Our History

The Story of Howard Christensen Nature Center begins more than 100 years before Howard himself ever stepped foot on this land. Logged in the 1800’s during the Michigan Logging boom, remnants of the narrow gauge lumber rails are still evident on parts of the property near where spring creek was dammed to provide flows for lumber runs into the Rogue river.

Howard Christensen as a childFast forward many years, Grand Rapids businessman and botanist Carl Dunson purchased the property and began to “dredge” what we now call Chrishaven Lake into miles of lagoons lined with immaculate gardens. What remains of these gardens and lagoons today are swamps, randomly growing “exotic” plants and our very own Tadpole Pond. Mr. Dunson traveled to Brazil in search of rubber in the 1940’s war effort, but this expedition was cut short. While there, he took up expedition work for the Brazilian government and gathered many souvenirs to take back home with him. Still in our possession are a giant anaconda, jaguar, 3 monkeys and several spears and long bows from tribal Brazilians. Mr Dunson also made it his goal to populate the property with one of every native Michigan plant
species, a feat he claims to have accomplished. Today, the cactus field, yuccas, rhododendrons and Ponderosa pines are evidence of his efforts in bringing plants from all over the world to his botanical Garden.

Mr. Dunson died in a tragic boiler accident, and his property was sold by his wife to Frank Christensen of Grand Rapids. Frank, wife Rita and Son Howard made Chrishaven their home with their love of the outdoors showing through every improvement they made. With a wonderful home on Chrishaven lake, two guest homes and the idea of letting the land go “back to nature” this became a place of
refuge for the family as well as their friends within the Catholic church.

For more in-depth information on the property or the stories of Red Caster, Dr. Miller and the infamousThe Christensen's House
horse … well stop on by and we’ll be happy to share and show you where to find the remains of their homes too!

(transcribed from a typed letter)
“Howard” – The early life of Howard Christensen
By: His father

“Dad, I Love You!” Were the last words spoken to a father by his 17 year old son before he died. The end of a marvelous, wonderful, meaningful, father/son relationship that began 17 years, four months, and five days before, when I walked into the Saratoga Hospital in Detroit and was greeted by the nurse in the lobby, “You are the father of boy.”

“A boy!” I screamed. Howard’s mother entered the hospital the previous day. Rita’s doctor had predicted that she would have a girl. I confess that I had hoped for a son, but was resigned to having a daughter.

Rita and Frank had waited five years. They both wanted children so badly. Finally, Rita had an operation, that which Doctors said was necessary before she could have children. We didn’t know then that our family would be limited to one child.

The day Howard was born, without question was the happiest day in our life. We had spent five years Howard Christensen's Dadof our life waiting in anguish; waiting for medical and surgical experiences. And now, at last, we were to have a child; a boy. I really lost my cool. When I got home, I called everyone I knew to tell them that we had a son. I had cigars made up that had the name “Howard Christensen” written on each cigar, and gave boxes of these out to my friends to hand out. I bought my first movie camera to take pictures of our son growing up. These movie pictures started with a picture of the hospital and carrying him home for the first time. From then on, seldom a week passed without movies of his action. I took two special courses in movie making. As he grew, he seemed to enjoy acting out parts with his friends in scripts that I had prepared for him, depicting events in his life as he lived them. It was the minutes and the hours that he was with us that we were grateful for.

When Howard was six months old, we tool him up north (Brevort Lake) to show him off to his grandmother, his uncles, and aunts. It was then he first learned to sit up. His grandmother was very proud of him, her new grandson, and posed for movies with him and his cousins. I had a large newspaper made which said, “Six months old today,” with Howard sitting up by himself for the first time. Howard made many more trips up north, together with us several times each summer. He was in love with the country and suggested we move up there. His first spoken word was “Dad.”

We were very proud of our son and gave much thought as to how we would direct him from the beginning so we would always be very Howard Christensen with his dog
proud of him. I had a very close friend whose son turned out very bad. This was a great concern for me. “What did he do wrong?” I have this a great deal of thought. My friend was a model Christian and had set a fine example for his son and was a very strict disciplinarian. I recalled many instances of confrontation between my friend and his son. My friend was right, and his son was a problem. I finally concluded that the problem was a lack of companionship, and confidence and mutual understanding. I made a decision and did profit from my friends situation.

