By Stephen W. Hiemstra
The Other Stephen Hiemstra
In honor of Father’s Day, I would like to devote this post to my father, Stephen J. Hiemstra. Dad has been on my mind a lot this year because in the middle of the Corona Virus Pandemic, my dad suffers from Alzheimer’s and I worry a lot about both him and my mom. Locally in Fairfax County, two-thirds of the corona virus deaths are of people over the age of eighty. My parents will be ninety this year and still live in their home in Falls Church, Virginia with the help of caregivers.
The remainder of this post will be essays taken from my father’s memoir, My Travel Through Life: Memoir of Family Life and Federal Service (2016) published in Centreville, Virginia by T2Pneuma Publishers. Check Amazon.com for copies.
In this rags to riches story, read about how an Iowa farm boy finds love, earns a doctorate, serves his country, combats hunger, advises presidents, and starts the first doctoral program in hospitality anywhere.
Foreword by John E. Hiemstra
I am pleased to introduce my brother, Stephen’s, memoir from the days on our family farm through his service as an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Although I was 3 years older than my brother, Stephen was clearly the brains of the family. This became obvious when our family moved from one farm to another in March of 1936 and our mother, Gertrude, took me to enroll in the area’s one room school house, Walker No. 6 of Spring Creek Township which was 3 miles south of the County Seat of Oskaloosa, Iowa and about a half mile from our new home. At the time, the school enrolled about 10 or 12 students in the eight grades offered.
After enrolling me in the third grade, the teacher turned to my brother, who was standing quietly alongside my mother, and asked: “Who is this?” She was told that Stephen would be five years old next month in April. With a gleam in her eye and perceiving a bright, young man, she said: I can enroll him in kindergarten now and in the fall he can start the first grade. Stephen’s academic pursuit took off from that moment forward. As the brightest of the three sons in the Hiemstra family, he went on to high school, college, and graduate school where he earned a doctorate, always at the top of his class.
One of three boys, Stephen grew up on the 160 acre farm that our father, Frank, worked hard to support us. And it was hard. When the crops failed in the depression, our Dad had to surrender his other farm east of Oskaloosa. Having lost much of his investment in the first farm, he moved to the less expensive farm in 1936 where he was able to start over and provide for his family—without the aid of tractors and power machinery—having only his own manual labor. As boys, we learned to plow and cultivate fields behind a team of horses. But we never felt poor having the example of a dedicated and hard working father and a loving mother.
Not only were we well taken care of physically, we had the gift of God’s love. The focal support point for the family was the Bible and the Central Reformed Church in Oskaloosa, Iowa, a protestant church of mostly Dutch heritage members. The church was one of about 20 Dutch churches, descendants of a colony of Dutch immigrants who founded Pella (16 miles West of Oskaloosa) in 1847.
Church life had a strong influence on our family. We attended Church twice on Sundays—Sunday school and worship on Sunday mornings and worship again on Sunday evening. We also attend weekly Bible study and catechism on Saturdays. Sunday afternoons were spent reading or taking a nap, unless we were visiting our grandparents.
The Christian faith deeply affected our father and our family. He prayed with us every day and urged us to maintain a deep commitment to Jesus Christ. As a youth, my father wanted to become a minister and started attending the Central Academy to pursue this dream, but family obligations forced him to drop out. So he encouraged his sons to enter the ministry, which I did—as a boy of seven or eight I took his dream as my own and studied to be ordained later as a minister in the Reformed Church in America.
This deep religious surrounding and commitment also impacted my brother, Stephen, but his faith took him in a different direction. Stephen wanted to be a farmer, like his father, but he wanted to be a more informed and educated farmer. His academic bent therefore took him to enroll in Iowa State College at Ames, Iowa. But, having experienced the academic life, he never returned to the farm.
After completing a two year degree aimed at farm operation, Stephen switched to a four year program in agricultural economics. Ironically, his love for agricultural economics led him to his other love, the lovely Hazel (Billie) Deacon, who he met while attending an agricultural economics conference in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. They were married during his last year at Ames. After attending the Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in college, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and was sent to serve as a communications officer at a base near Seoul, Korea. After completing his military service, he returned to Iowa State to complete a master’s degree and, later, to the University of California in Berkley to complete a doctorate (Ph.D.) in agricultural economics.
After graduate school, in 1960 Stephen accepted a position with the in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In USDA, he distinguished himself in research, publication, and administration. From 1960 to 1969 he wrote numerous articles for the National Food Situation (NFS), but in July of 1969, he and a colleague, Al Egbert, published a study, “Shifting Direct Government Payments from Agriculture to Poor People: Impacts on Food Consumption and Farm Income,” which set the stage for the rest of his career. He soon joined the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) where he worked on: Food Stamp Program, the Child Nutrition Programs, the School Lunch Program, the Child Care Food Service, and the Woman, Infants, and Children Program (WIC). Stephen details the research and implementation done in these programs in this book.
Following his years with the FNS, Stephen served as an executive in the new Council on Wage and Price Stability created by President Jimmy Carter in October 1978 and later dissolved when President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. At that point, Stephen returned to USDA.
In this book Stephen chronicles experiences that he had, including an invitation to an event with his family in the White House with President Carter. In 1983 Stephen retired from federal service and moved to West Lafayette, Indiana where he accepted a teaching and research position with Purdue University. There he founded and directed a doctoral program in the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, which was the first such program in hospitality anywhere in the world.
In addition to his professional accomplishments, Stephen remained devoted to his faith and his family. He was baptized and confirmed at the Central Reformed Church in Oskaloosa, Iowa and was later ordained as an elder by the Presbyterian church, another denomination in the reformed tradition.