From time to time I am asked about the history of Central College. The question usually comes when the need for casual conversation surfaces. It reminds me of the question we commonly use in such situations, “So, where are you from?”
I always appreciate the question since I find the history of our academic community to be quite interesting. Most of those curious assume the college was founded by the Reformed Church in America (RCA), reflecting the Dutch heritage of our local community in Pella. I often say we were really founded by the citizens of Pella, who collaborated with the American Baptists Educational Society in Iowa to establish the college. I think of it as an early form of outsourcing. Sixty-three years of affiliation with the Baptist church formally concluded in 1916 as the college was transferred to the RCA.
Contained in a volume titled, “A Manual of the Reformed Church in America, 1628-1922” is a chapter titled, “History of Central College,” written by S.C. Nettinga. An account of the formal actions taken by the RCA to embrace the college is presented along with some details about the status of the college as this transition was accomplished. The chapter begins referring to the new affiliation with Central College as a providential gift and notes:
That is the view which we of the present day ought to take of it, and which, in light of the history of our educational institutions, will be taken of it in the days to come.
Nettinga’s chapter makes specific reference to the Central College president’s report to the General Synod in 1918, just two years after the transition. The report noted that enrollment was increasing, but more importantly that:
90% of these students come from districts that had never contributed any students to the educational institutions of the Reformed Church, proving that the college was developing new fields of educational activity in the church and not duplicating the work of other institutions. In other words, Central College has simply become another center of higher Christian education in the Reformed Church for many young people who without it would never seek it.
One of the most enduring values of Central College is its long-standing commitment to expanding educational access and opportunity for all students. Those values were clearly expressed in the earliest days of the college, and today those aspirations live on in our campus community. The hope for the college a century ago was reflected in the Nettinga’s closing words:
There can be no doubt as to the future success of this enterprise, if the church only has faith and courage enough to persevere. Then it too, like its predecessors, will send forth streams of blessing into the world.