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Essay

Elegy

By January 7, 2022 19 Comments
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We watched him shave–at least I did. I mean, I didn’t stand there gawking like some silly ten-year-old idiot, but when he was up beside the mirror in the crisp morning air, when he’d spread a palm-full of shaving cream, grab his razor from his bag and draw it across his chin, I couldn’t help but wish the years away. I didn’t want to be a kid. I wanted to be his age. Shoot, I wanted to be him at his age. 

Never more so than when he was out on the diamond playing short. He had as much range as I’d ever seen and a wonderful arm. He was a natural–that’s what I remember thinking–fluid covering second on a double play, a smart hitter who didn’t need to broadcast the power he’d already knew he had.

In the cabin at night, he didn’t push God. Young staff thought they could remake a kid with a couple nights of weepy devotions, turn us all into Jesus freaks. Wasn’t going to happen, and we knew that when we took the first step on the bus to Bible camp. I mean, there was the lake and the girls. I looked forward to camp, but not the whole testimony thing. No way. I was no chump. 

But this guy–Bill, his name was–was different. He was in our cabin every night for devotions, and you never once felt as if he was the dentist, looking to fill spiritual cavities. Mostly he talked about himself, not in an proud way, but in a serious way that still had him smiling. Devotions were no pain.

When he pulled on that Calvin College letter jacket and talked about playing ball, he won my heart. I wanted to be what he was–good and kind and not pushy, a guy who could turn a double play and make the kid playing second as much an all-star as he was.

That’s what I remembered from 1960. Name was Bill.

During the summer of 1978, my wife and I rode herd on a bus full of kids from Siouxland, trucked them down to Cary, Mississippi, where most of them taught at a summer Bible school out in the country, while the rest of us did odd jobs. I’ve never been particularly handy, so someone–I don’t know who–sent me into the Center’s library to make sense of the place.

Cary was a CRC Goodwill store. Every last thing was marked with church names: Oskaloosa, Hudsonville, Sioux Center Bethel, Lucas, Boston Square, Third Kalamazoo. Stepladders, cups and saucers, folding chairs (both wooden and steel), pots and pans, and, of course, library books, all hand-me-downs. Promise not to tell, but I stole a few books. I didn’t think Black folks from the Mississippi Delta would be all that anxious to read Rooftops Over Strawtown. Still up stairs in our library. I could return it, I suppose.

We brought maybe 25 kids. A church group from Kalamazoo was there too. One night their pastor led in devotions. The preacher standing beside his table–it slowly dawned on me–was the college kid, Bill, counselor from Bible camp, now pushing forty. I’m not making this up. 

I had enough of a preacher in me to know the Bishop of all our fellowships doesn’t drop in-the-flesh sermons into your lap every day; but right there in Cary, Mississippi, He’d staked out a homily for one or both of us that just needed a little grooming.

I’m the one who told his church members and our kids a night later that their Pastor Bill had been a quiet but significant influence in my life one long-ago summer at Bible camp. “He really was,” I told those kids and those volunteer workers, and “right now your pastor has no idea himself that any of that ever happened.”

Seriously. He didn’t.

I’m not making that up either.

A decade or more later, shortstop Bill Huyser made it into Romey’s Place, a novel of mine, as pretty much the character he’d been, to me at least, during that week at Bible camp.

Calvin Simmons [the name I’d given him in the novel], a college guy on his way to the ministry and a shortstop with the best range I’d ever seen, played counselor for us in the barracks. . .On cool nights, he’d wear his maroon and gold college jacket when he patrolled the grounds, and he looked like just about everything I wanted to be–lean, athletic, sincere and moral.

Some years later–Pastor Bill was likely in his sixties by then–I ran into him somewhere and told him about the novel, told him he didn’t have a starring role but didn’t do badly with the cameo I gave him. I didn’t need to say right then that he’d played a thoughtful role in my life–he already knew that.

And years later, when we’d see each other somewhere in Michigan, he’d be sure to come up and chat a bit. I could tell he was proud of that whole story, the story I’m telling you now, a story I’m unwinding here this morning because I was just told that the Rev. Bill Huyser, 97 years old, died last Tuesday, 70 years of service behind him in the church. Seventy years.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of people can and should eulogize him and do a far better job. I’ve traced through what little I know. To me, once upon a time, he was a cool college jock with a Calvin letter jacket, a shortstop who knew how to talk to kids, a man I watched shave, watched place-hit like a pro, and watched love his guys even when, that year, we got in hot trouble in the girls’ cabins.