That decision guided all my life, all my actions, and relationship with Howard from the very beginning. He would hold–I recall, as a baby in his crib, he would hold my finger until he would fall asleep. At the age of two and a half we enrolled Howard in a private Kindergarten school in Grosse Point. And I drove him the fifteen miles to school each morning, before work, and picked him up each day after work. This drive each morning and afternoon was a very rewarding experience to both of us. We had daily “man-to-man Howard Christensen Swimmingtalks.” He would tell me of his experiences at school that day. He had many questions. Some were not easy to answer. If I did not have the answer, I would promise to get it.

He was very mature and understanding for a two-and-a-half year old child. He told me about a Russian boy at school who did not believe in God, and how he and another boy had cornered this Russian boy and told him there really was. I must admit that some of his questions had to wait for an answer. When he was old enough to attend St. Raymond’s School. I remember once when we were riding to school–he was about four years old then–he said, “Daddy, I know God made the world, but who made God?” He must have known that I was somewhat at a loss for an answer. He said, “That’s okay, Daddy. I think I know the answer.” Just about, then we
came riding up to a Dairy Queen stand and I said, “How about an ice cream cone?” He said, “Fine, Daddy, I’d like that.” We enjoyed the ice cream, and he never did get his answer. He learned many things at the school, which made him a star pupil when he first attended a regular school, and the ride each day gave me a wonderful opportunity to develop a meaningful father/son relationship.

It may seem strange in this day, but Howard never was known to disobey an order or instructions of his parents. I recall when he first joined the Cub Scouts, his mother and another Cub Scout mother took the boys to the school where the meeting was to be. Rita left Howard Christensen's Househim in the room she thought the meeting was to be in and said to him, “Howard, you stay here in this room and don’t leave until I come back.” When she returned, Scouts were in a different room. She said, “Howard, why aren’t you in with the group of other boys?” Howard said, “Mother, you told me not to leave the room until you returned.”

He loved his teachers and classmates, and got along very well. At a very young age he developed a great compassion for others. He just seemed to get along with everyone. He was never known to say anything unkind about others and became very disturbed when someone else said something unkind of another. He was a boy who never knew a stranger. One evening after support, I went to his room where I thought he was studying. I noted he was writing something over and over, and I said, “Howard, what are you doing?” “It’s okay, Dad. I have to write this seventeen times. I have to write this sentence over fifty times for my teacher.” Howard Christensen at the lake“You mean you are being punished?” “Yes, Dad, but I deserved it.” “Tell me about it, son.” “Well, you see today at study room the teacher left the room for awhile and before she left, she told us that there was to be no talking during her absence. Well, Ted spoke to me and I answered. When the teacher┬áreturned, she said anyone talked while I was out to raise their hand. I had, so I raised my hand. I said, “Did Ted and the others of them who had spoken during her absence raise their hands?” He said, “No, Dad they didn’t.” “You mean you were the only one to raise your hand?” “Yes, Dad. I think they were wrong in not raising their hand, but that is their problem and not mine I guess the teacher thought that I was the only one who talked, but I did not mind. Dad, I needed the practice in writing anyhow.”

One day he greeted with me, “Dad, I learned today that you are not my real father.” Noting the puzzled expression on my face–speechless face, “It’s okay, Dad, You are my father here on earth, but my real father is in heaven.” He seemed to have a way–a knack in shocking me in a beautiful way.

Another time he came home from school and said–noting how I like children, he said, “Dad, do you know you are never going to haveHoward Christensen's Cabin some grandchildren?” This, too, was somewhat shocking. He smiled and said, “Do you know why, Dad?” “No. What makes you say a think like that?” “Well, you see, Dad, when I grow up, I’m going to be a priest.” When I told this to a friend, he assured me that it was natural for boys like Howard to have ideas at his age. Many boys do, and then later change their minds. Few boys really follow the plans that they have age seven. They often change their minds when they get older. The thought of Howard being a priest would be fine with me. I certainly would do nothing to discourage him. I knew we could never have another child and did hope that someday we would be able to compensate for this by having grandchildren.

THE END

Visit Us!
16190 Red Pine Dr. Kent City, MI 49330
(616) 675-3158
info@howardchristensen.org

Admission Fee
Non-Members: $3/person
Members: FREE

Interpretive Center Hours
Winter Hours
11am to 4pm Every Day
Hiking all days during daylight hours

redline_100
Visit Us!
16190 Red Pine Dr. Kent City, MI 49330
(616) 675-3158
info@howardchristensen.org

Admission Fee
Non-Members: $3/person
Members: FREE

Interpretive Center Hours
Winter Hours
11am to 4pm Every Day
Hiking all days during daylight hours

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