(Harmen Jans Hamstra)

by Julio Hamstra

Herman Hamstra was born on December 4, 1876. He was the oldest of five children born to Mr. & Mrs. Jan Hamstra in the little town of Hallum, Province of Friesland, Holland. Herman grew up in northern Holland with his brothers Henry, Marten, Andrew and sister Ymkje.

When he was 22 years old, Herman immigrated to America, arriving in Hoboken, New Jersey. He worked as an apprentice to a carpenter in Passaic, New Jersey and then worked with Mr. Bolier, a man who later in life was to give large donations to the Eastern Christian School Association. Within a year, Herman returned to Holland to marry Trina Eerdmans who lived in Bolsward, Friesland, Together they returned to America and settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

While living in Grand Rapids, Herman began selling “Holland Goods” to the other immigrants. He imported sponges, wooden shoes, cookies, tea, cocoa and other familiar Dutch things. Herman and Trina were blessed with three children: John, Bernard and Jeanette.

Herman was active in the Netherlands and America in the Christian Reformed Church. He also was an early supporter of Christian education. His children were enrolled in the Christian schools as soon as they were school age.

Around 1914, Herman Hamstra moved his family to Chicago, Illinois where they settled in the Dutch community called Englewood. In the following years his importing business greatly expanded. This enabled Herman to sponsor his brothers to come to America. One of the brothers, Andrew, joined him in the importing business, working for a while in Grand Rapids, and later in Boston, Massachusetts. His other two brothers and sister moved to Lyndon, Washington.

While living in Illinois, Herman was instrumental in the formation of the Chicago Christian High School. His son John, my grandfather, was one of the first graduates of Chicago Christian High School. He once hired a salesman who impressed him during society meetings of his dedication.

In 1923, Herman Hamstra returned to New Jersey and once again lived in Passaic, New Jersey. He opened an office in lower Manhattan and began to introduce his imported products to the very important east-coast trade. It was during this period that the importing of Dutch cocoa and chocolate became a very important part of his business. His two sons also joined him in his business around this time.

Since he was in the importing business, with connections in Europe, my great-grandfather traveled many times back to Europe. Shortly before the beginning of the Second World War, Herman had his Buick automobile sent to Europe for him to use while he was there. It was his intention to leave the car at the home of friends when he returned to America and then have it available there for his next visit. During the war, the Germans captured this car and converted it into a towing vehicle. It was used to pull their German cars so it was pressed into use as an emergency towing vehicle. My great-grandfather’s son Bernard, drafted into service and serving in Europe during this war, went to visit relatives in Holland after the war. Then he also discovered that his father’s car was ruined and had been scrapped.

During the entire life of my great-grandfather, he never apologized for his Christian principles or believe. He was an out-spoken Christian. My grandmother told me that he wrote letters to pastors after hearing their sermons, whether he agreed with them or not.

Herman Hamstra’s six grandchildren were all educated in the Passaic Christian School. Three grandchildren graduated from Eastern Academy and three from Eastern Christian High School. They all attended Calvin College.

Herman Hamstra passed away in September 1954, a little over a year after his wife, Trina, died. His firm, started in Grand Rapids, Michigan over 70 years ago is now being continued by the third generation of the family.