I’ll gladly step back and allow those hundreds who knew him better, those whose lives he touched, to tell the stories they remember; but I can’t help thinking there are precious moments when the Bishop of all our fellowships does, in fact, drop sermons and stories, fully fleshed out, into our laps.

I can’t help thinking this long story about a sovereign God’s acute timing is a story Rev. Bill Huyser, the old Calvinist preacher, would be more than happy to hear me tell you this morning. See that smile?

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.

19 Comments

  • John says:

    Beautifully rendered, Jim, Thanks for re-membering, being in the company of common greatness.

  • Ron Calsbeek says:

    I love your stories and the way you write them. Thanks for another heartwarming tribute.

  • Ed Starkenburg says:

    God’s providence and timing are wonderful gifts. Thanks for reminding us of that and the encouragement to live grace-filled lives.

  • Cheryl Scherr says:

    That was lovely. We all have/had people we would hope to be like. You just reminded me of some of them.

  • What a wonderful tribute. It brings back memories of those people who influenced me. Thank you for this and I pray that you will stay healthy in this New Year.

  • Thanks for the story! I have tears rolling down my cheeks. Its ironic, facinating and pleasing how God works in lives. Rev Bill has been that same quiet wonder and influence in my life and my family. For the past 30 years at Fellowship CRC, the Church he landed at after he retired, he has been a quiet and powerful presence, encouraging and influencing many. Kindness, mercy, warmth and generosity being a few of the traits that I cherish being the recipient of.
    His humor and chuckle are also memorable. ~17 years ago I asked him to have a key role in a comittee that I chaired. I vividly recall his chuckling reply “Jimmy, I am not making long range plans right now, but thankyou for thinking to include me.” He did follow-up through the next year with encouragement. Always a solid and warm presence -even up to 4 weeks ago or so where we bumped into eachother in the bathroom before morning worship and he asked about my youngest and when she was coming home from college for Christmas break.
    Thank you God for the gift of Pastor Bill.

  • Bruce Buursma says:

    Just right, Jim.

  • EB says:

    What a beautiful description of the kind of people we want our pastors/mentors to be. Maybe your story will inspire someone to become a Bill Huyser for those who are looking for a model of Christianity.

  • Jane Brown says:

    Such a blessing to read, and picture –
    Thank you

  • Harvey Kiekover says:

    There will be other eulogies, Jim, but I’d say yours is a pretty fair one!! I’m moved and encouraged in reading it—blessed. Thank you very much, Jim. Look

  • James Schippers says:

    Great reading Jim, Thanks so much for your thoughts this morning. They reinforce what I have been seeing more clearly as I get older and travel life’s journey. God uses many people in many areas & times of life that we would not have expected or planned. A fisherman, a tax collector, shepherds, yes even an English professor in a rural town of Iowa. Blessings to you in this new year as the Lord uses you for His purposes & glory.
    Skip

  • Ken Boonstra says:

    Wish I could remember where my path crossed Bill’s. I don’t. He was just one of the many encouragements in my life. I remember him just as you describe – gentle, wry smile, encouraging. Wish I could have seen him play ball. Thanks for this nice reminder of Bill, and all those who cross our paths with God’s grace

  • Joan Huyser-Honig says:

    Thank you so much for these great stories about my Uncle Bill!

  • Al Mulder says:

    Thank you James for sharing this sweet memory. It is wonderful that when people fade, the memories live on. Al

  • Emily Huyser Sikkema says:

    These glimpses into my grandpa’s life long before he was such bring such a smile to my face. Thank you for sharing how, through Jesus, his influence reached far beyond what he could imagine.

  • SHERRI FUNK says:

    I enjoyed reading about Pastor Bill’s younger days. I too, am a member of Fellowship CRC. He, and his wife Alvina, have been a blessing to our church for many years. Pastor Bill was a precious soul who will be missed by many, but so glad that he is now living his eternal reward.

  • Dirk Vaneyk says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share some of the impact he had. I first met him on Thanksgiving at his home in Grandville. I was a high school senior thinking of studying “pre-seminary” at Calvin. Also I was dating his granddaughter, Kristin. I lost my keys in his yard and even in his 70s he came out to help me look! I had to go back the next day to look in the daylight. He helped me look then too 🙂 I eventually married Kristin and got to call Rev Bill, “Grandpa”. I’m grateful to have known him both as a ministry mentor but even more so as family.

  • Carol Visser-Wolf and Steve Wolf Wolf says:

    I loved reading this story and was amazed that my nephew, Jim K. knew him from his church. We need more such stories in times that the news is full of tragedies. We need reminders that there are wonderful, loving people out there such as this Pastor Bill. Thank you for sharing this.

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