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Donald Van Reken Collection



Biographical Note

Detailed Description


Letters Sent Home From Nigeria



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Donald Van Reken Collection, 1928-2000 | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

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Collection Overview

Title: Donald Van Reken Collection, 1928-2000

ID: COLL/302

Primary Creator: Van Reken, Donald (1920-2010)

Extent: 3.54 Cubic Feet. More info below.

Arrangement: Folder level description


School librarian, missionary to Nigeria. The collection includes correspondence, mementos, clippings, pictures, slides, letters sent home from Nigeria, a fictional autobiography of Reinder Edward Werkman, and pamphlets.

Biographical Note

Donald L. Van Reken was born May 17, 1920 in Clifton, New Jersey.  During WWII he served in the United States Air Force as a C-47 pilot. He went on to attend Calvin College, earning his bachelor's degree. Inspired by his brother serving as a medical missionary in China, Van Reken also wanted to become a missionary.  The Board of Missions appointed Van Reken to serve as a missionary teacher in Nigeria. Van Reken, along with his wife, Elsa, and young daughters Mary and Judith set sail for Nigeria in January of 1950.

When they arrived Van Reken began to learn the Hausa language. He was taught by Rev. Peter Ipema in Wukari, Nigeria.  After six months of learning the language and getting acquainted with the Jukun people, Van Reken began to teach a classroom of twenty students.  During this time, Elsa gave birth to their third daughter, Donna.

After being notified about a teacher shortage in Mkar, the Van Reken family set out to assist. Several months after moving to Mkar, Elsa became sick and the family was sent back to the United States so she could regain her strength. By November 1952 the Van Reken family returned to Mkar to continue their missionary work. Van Reken was able to learn the Tiv language and work at the Teacher Training Center. Another member of the Van Reken was added with the birth of their son Mark. For 8 years the Van Rekens served as Foreign Missionaries. In 1958 the family completed their work in Nigeria and returned to America. Back in the United States, Van Reken was a teacher and librarian for various Christian Schools. In 1985 he retired from Holland Christian School.

Van Reken was an active member of the Central Avenue CRC. He served as an elder and Sunder school teacher. One of his hobbies included researching the history of Holland, Michigan. He has even published a number of books about the city. Heartache hit the Van Reken family with the death of Elsa in 1996. Van Reken remarried Mildred Steiner. In 2006 both Mildred and his son Mark passed away. On May 26, 2010 Donald L. Van Reken passed away himself at the age of 90. He was survived by daughters Mary, Judith, Donna, and Margaret.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Papers],
[Series 2: Letters Sent Home From Nigeria, Jan 1950- April 1958],
[Series 3: Varia],
[Series 4: Photographs],

Series 3: Varia
Box 7
Folder 1: Subject file, Holland, Michigan, fire
Folder 2: Subject file, R. E. Werkman
Folder 3: Building pictures, R. E. Werkman
Folder 4: Fictional autobiography, Reinder Edward Werkman --- 2000
Folder 5: A Picture Album of Holland, Michigan [HERH F574.H6 P53] --- 1976
Folder 6: The Holland Public Schools Paper "Scrip" --- 1933, 1978
Folder 7: Macatawa:  A Historic View --- 1979
Folder 8: The Holland Fire of October 8, 1871, 1982 [HERH F574.H6 V3] --- October 8, 1871, 1982
Folder 9: A Brief History of Holland, Michigan --- 1983

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Papers],
[Series 2: Letters Sent Home From Nigeria, Jan 1950- April 1958],
[Series 3: Varia],
[Series 4: Photographs],

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