Coming Home: Maleeta Yonker’s Story

When Maleeta (TeGrootenhuis) Yonker was a little girl, she couldn’t have imagined herself leaving home.

“I had no real desire to go on to college or anything like that. Everyone else I knew was going here and there and everywhere, but not me,” she said.

However, life did eventually take her much farther than her own front door, and she credits Kuyper College for this in a big way.

She chuckled as she recalled growing up on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin, the youngest of 13 children. 

“In my earlier years, there were a lot of us kids around. When I got older, though, it was just me and my parents left on the farm,” she said. “I had to help out a lot, but I really quite enjoyed the farm life.”

In fact, Yonker added, her childhood prepared her well for her time at Kuyper, then known as Reformed Bible Institute.

“It taught me to have a good work ethic, which came in handy when I got to college,” she said. 

Despite her initial reluctance to consider higher education, she enrolled at Kuyper in the fall of 1961, something she said her parents strongly encouraged her to do.

“My dad in particular really prayed over that,” she recalled.

And she remains grateful for that encouragement. Even now, over 60 years later, she still has many fond memories of being a Kuyper student.

“It was a big adjustment for me, but it really brought me out of my shell,” said Yonker with a laugh. “We also had to do a lot of community outreach work, which ended up being a big part of my life later on.”

After graduating from Kuyper in 1964, she moved across the country to attend Weber State University, where she trained as an early childhood educator. She then returned to the Midwest, this time to Sauk Village, Ill., to teach in the preschool and kindergarten programs run by a local church.

It was here that Yonker found her calling. While she enjoyed the work, she said, she was never content to simply collect a paycheck. 

“When I wasn’t actually teaching in the classroom, I spent most of my time just getting to know my students and their families,” she noted. “It was very much an outreach into the community because very few of our students were actually from the church.”

And she is confident that she made a lasting, positive impact in the lives of these students.

Yonker recalled encountering a student from the first class she ever taught, nearly 50 years after he’d sat in her classroom.

“I was on my way into a Christmas concert, when he stopped me,” she said, her voice tinged with emotion. “He told me that he’d never forgotten me, because I taught so many Bible stories that he loved.”

After 18 years spent in that role, however, her school closed due to low enrollment and rising insurance costs, which Yonker said took her life in an entirely different direction.

“It was not too long afterwards that I stepped away from the church for about 20 years. Not only that, but I stepped away from my family as well. It was just a difficult time,” she said.

But, she insisted, God’s love never left her, no matter how far she strayed.  

Her husband Bruce, who she met and married in 1989, was instrumental in this. A deeply faithful Christian, he continued to model Christ to her throughout their 29-year marriage.

And, when he died in 2010, his last wish was for Yonker to return to church, which she honored, reluctantly at first.

“It took me a while to get acclimated to the church again, but I was really like the Prodigal Daughter coming home,” she said, wistfully.

Recently, she has returned to her calling to teach, though her pupils are a bit older now.

“I just love teaching Bible studies at my church,” she explained. “I have a hunger for God’s Word now that I didn’t have for a long time.”

Through the many ups and downs of her life, Yonker has found herself relying on the foundation of knowledge and faith she built at Kuyper all those years ago.

“No matter where I go in life, I keep going back again and again to Kuyper,” she said.

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