and commercial contractors across Long Island.

Jack Oudman spent some time as a social worker in Edmonton, working at a lockup facility for kids needing correctional care, then spent most of the next 35 years in sales—from John Deere farm machinery to Lehman Trikes. Today he’s retired, but hardly motionless. In 2017, he rode all the way across Canada with Sea-to-Sea, hardest thing he’s ever done, he says.

Daryl Sas spent a year at Mankato State University before getting his Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Minnesota.  For five years he did post-doctoral research before assuming his current position in the Biology Department at Geneva College, where he has taught for the past 30 years.

Craig Stockmeier intended to go into marine biology but, as he says, “that tide never came in.”  Instead, he did a Ph.D. in Anatomy at the University of Arizona and followed up with a postdoctoral fellowship in pharmacology at Georgetown. For 13 years, he was part of the Department of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, then moved in 1999 to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, with a focus on the biology of major mental illnesses.

Stan Sturing played a cop in Harry and the Hendersons, part of acting career that included some significant time (and three trips to Australia) with a theatre ministry called “His Majesty’s Players.” Eventually, however, he decided to enroll in seminary, graduated, and pastored two churches.

Paul Van Dyken taught music when he graduated, then returned to the family business in California. Eventually he went to seminary, was ordained, and served initially at Palm Lane CRC in Scottdale. For the past 14 years, he’s broken bread as the pastor of Grace CRC, Burke, Virginia. Should you wonder, Paul still bakes bread but hasn’t made cinnamon rolls in years–so don’t ask.

After Dordt, Bill Van Groningen went on to pursue an MA in humanities at Western Kentucky University and then a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He then spent 17 years as the CRC campus minister at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. For the last 12 years, he’s been Chaplain and Dean of Spiritual Formation at Trinity Christian College.

Daniel Van Heyst has led the Visual Art and Theater program at Kings University, Edmonton, since 1993. Regionally, he has done stage design for more than 100 theater productions. In the process he’s won a number of prestigious awards for his designs.

Clarence Witten surmounted his fear of cooking when joining the Kibbutz, then graduated from Dordt and went directly to seminary. In his 30-plus years in the ministry, he has pastored Canadians across the continent: 15 years in Nova Scotia and 15 years in eastern Ontario. Presently he serves the congregation at Cornerstone CRC, Salmon Arm, British Columbia.