Wilma Vanderkloet remembers vividly how her start at what is now Heritage Community Christian School was a good one all because of a handwritten note.
The note came from then-principal Jannie Feenstra, and indicated her pleasure that Vanderkloet had felt led to take the position.
Showing her strength for taking care of the details and thinking ahead, Feenstra also invited the novice to observe a few classes before she started. She also asked if she could help Vanderkloet find a place to stay.
These were the first signs of characteristics Vanderkloet would come to appreciate even more over the next 24 years of working with Feenstra.
In a speech at Feenstra’s retirement gathering last June, Vanderkloet added some other observations of the principal that have inspired her and many others in the school community.
“You have always been one of the most dedicated people I know,” Vanderkloet noted.
“As administrator you were paid to be here about two days a week, but there were many times when you spent almost every day here. You’ve put an incredible amount of time into setting up and organizing the library, taking care of paperwork in the office, attending meetings, doing yard duty so that the teachers wouldn’t have to do it as often, and – almost endlessly – putting stuff away and taking care of details.
“Because of all the work you did behind the scenes and all the planning and foresight you put into every aspect of each school year, we teachers were able to do our jobs effectively and well.”
Vanderkloet also expressed appreciation for Feenstra’s faith in God, especially her belief that He would do a new thing for the school, no matter how dark the times seemed.
“Your faith has inspired us all, and will continue to do so as we, and you, step into the ‘new thing’ God is doing,” said Vanderkloet.
Feenstra began with Heritage Community Christian School in 1969, taking time off to raise a family for a number of years, then continuing as administrator from 1987 on.
Asked about the contribution she feels she’s made, Feenstra said it was simply sustaining the school and moving it forward, including, literally, to a new location in New Dublin in 2005.
While there have certainly been times of struggle, Feenstra says getting through has been possible thanks to the faithfulness of God and supporters.
“I really felt called to serve here, and have done that to the best of my abilities,” she says.
It’s the stories other people have to tell about her that show most clearly her impact, though. As an example, at the school’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2010, a student from Feenstra’s very first class in 1969 showed up with a plaque she had given him inscribed with the words “prayer changes things.” Asking her to re-sign the small item, the student noted how he had kept it all these years in his top drawer as a reminder of a key spiritual lesson she had sought to teach so many years ago.
As she looks forward to some travel with her husband, including possibly to Australia, Feenstra says she feels the time for her retirement is right and she is confident she’s leaving the school in good hands. She adds she foresees herself continuing to be involved in small ways.
Reflecting on the future of faith-based education in Ontario, Feenstra notes that educating the broader Christian community about its value will continue to be a great opportunity.