(Dirk Willems Zuidema)

by Curt Doss

My great-grandfather’s name is Richard Zuidema. To older people he is known as “Uncle Dick”. He was born in Lichtaard, province of Friesland, Netherlands. He is the fourth born of five children. He graduated from a Christian school in the Netherlands at the age of eleven.

At the age of sixteen, in 1892, his family set sail for America. When at sea, his father died of pneumonia and was buried at sea. Of the five children, four went with the mother, because one sister was married and had a child in the Netherlands and she came afterwards. They rented a five room flat in Riverside, Paterson.

Almost at once the three oldest got jobs. Richard as a carpenter and they combined their income of nine dollars per week to pay the seven dollars rent. He soon got a job in a file shop for eleven dollars per week. About two years later he worked as a carpenter for Cornelius Kievit and later he worked for his brother-in-law John Van Buiten. He began working on his own and he even made his mother’s house on North Eight Street, Prospect Park. He also worked for Sam Teitsma, another brother-in-law. When he worked for Sam, Richard made the plans and Sam did the constructing. Altogether Richard was in contracting fifty years, twenty years on his own.

When he was twenty-two years old he married Gertrude Udes and he moved to Westervelt Avenue, Hawthorne. He had six children: William, Grace, Ethel, Dorothy, Nicholas and Carrie, all of whom are living. He also has eighteen grandchildren, over sixty great-grandchildren and about six great-great-grandchildren. They celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 1948 and in 1951 Mrs. Zuidema died.

Richard Zuidema was organist for fifty-five years, seventeen of which he was choir director in the Second Christian Reformed Church in Prospect Park. He was also the elder of this church at the age of seventy-seven. He was much involved in Christian activity. He was on the North Fourth Street Christian School Board for sixteen years and of those sixteen, he was a chairman for eight years.

Richard did some contracting work for the Prospect Park National Bank and the Savings and Loan Association. He was on the Bank’s appraisal committee for many years. Lately he hasn’t attended the meetings, but he is a director emeritus.

In the 1940’s a bandit gang held up the Prospect Park Bank and got away with eighteen thousand dollars. Vice-president Richard Zuidema crouched down to push the alarm. Then he carefully crept up the stairs where a meeting was in progress. Richard and the other directors climbed out of the window. A bandit in the getaway car signaled the alarm was going and they hurried to get away. As they fled, Albert Bauman fired five rounds and one hit the car. They junked the car for a truck so as not to arouse suspicion but they soon were caught and identified.

In the depression, he loafed for seven weeks and ran up a big grocery bill. Until he worked steady again, they didn’t eat much. In the first World War he signed up but the armmistice was signed before he actually was called.

He was acknowledged in the Congressional Record for the centennial of his birth. A quote was, “At one hundred I am not as spry as I used to be; besides the glasses, hearing aids and weak legs I’m fine”. He has been in Prospect Park eighty-five years. He says, “Life has been good to me, simply because God has been good to me. Without faith in God there is no hope or fulfillment of life here and thereafter”.

He still plays his pipe organ on occasions. At the age of ninety-five he went to Grand Rapids, Michigan by plane to see his granddaughter graduate from Calvin College.

He recalls seeing Teddy Roosevelt in 1904 in Paterson on North Eleventh Street and Haledon Avenue. Soon afterwards he bought the house. The house was located where Wilkin’s Formal Wear is now, but it was moved thirty feet in 1920.

With the help of my great-grandfather,

two aunts and my grandmother.