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Westra Dewey D. (1899-1979) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: Westra Dewey D. (1899-1979)

Historical Note: Dewey D. Westra was born in Holland, Michigan in the last year of the 20th century, 1899. His mother with her interest in poetry composition inspired him to seek a full liberal arts education as a basis for his work with lyrics. This he did, graduating from Calvin College in 1921, with an A. B. degree. Dewey Westra worked in education for forty-five years in Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa as a teacher and administrator.  He founded Christian Schools in Byron Center, Walker, and Grosse Pointe, Michigan. His avocation in the field of poetry seems to have been his overriding interest, however.  In his involvement with the Psalms, he transcribed all of the 150 Psalms, fitting each one to its historic Genevan melody, as well as providing versions of the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simon, plus a hymnal version of the Lord’s Prayer.  Most of this was done in the late twenties at the request of the Christian Reformed Synodically appointed Psalter Hymnal Committee.  Twenty-five of Westra’s songs were selected for the ‘red’ 1934 Psalter Hymnal.  When the ‘blue’ 1959 Centennial Psalter Hymnal appeared, an equivalent number from the older version was retained, with revisions and modifications by Mr. Westra.  He always felt his work must by an on-going effort in improving what he had already done. In 1971, forty of his Psalms and songs appeared in The Book of Praise, published by the Canadian Reformed Church. Dewey Westra was not too concerned about the lack of recognition he received for his work.  His hope was that the Psalms would become as dear to the English speaking audiences as they were to Dutch psalm singers. His other poetry consists of translations of selected works of a half-dozen or more favorite Friesian poets, plus a voluminous number of poems on nature.  Special occasions and family events also moved him to pen his poetic thoughts. According to Stanley Wiersma, professor of English at Calvin College, “Westra was in the best sense an amateur… He wrote because of his own love for life and language… It augurs well for the Calvin literary tradition that the first poet we trained was Dewey Westra.” One of his former pastors, the J. Eppinga, said of him, “In this man there was only humility, a humility that caused some to assess him to be less than he was.” Dewey Westra died October 15, 1979 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  His wife, Nellie Koetje, preceded him in death.  He left three sons, a brother and five sisters.

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