Stories from Carl Vogelaar ’48

Carl Vogelaar '48 and wife JeanCarl Vogelaar ’48 grew up in Pella, trained for WWII Air Force and became a pastor. He has served in New York, Ohio, Arizona and California — and was chaplain for seven world cruises. He and wife Jean live in Santa Rosa, California. Read Carl’s account of poisonings at home, misadventures in Pella and Central in the ’40s.

I was one of five children and raised in Pella when the population was about 5,000. There wasn’t much traffic, and any place in town was easy and safe to reach by walking or riding a bike. Both sets of my grandparents came from Holland, and English was not spoken in my home until my older twin brother and sister started school — and could not speak English. After that, my parents spoke English at home and Dutch only when they didn’t want us to understand. When I was four years old, my oldest sibling became ill with a ruptured appendix Christmas Day and died New Year’s Day, a month before his 15th birthday. My youngest sibling, born 4 months later, was named after him.

I met my future wife, Joan Ver Meer, while we were still in high school; she was one year behind me. After high school graduation, she spent one semester at Central College before going into nursing training. We knew each other but never dated. After the war, my high school friend and Joan’s cousin arranged dates for the four of us. It continued from there and has been a blessed relationship. In 1948, after I graduated from Central and Joan graduated as a registered nurse, we were married at First Christian Reformed Church in Pella. God has blessed our marriage with three beautiful and talented children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

I turned 90 on March 16, but I’m still around! In January, I was asked to preach in my former church, the Church of the Chimes in San Jose on Remembrance Sunday.

Growing Up in Pella

When I was in elementary school, we still had a cow that my dad kept in a barn near our home. On the way to school, I would carry a pail of milk to my grandmother. She in turn would have a cookie for me. We communicated very little, except for smiles, because she never learned to speak English and I knew very little Dutch.

There are very few who can claim their mother came close to poisoning them twice in one day, yet they lived to tell about it. When I was 16 and suffering an undiagnosed illness, my mother accidentally administered a dose of disinfectant rather than prescribed medicine. The antidote on the bottle called for alcohol — not the rubbing alcohol she administered. A doctor was called, and my stomach was pumped. You can imagine my mother’s condition during all of this, but God answered her prayers. Four hours later, I woke and felt fine. In fact, the next day I was no longer sick — completely healed from whatever sickness I had before.

During the early 1940s, there were still many one-room country school houses. They did not have indoor plumbing, only an outdoor hand-pump and, of course, an outhouse. Almost every night before Halloween, my friends and I would drive through the country and turn over outhouses at these rural schools. Our mistake was returning to one particular school three times; the third time they were hiding inside the school waiting for us. The rural school board said they would not press charges if we paid for a new outhouse. The cost was about $100, and the ten of us had to pay about $10 each. However, ten dollars was a lot of money at the time.

Air Force Training

World War II broke out when I was still in high school. My senior year, I went to Des Moines with a friend to take a series of mental and physical tests to become an Army Air Force Aviation Cadet. After passing all the tests, I did not pass the minimum weight requirement for my height of 6’ 3”. I had a week to gain 11 pounds, which I did with the help of a lot of bananas, malted milks and gulping water before stepping on the scale. In July 1943, Uncle Sam called me to active duty. I left by train from Des Moines with about 25 others from Iowa. My 27 months training to become a B-17 combat pilot took me to Florida, Arizona, California and Nebraska. The Japanese surrendered just as I completed training. I was luckier than many, suffering only a few close calls during flight training and a badly sprained ankle. I was discharged in 1945 but remained in the Air Force Reserve until 1960.

Enrolled at Central 

After my discharge, despite being two weeks late, I was able to begin my college training at Central College. Since Pella was my home town, I lived at home. Central has always been a large part of my life and thinking. All through high school and college, I was very interested and attended all the basketball and football games played at home. Central was just a part of my life for the 35 years I lived in Pella. A class that comes to my mind that I enjoyed was a speech class under Prof. Birdsall, who was a great teacher. The speeches were easy for me because I had so many experiences as a pilot; I aced them all. What I learned in the class was very helpful later in preparation for sermons.

Not many men were back from service in fall 1945, only a couple months after the war ended. With so few men, I was good enough to make the basketball squad that year. The next year, when many more men had returned, I didn’t make the team; however, I continued to play intramural basketball. At that point in my life, college was not a high priority, and I probably wouldn’t have finished without my dad’s encouragement. I did some dating while at Central and remember well waiting for my date in Graham Hall and standing outside together until the strike of 10 p.m. on school nights. I made many good friends there.

