Over the years, the banquet hall in Graham Conference Center has hosted countless speakers, conferences, dinners, musical performances and weddings. It has been a center for the community of both Central College and Pella. It is a gathering space for people and culture that Harry and Bernice Vermeer and family have appreciated.
On May 12, the room was officially dedicated as the Harry and Bernice Vermeer Banquet Hall. Although Harry passed away in 2006, his wife Bernice ’50 attended the ceremony surrounded by her family. Bernice was honored by the naming of the hall, especially since she knows the people of the Pella area and Central College will enjoy the many events that can now be hosted in a beautifully updated facility.
Harry and Bernice Vermeer contributed a significant gift to Central College toward the recent renovation of the banquet hall. No strangers to charitable giving, the couple has been serving the community physically and financially their whole lives.
Harry and Bernice, born in 1929 and 1930 respectively, both grew up in Pella, Iowa. Bernice attended Calvin College for one year before coming to Central to finish her two-year teaching degree. She taught for two years and then joined her husband at his military base in Alabama. Harry served in the Army for two years during the Korean War, then returned to Pella to join his brother Gary at Vermeer Manufacturing, which Gary founded in 1948. Harry was part-owner of the internationally successful company until he died, and he worked there for 25 years, establishing Vermeer dealerships all over the U.S. and the world.
In 1976, Harry left Vermeer to own and operate the Marion County State Bank, which he led until health problems forced him to retire in 2000. Harry and Bernice raised four children, traveled the globe and served the community of Pella. Harry served as president of the boards of the Pella Community Hospital and the Pella Historical Society. He served on the Pella City Council and led fundraising efforts for the Pella Christian Schools and the hospital. Bernice is a Lifetime Member of the Auxiliary of the Hospital and continues to be an active volunteer around town.
Both Bernice and her daughter LuAnn De Haan describe Harry as a hard worker. Family, too, was central to his life. Bernice recalls that Saturdays were always set aside for the family. But after the kids went to bed, he would head back to the office. His work establishing Vermeer dealerships took the family on vacations around the country, and he and Bernice traveled all over the world for both Vermeer and various mission efforts. Harry and Bernice’s mission initiatives locally included inviting Central students to their home for Bible studies.
The Vermeer family believes that God’s blessings on Vermeer Corporation and Marion County State bank blessed Harry with many resources. “Harry was an inspirational giver,” says his son-in-law Ralph De Haan. “He understood that it was God’s resources. His thought was: “This isn’t mine. I’m only taking care of it.’”
Harry found many ways to give back to the community that had helped make Vermeer and the bank successful. “He had resources that could be invested in God’s kingdom and the community,” says Ralph. “He took on the big job of trying to figure out the best places to put those dollars.”
One such place was Central College, where Harry and Bernice spent many happy hours attending dinners, music and theatre performances and athletic events. Harry and Bernice were passionate about Pella continuing to grow, and that meant Central thriving, as well.
“Christian education was very important to him,” says LuAnn. “Dad’s gifts to Central College were his way of supporting higher education locally.”
Although Harry has been gone for seven years, Bernice continues to cherish her family, which consists of her four children and their spouses, her nine grandchildren and their spouses, and her six great-grandchildren. Bernice continues to enjoy taking in concerts and plays and other activities in the community, including some on the Central campus.
Now, every time she returns to Graham Conference Center and The Harry and Bernice Vermeer Banquet Hall for another event, Bernice will gratefully be reminded of her and Harry’s life of service and giving together.