Once upon a time, the pews of Dimnent chapel were not stuffed so full that there was only standing room for those students who were a few steps too slow in escaping their classes on any given Monday, Wednesday or Friday morning. It was a time before numerous chaplains and Hope’s notoriety for being a college rooted in the Christian faith, a time before Keppel House or Campus Ministries. Hope’s first chaplain, who was at that time referred to as a pastor, was Allen B. Cook. He assumed residence in the early 1960s, and his office was located in the basement of Dimnent Chapel, which eventually evolved into the Campus Ministries offices. Unlike the chaplains employed by Hope today, he was alone in his role with only a part-time assistant. In 1966, William Hillegonds succeeded him until 1978 when Gerard Van Heest became head chaplain until 1994. The current Dean of the Chapel, Trygve Johnson, explained that “following 1968, chapel was no longer mandated for Hope’s students and what ensued was a massive decline in attendance. Whether this was due to [chapel] taking place in the early hours of the morning (8:00am), the more liberal mindset of the late 70s and early 80s or the traditional format can only be speculated.”
In the late 1990s, upon seeing this drastic decline, Hope’s Board of Trustees banded together to preserve Hope’s Christian identity. Their goal was to reimagine Christian ministry on campus in a way that appealed to a more significant portion of the student body. In the 1992-1993 school year, the board implemented a new religious hierarchy on campus, replacing the position Head Chaplain with the Dean of the Chapel. Johnson explained that this position is endowed, saying, “I can be replaced, but the college cannot get rid of the position. It’s here in perpetuity, as a position that will outlast the individual.” This model allowed for Hope to hire multiple chaplains that operate under the Dean of the Chapel. In 1994, Ben Patterson became the first to fill this role. His first order of business was moving the Campus Ministries offices from the basement of Dimnent to a place with windows and light. It was at his request that Hope bequeathed Keppel House to Campus Ministries as a new place for offices.
It was Patterons’s hope that this change of scenery would engage the student body by giving the organization a home. However, Keppel House was not built for the purpose of providing Campus Ministries a more concrete location. Instead, according to Hope’s website, “The Keppel House was constructed in 1914 and was originally known as the College Guest House. It was renamed Keppel Guest House in 1989, and Campus Ministries moved in during the summer of 1994. In order to make more room for the Haworth Inn & Conference Center and Cook Residence Hall, the building was relocated to its current location in 1995.” For approximately 25 years, until this past August, Keppel House served as the office space and base for Campus Ministries. Johnson personally spent fourteen and a half years in the house serving the student body. By moving Campus Ministries from the basement of Dimnent to Keppel House, the heart of Hope’s Christian tradition was given a real home. It was this change, along with the revamping of Chapel services, that allowed for the prosperous and inclusive services that a considerable portion of students now enjoy.
Keppel House marked a shift in the history of Hope’s religious activity. It gave students and chaplains alike a place turn conversations into conversions and speeches into service for the betterment of the individual believer and the overall Christian community in Holland. Long gone are the days of just fifteen to twenty people taking up residence in a single row during a chapel service. No longer is Chapel predictable and unwelcoming to a generation of Christians used to breaking the traditional barriers. Rather, students eagerly rush from class to chapel, praying their professors let them out early enough to find a seat. Uplifting and enthusiastic music notes float across campus, infusing everyone with a little bit more joy. The legacy of the Keppel House has directly contributed to this, and in the coming weeks, the “Anchor” will continue to dive into the past, present and future of Keppel House.