Dean Pietenpol was a man I highly respected and liked. I remember wearing those little green caps freshmen hated and still have mine. I always enjoyed the freshmen-sophomore rope pull across my future father-in-law’s pond, which was a big event back then. And I was active in building homecoming floats. I was the manager of the Central Ray, where my main job was getting ads from local merchants, which was a learning experience in itself.

I received considerable college credits from my military training and then, by going to summer school one summer, I was able to finish college in three years, graduating in May 1948, only a year later than if I had gone directly to college from high school. Our love of Central College continues and we are proud to be on the Roll of Honor for those who have Central as a recipient in their Trust.

Two Careers

During high school, college and after graduation, I worked in my father and uncle’s hardware, appliance, farm implement and Pontiac car business located on the corner of Franklin and East First Street. In 1953, my father sold his half of the business to me. He continued working with me until I left for New Brunswick Theological Seminary in 1960. My second career in the ministry began after I was ordained in 1963. One of my professors at seminary was Dr. Gerrit Vander Lugt. He had been president of Central College during my years as a student and resigned in 1960 to become the theological professor at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, where I studied philosophy under him my first year. He was the speaker at my ordination as a pastor in Philmont, New York. I ministered in New York and Ohio before taking my third ministry in San Jose, Calif., at the Church of the Chimes. I also earned a master’s degree in pastoral psychology and counseling from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio.

I retired at the end of October in 1988 at the age of 64 but continued to serve in the Reformed Church in America in many capacities, including two part-time ministries in Arizona and California. Beginning in 1977, I was asked to serve as the cruise ship chaplain on seven one-week cruises in the Caribbean. Over the years, Joan and I were fortunate to travel to many parts of the world as I shared the Good News of Jesus. In 1993, we left New York City on the first of what would become seven world cruises.

These Days

Woodworking has always been my hobby. After retirement, I purchased a scroll saw and did a lot of intricate fret work and even sold my work at boutiques. I enjoy reading and watching all sports, especially basketball and football. Golden State Warriors are number one in the nation! I spend about an hour five days a week exercising. I continue sports by playing bean bag baseball here in our retirement home. We play five-game series and keep batting averages upon which teams are chosen.

To encourage serious, intellectual discourse on Civitas, please include your first and last name when commenting. Anonymous comments will be removed.

  • Henry Vande Kieft


    9:51 am on April 7, 2015


    Hello from one of the little kids on 1930s Franklin Street. My sister, Margy, was Doretha’s best high-school friend and you may also remember brother Bill, who played basketball for PHS, was a navy pilot in WW II, and went on to a career at both GM and Ford Motor Co.

    I came along later and played with Ruth and Nook Van Houweling. I first became interested in stick-and-paper model airplanes (Comet; a dime for regular, a quarter for deluxe) at Rene Vander Linden’s Book Shop. And my sister-in-law, Linda Van Roekel, attended your Church of the Chimes during one of her techy jobs in San Jose.

    You obviously enjoyed a satisfying life after Central, and it was enjoyable reading about it. Blessings to you and your family.

  • Gertrude (Trudy) Van Zee


    8:25 pm on April 4, 2015

    Carl and Joan, My parents Prescott and Carrie Steenhoek were good friends of your parents!. I also grew up in the old Third Ref. Church. I remember both you and your wife went you were dating before you married. It was good to hear of all your lifetime experiences in the past years! Your sister Ruth was a year ahead of me in school and we were friends and often visited each other’s homes for dinner on Sundays. I attended Central for one year before I got married in 1949, but later after my boys were grown, I became the secretary for the Music Dept at Central for 25 years Both of my sons attended Central and my youngest son later graduated from Iowa Law School. That son, Clint Van Zee and his wife Suzanne (Farver) are now living in Cotati, CA which is not far from Santa Rosa. They have been involved with raising puppies for an organization called Canine Companions which provides dogs for persons with disabilities! I hope they will meet both of you sometime! Sincerely, Trudy Van Zee

  • Jo Julian


    8:09 am on April 4, 2015

    I enjoyed reading this article because I know the family. They were our neighbors in Pella and their daughter, Marla, was my friend. I did get to see them a few years ago while visiting my father in Pella. I was riding in an elevator and looked up to see the Vogelaars.It had been over 50 yrs and I knew exactly who they were.

  • Robert Klein


    5:08 pm on April 2, 2015

    Great article. Carl is my uncle and while he may be turning 90, he acts like he’s 70. An amazing specimen!