Color slide showing a squirrel's nest at the De Graaf Nature Center ca. 1965. This slide was taken by Elsie Cook (1903-1988), Holland, MI resident and conservationist.
Holland, MI area resident and Holland Garden Club member Helen Olsson Brower (1893-1991) had a vision for a nature center where children and adults could learn about their natural environment. When the former Cammenga property at 600 Graafschap Road became available in 1962 Brower and the Holland Garden Club began a fundraising campaign. The property was purchased by the City of Holland later that year.
This property was then named the Holland Nature Center and consisted of 4 1/2 acres. It was considered ideal because it contained a bog, a pond, a stream and a sandy hillside. All necessary to meet Brower's goal to preserve a bit of natural Michigan for posterity.
Within a few years the Holland Nature Center consisted of 13.4 acres and contained trails developed by area science teacher Art Wyma. An active association and board were formed to support the nature center. Jacob De Graaf (1913-2000) was park superintendent at the time and on 4-6, 1966 the Holland Nature Center was re-named the De Graaf Nature Center.
Jacob served for 18 years as superintendent of the Holland Parks and Cemetery Department, he was employed by the city for 38 years.
By the mid-1970s the association had disbanded, the trails were overgrown and the pond was filled in. Then Helen Brower asked Holland Mayor Lou Hallacy to get the nature center going again. With the help of the Holland Garden Club, Shirley Dykema and others the De Graaf Nature Center was soon improved and once more open to the public. It would eventually include more than 35 types of trees, from Scotch Pine to Sugar Maple.
Shirley Dykema served as the first director at De Graaf, from 1984-1993. She went on to win the 1994 Keep Michigan Beautiful Distinguished Service Award. Rob Venner succeeded Shirley in 1993 as director, a position he held until 2018.
Gift ofDe Graaf Nature Center