The year is 2020. Students travel to one of three Eastern Christian locations in Midland Park, Wyckoff, and North Haledon. These students are either driven in cars or take the bus to school. All they have to bring to school is a computer and the occasional textbook.
The year is 1950. Students travel to one of five joint Christian schools: Riverside School, North 4th Street School, Midland Park Christian School, Passaic Christian School, and Eastern Academy. Very few students take the bus or drive, leaving most to walk from their houses to their respective schools. On top of the walk, they have to carry every single paper, notebook, and textbook they need for school.
For Mr. Henry Van Heemst, a grandfather of current EC students and father of EC alumni, that was a part of his daily school experience.
Mr. Van Heemst started his schooling at EC in 1949. At 13 years old, he attended North Fourth Street Christian School, the equivalent to Eastern Christian Middle School.
When it was time for him to graduate from North Fourth Street Christian School and enter Eastern Academy, the school that would eventually become Eastern Christian High School, Mr. Van Heemst remembers looking forward to his future schooling. “I was excited to be starting high school. A bit scared too,” he said. “A lot of students who were there attended North Fourth Street Christian School with me, so I knew a number of fellow students. At least there were some familiar faces.”
One of the first things Mr. Van Heemst mentioned about his time in high school was his daily commute to Eastern Academy. “Starting high school was quite a walk,” he remembered. “Eastern Academy was on North Eighth St. in Prospect Park, which meant I had to take a five block walk up a few hills. My Mom didn’t have a driver's license, so I walked to school.”
Although he started high school almost 70 years ago, Mr. Van Heemst’s first day shared some similarities with that of current high school students. “The first or second day there we were initiated,” he said. “I don’t remember what we had to wear, but it was something funny, even embarrassing. As we walked the halls, we were each given our own lockers. Each class we had meant more books and more homework. Even those first few days were difficult as we had to ‘find’ our way in the building.”
When asked about what he most fondly remembered about his time at Eastern Academy, Mr. Van Heemst said that it was the prominence that was placed on their faith. “I remember very vividly that we were in a Christian school,” he remembered. “We were reminded of that during a period in the morning where we would have stand-up chapel in the gym, and the teachers set the example as we were taught various subjects. Even though we weren’t angels, we got the message of the Gospel that our God reigns. As I think back, I thank God for those impressive school years, home life, and churches that helped form and strengthen our faith in our living God.”
After high school, Mr. Van Heemst went to work for the Paterson Evening News. In 1958, he married Julia Dyer, another EC graduate who was a part of the first freshman class to be taught in the current Eastern Christian High School building. He then spent three years training in the military and later worked as a linotype operator at the Van Grouw Composition Company after completing his service. With his wife, they adopted three children, Steven, David, and Susan, and gave birth to their son, James. They sent all of their children to be taught at Eastern Christian.
When asked about why he sent his children to EC, Mr. Van Heemst said it was due to the unique Christian education that the school provided. “As parents looking back at the church, home, and school approach, my wife and I knew that we were obligated to God and our children,” he reflected. “We were in full agreement that our children would get the benefits of church attendance and activities, home instruction, and a Christian education.”
Mr. Van Heemst’s daughter, Susan, currently has two children in Eastern Christian High School, continuing the EC legacy that Mr. Van Heemst started in 1949. Recalling how Eastern Christian has played a role in his life and family, he is thankful for the education and Christian experience that the school provided. “My late wife and I were thankful for our Christian upbringing that encouraged us to walk in the same pathway as our parents,” he said. “I encourage all students to seek the Lord while He may be found and call upon Him while He is near. You just can’t beat the Lord.”