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Wilhemina Kalsbeek (1894-1954) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: Wilhemina Kalsbeek (1894-1954)

Historical Note:

A Grand Rapids native, Wilhemina Kalsbeek was born in 1894. Growing up she attended the Broadway Christian Reformed Church. It was under Rev. E.J. Tanis’ ministry that she made her confession of faith and felt the call for missionary work. With financial support from the Broadway Sunday School, Kalsbeek enrolled at the Women’s Missionary Union Bible School of Brooklyn, New York as well as Hartford University, Connecticut, and the Biblical Seminary of New York. 

Kalsbeek studied the Chinese language, and in 1922, she went to China to work among the women and children of Jakuo. Kalsbeek met Ruby Liu, who would be become her lifelong friend and Bible woman. Together they served the women and children of Jakuo, at times reaching 1000 people a week. They taught about the Bible and organized Sunday schools, held catechism classes, and even taught the children how to read. Kalsbeek and Liu aided children who were abandoned in Kuling when the Japanese War broke out.  While working with the child refugees, two little Chinese girls won Kalsbeek’s heart. She adopted the little girls and named them Helen and Jean.

In 1942, Kalsbeek was taken to a concentration camp and became a prisoner of war. She did housework and was assistant nurse during her time in the concentration camp. She was let go during a prisoner exchange, however she was sent on a ship back to America, leaving behind Ruby Lui and her adopted daughters. Kalsbeek had to remain in the United States until the war was over. Once the war ended, she got on board a freighter bound for China. She was sent to Peipu where there was a great need for workers. Ruby Lui and her daughters remained in Shanghai. Kalsbeek found her time in Peipu difficult, she was the only foreigner and fights often broke out around her. Ruby Lui and the girls sent out for America, and twenty days later so did Kalsbeek.

In the United States, Kalsbeek enrolled in Calvin College and graduated in 1952. She began teaching at West Side Christian School. Her two girls eventually became American citizens and enrolled in Grand Rapids Christian High School. In seemingly good health, Kalsbeek was considering returning to China and continuing her missionary work. However, in 1954 Kalsbeek passed away. Remembered as a selfless worker for Christ, two scholarships bear her name for Chinese students enrolling at Calvin College and at Reformed Bible College. In 1989, she also had a wing of a Calvin College residence hall dedicated to her.

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