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Van Reken, Donald (1920-2010) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: Van Reken, Donald (1920-2010)

Historical 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.

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