I knew Rev. Bernard J. Haan as an elegant preacher with a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God and the centrality of the Word. His relaxed and articulate style was compelling. He obviously loved to preach and we relished being fed by this servant of God.
I knew him better as my “boss,” our college president. He was beloved by faculty and students. He was accessible and approachable, taking time to personally prod and encourage his young faculty. We grew to depend on his infectious enthusiasm and unwavering optimism. Oh, that enviable optimism!—sometimes “rushing in where angels fear to tread.” Nevertheless, God used this kind of bold faith to establish and sustain Dordt College.
I knew this man best as my personal friend and I hasten to include his beautiful wife, Deborah, in this tribute. Rev. B.J.Haan, founding president of Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa, died on December 8, 1994, and on that day we not only lost a preacher, president and personal friend. We lost an institution!
In 1959, when Rev. Haan was appointed fulltime president of the 75-student institution, I accepted the position of instructor of music—on condition that I would be free to leave after serving for two years. President Haan, with his keen insight, was sure that if I would be involved for two years, I would catch the “Dordt spirit” and become committed for a longer period of time. Thirty-five rewarding years later, I have now retired from fulltime teaching at Dordt College.
Shortly after our arrival at the college, Rev. Haan invited me into his office for a fatherly chat. “Leaders,” he advised, “especially those in the ‘public eye’ will inevitably encounter opposition. When difficulties and differences of opinion arise, always keep your eye on the principle, not the personality.” Those wise words provided me with solid guidance throughout my teaching and conducting career. Frankly, when “BJ” talked, we listened and benefited much from his homespun and experiential wisdom. He was a mentor and colleague who left a positive, indelible impression on me during my years of teaching at Dordt. I held him in high regard because he practiced what he preached.
B.J. Haan’s influence in the area of Christian education and his untiring labors with faculty, students and constituency will live on. His concept of discipleship, his dedication to a—Reformed perspective in education and his uncanny ability to see far beyond the here and now are only part of the legacy he has left to future generations. We may well emulate this model of servanthood!
“BJ” and Deb we shared the worst and the best of times. We wept together when he buried his grandson, Seth, and again when we buried our son, Jack. But we shared some of the greatest joys this earth has to offer. The four of us accompanied the Dordt Choir on their European tour in 1984 and again in 1987 and 1990 with the Dordt Alumni Choir. “Highlights of our careers” we expressed to each other as the music, the text, loving Christian fellowship with Europeans, choir members and each other penetrated our souls.
President Haan’s warmth, unselfishness, humor, humility, strong personal faith, healthy work ethic and his commitment to his personal Savior are his legacy to all who were blessed by working with him. Our friend has fought the good fight, run the race with vigor, taken hold of eternal life and has traded his academic cap for his coveted crown of glory. How wonderful!
Professor Dale Grotenhuis greatly enhanced the appeal of Dordt College by serving as the conductor of its touring Concert Choir. He and his wife, Eleanor, author of the book Song of Triumph, now reside in Byron Center, Ml.