Gerrit Diekema was the son of one of the Dutch immigrants who settled in Western Michigan during the mass immigration by the Dutch in the 1840’s and 1850’s. He grew up in a family where Dutch was spoken on a daily basis, and we can be sure that he never outgrew his ability to speak Dutch. When he was appointed to be the United States Ambassador to the Netherlands during the twilight of his political career, his ability to speak Dutch must have been a real plus for him.
What is also interesting about Gerrit Diekema was his ability to obtain an advanced education. The then presence of the newly founded Hope College in the city of Holland, Michigan clearly helped him in achieving a college education, a qualification important for his future political career. He graduated from Hope College in 1881, and from there went to the Law School of the University of Michigan. He graduated with a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1883.
Following his graduation from Law School, Diekema was clearly focused on a career of public service. Within two years of graduation he was elected to the Michigan State House of Representatives, and served in that capacity for six years until 1891. Four years later, in 1895, Diekema was elected to serve as the City of Holland’s mayor. Apparently being mayor was not his favorite political position. He only served as mayor until the following year, 1896. He did, however, remain active in statewide politics, because in the year 1900 he was elected to be the chairman of the Michigan Republican State Central Committee. He remained chairman for a period of ten years until 1910.
During his service as chairman of the Michigan Sate Central committee, in 1907, Diekema was elected to be United States Representative for the Fifth Congressional District of Michigan. He served the Fifth congressional District for two terms until 1911. His Congressional service stopped because he did not win re-election in 1910.
There was a big gap in Diekema’s political activities between 1911 and 1927. But in 1927, he won the election to serve as Chairman of the Republican State Central Committee, a role he had fulfilled for ten years in the beginning of the twentieth century. He served in the chairmanship for only two years until 1929.
In August 1929, Diekema was appointed to be the United States ambassador to the Netherlands by President Hoover. Unfortunately, he would only hold that position until the following year, until December 20, 1930, the date of his death. Diekema was interred in Pilgrim House Cemetery in the City of Holland, Michigan. At the funeral service Arthur Vandenberg, the United States Senator for the State of Michigan paid tribute to the public service performed by Diekema during his life time.
As was stated earlier, Diekema was the son of a new immigrant to Western Michigan. His father was Wiepke Diekema, who had immigrated to Michigan in 1848 at the age of 18. In 1885, the year he became mayor of the city of Holland, Michigan, Diekema also married his college sweetheart Mary E. Alcott. There is no information on any of their offspring, if any. Mary Alcott passed away in 1910. Ten years later, in 1920, Diekema married Leona Belser.
Diekema was honored during his long political career with an honorary degree from Hope College in 1913. At the 125th anniversary of Hope College, in 1972, a memorial plaque honoring Diekema was placed in Dimnent memorial Chapel of Hope College. With his passing the City of Holland lost one of its famous citizens.
Mayors of Holland, Michigan, http://www2.cityofholland.com
Diekema, Gerrit John, http://bioguide.congress.gov
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