Birthday bash: Zeeland Historical Society celebrates 40th anniversary with ice cream social - August 4, 2014

In 1979, Randall Dekker donated his family's Main Avenue home to the Zeeland Historical Society to start a museum.

The historical society, founded 40 years ago, later obtained and restored the Old New Groningen Schoolhouse.


Newspaper articles and other memorabilia on the society's own history is preserved by volunteers in a large scrapbook. Contributed


Zeeland Historical Society members and city officials cut the ribbon on the Dekker Huis Museum in 1979.

Pictured in the front row: Mayor Dick Timmer, left, Mary Jane Vander Weide, Gertrude Telgenhof, Toni VanKoevering, Cecilia Ver Hage, Dorothy Voss, Rev. Gerrit Sheeres and Janet Sheeres.


Back row: Martin Hieftje, left, Larry Veldheer, Wilma Veldheer, John Hoogland, De Nella Vanden Bosch, Cornelius Karsten, Kelly Yntema. Contributed


Ruth Stillwell shows her grandson Aiden, 8, some of the kitchen tools her own grandmother used.


The two visited Zeeland's Dekker-Huis Museum on Thursday, July 31, 2014.


The Zeeland Historical Society, founded 40 years ago, started the museum in 1979. Peg McNichol/Sentinel staff



Anyone longing for the good old days of child's play with jacks and hula hoops, jump rope and hopscotch can get their fill Wednesday. Or maybe pick up a new hobby. The fun is just part of Zeeland Historical Society's 40th Birthday Bash, set for Wednesday at Old New Groningen School, 10537 Paw Paw Drive.


The free community party will feature live folk music — think fiddle, guitar and dulcimer — with Beukema and Friends as well as the city's giant portable sprinkler, in case temperatures match the 79 degrees recorded on Aug. 6, 1974.


The free community party has two goals, said Sara Donkersloot, one of the volunteers organizing the historical society's ice cream social.


The party celebrates volunteers who've worked for 40 years to preserve Zeeland history. And, she said, it recognizes donors who raised $350,000 to preserve Old New Groningen. Less than $25,000 of the restoration debt remains, Donkersloot said.


"We've had many, many generous businesses and people who've allowed us to restore the schoolhouse," Donkersloot said.


If you go

WHAT Zeeland Historical Society's 40th Birthday Bash 

WHEN 6-8 p.m. Wednesday (rain or shine)

WHERE Old New Groningen Schoolhouse, 10537 Paw Paw Drive (behind the New Groningen school). Park at New Groningen Elementary, 10542 Chicago Drive; walk through the playground to the Old New Groningen.


DETAILS Ice cream social with old-fashioned games for kids. Transportation available for those who need assistance.


A donor wall will be unveiled about mid-way through the party, set for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday.


"Kit Kartsen really spearheaded renovations of Old New Groningen," Donkersloot said. "We've asked him to be part of the unveiling ceremony and say a few words. He was a former teacher and has a wonderful passion for history."


Karsten is also one of the historical society's past presidents.


On Wednesday, volunteers will be ready to serve up to 400 people a variety of Hudsonville Ice Cream flavors: Double Chocolate Almond, Seaside Caramel, Caramel Deer Traxx, Black Cherry, Chicago Caramel Popcorn and Peanut Butter Delight (TCBY). Hudsonville donated the treats through an arrangement with the Hungry for Christ food bank, Donkersloot said.


Zeeland Historical Society volunteers are already at work on a fall fundraiser, with details to be announced soon, Donkersloot said.


A group of residents founded the Zeeland Historical Society, in 1974 to preserve the past even as the city and the world were rapidly modernizing. They founded the Dekker-Huis Museum in 1979. Many charter members have since died; those who remain are expected to be at Wednesday's party.


Old New Groningen School "is a wonderful resource," said Donkersloot. "Part of the reason we're having the ice cream social there is so people can see how it can be used for business meetings or parties."


Rental fees vary, but all income is used for debt retirement and building maintenance, she said. The school is also used by Zeeland teachers to give students interactive history lessons.


This summer, many of those same students returned to the museum to show their grandparents around. Or, as Laketown Township resident Ruth Stillwell did, to show her grandson Aiden, 8, how his ancestors lived.


Zeeland Historical Society's efforts are "a gift to future generations," Donkersloot said. "We need to remember our roots."


She said those whose craftsmanship and other contributions helped create Zeeland and continue to keep it thriving should be recognized because they've made Zeeland "a wonderful place to work and play."