Vice President of Administration retires after 35 years
Over 100 people gathered on the evening of May 11, 2016, to celebrate Florence Kooiman’s 35 years of faithful service to Mid-America Reformed Seminary
. The bittersweet celebration also marked her retirement in the summer of 2016 from her position as Vice President of Administration.
Anyone who’s had much contact with the Seminary very likely knows Flo. She’s been the dynamo behind the scenes, the institution at the institution.
Florence’s pastor, Rev. Jacque Roets (Mid-America alumnus, 2001), characterized her as “courageous and humble,” performing her “hidden service” so that “the men in charge looked good.”
Dr. Cornel Venema noted how apropos the old joke: “Do you want to speak to the man in charge, or to the woman who knows what’s going on?”
He expressed his thanks for Florence’s energetic contributions over the years: running, reacting, multitasking, helping, and volunteering. He contrasted Florence’s devotion to the Seminary with the Lord’s example of the hired hand who doesn’t really love the sheep. Even though her volunteer work soon turned into full-time employment, Dr. Venema stated she remained “a volunteer all the way through.”
Board of Trustees President, Rev. Ed Marcusse, remarked how Florence was “in on the ground floor” of the Seminary’s establishment and how it “would not be what it is” without her and will not be the same. He described her in many ways, including: surrogate mother, life coach, time keeper, and sympathetic listener. He said, “You’ve made a huge difference in the lives of every single person you’ve met, and we thank you for that.”
An audio-visual presentation featured photos of Florence through the years and showcased greetings from many alumni and their families.
Alumnus and Board member Rev. Jim Sawtelle (1993 graduate) said, “I think the best way to describe Flo is ‘friend.’ She was a friend to every student.”
As a young mom, Florence attended the first Sem-Fest in 1981, a year before classes began. Because her daughter was starting Kindergarten, she signed up to volunteer two days per week.
She said, “The Board underestimated how much work there was to do in setting up a new school, so I spent quite a bit of time there in September. In October, Dr. P.Y. De Jong said, ‘Flo, you’re here so much, I think we should just put you on the payroll.’ That’s how I started my career at Mid-America.”
Among the unique experiences that Florence recalled during the retirement party were two “sleepovers” at Mid-America. The first occurred on the original campus, when an Iowa blizzard with blowing snow kept many people at the Seminary overnight. After she and her husband, Orv, found places for everyone to sleep, the only spot left for them was on the mailbags in the janitor’s workroom. “They had an awful odor,” she said. “I can still remember the smell. That was a long night, and morning was a welcome sight.”
The second “sleepover” happened in Indiana, when Dyer police called Florence one night and asked if she could open the Seminary for flood victims. “The people arrived on flatbed trucks, and we created makeshift beds in every room.” Several nearby students and Professor Vander Hart assisted by bringing in blankets and helping with crowd control, which included herding dogs into one room and cats into another.
Dr. Venema mentioned some concern about Flo’s heart after the “Darth Vader episode,” and Florence admitted, “It probably took some years off my life.” She later explained, “I went out to lunch, and when I returned, I offered to take some boxes back to the storage room. When I walked into the room, the light was off. I switched it on, and there, by the back wall stood a person in a Darth Vader costume, mask and all, with a big stick in his hand. I screamed and collapsed to the floor, as this creature jumped over me and ran out.”
She recalled getting to know Board member James Folkerts as a boy when his father, Fred (1992 graduate), enrolled at Mid-America in 1989. James graduated from the Seminary in 2004, and his brother Christopher graduated in 2005.
With the assistance of individuals and churches in the area, Florence has helped dozens of students and their families settle into the community. She also answered countless of student questions, a couple of the more memorable being: Can I wear patent shoes with blue jeans? Where do I shop for a diamond ring?
Over the last 35 years, Florence has seen technology transition from the electric typewriter to a word processor with floppy discs to a computer. Filing documents has gone from metal cabinet to invisible cloud.
Her work at the Seminary was a godsend after the loss of her husband. “When God called Orv home, I felt my world had ended. But He revealed that He had plans for my life,” she said. “My family and the Mid-America community played an important part in my healing.”
A precious time for Florence was a trip to New Zealand with other Seminary personnel a few years ago. “I anticipated the scenery would be the highlight, but God showed me something even more beautiful. He filled me with joy at seeing what He had done and continues to do in the church through the training of men for the gospel ministry.”
As she anticipates this new chapter in her life, Florence praise the Lord for the privilege of serving Him at Mid-America. “Thanks be to God for allowing me, in spite of my human failings, to be a part of training men to proclaim His Word!”
The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.