The Next Generation: Doetje Jans Sjoeks

Doetje Jans Sjoeks, the third child and only daughter of Jan Pieters Sjoeks and Wytske Roelofs Hoogland Sjoeks was born January 6, 1873 in Driesum, Friesland, Netherlands. The eleven-year-old sailed with her family to the United States and lived with them in the Dutch farming settlements in Ottawa County, Michigan.

One can only imagine the family life of the Sjoeks in those first years in America. As Della (her Anglicized name) raised her own children she would tell them “Idle hands do the Devil’s work.” She would often recount how her mother was never idle and expected the same from Della including knitting while her father read the scriptures daily. However, Della was not destined to live on a farm but in the city and eventually be a lay preacher’s wife.

Pieter and Roelof Sjoeks in their late teens left the farm for Grand Rapids, Michigan to work for wages. In that era a well-trained domestic could earn a decent living upon proving herself. Wytske’s early training of her daughter served Della well, and with her older brothers nearby she too set off for the big city. Ralph became a bookkeeper at the Westside Hardware owned by Thys Stadt and introduced his sister to Mr. Stadt’s dapper son Henry. They married October 30, 1893. It is rumored that Della's father was not pleased with these events, and the fact that there is more record of their 50th wedding anniversary than their wedding lends credence to this family hearsay.

Between 1894 and 1915 five children were born: Theodore, Winifred, Henrietta, John and Kathryn.

Henry Stadt worked in the hardware business for a number of years, but in 1917 he and Della were converted from the Reformed faith to the Plymouth Brethren. The remainder of Della’s life was spent as a Lay Preacher’s wife, a not inconsiderable role in her husband’s chosen career path. Lay Preachers are often away from home for extended periods ministering to other fellowships. Travel at that time was not as swift as it is now so Della was often left to care for her home and family on her own. It was also her duty to host other Lay Preachers when they came to the Gospel Hall where Della and Henry were members. She was renowned for her hospitality, particularly her wonderful meals.

In 1941 she and Henry were the leaders in founding Rest Haven Home in Alpine, Michigan. They saw the need among the elderly of their faith for care in their declining years, and for nearly two years Della and her daughter Kathryn cared for as many as eleven at a time in the Stadt’s home. Then with the opening of Rest Haven she continued to serve. It is still in existence today, and Kathryn died there in 1999 as well as Della’s 3rd child, Henrietta, in 1996.

Theo died at age 34 in 1928, John in 1981 in Tracy City, TN and Winifred in 1973 in North Carolina.

Kathryn did not marry until both her parents were gone. Henry died while participating in a church service in Flint, MI March 20, 1952 and Della passed away quietly at her home in Grand Rapids July 3, 1960.

This story was submitted by Marilyn Houseman, wife of Ronald Houseman, grandson of Della Shooks Stadt.