Milt Nieuwsma ’63 Brings History to Life

For this blog post, Hope student Grace Glagola ’20 interviewed Hope alumnus Milton Nieuwsma ’63, co-creator of “Inventing America: Conversations with the Founders.” Hope’s Knickerbocker Theatre will show the premiere of the second episode, “Making a Government,” on June 30 at 8 p.m. Tickets are free and available in the Events and Conferences Office.

With July 4th just around the corner, we are thankful for all those who fought for this country, and for the enduring spirit of compromise that has made our country what it is today. Milton Nieuwsma ’63 takes this level of gratitude to the next level with his show, “Inventing America: Conversations with the Founders,” which stars historical figures in a talk-show environment.

Nieuwsma, an English and speech graduate of Hope College, had been stewing over the idea of a Founding Fathers-themed talk show for about five years. His inspiration for “Inventing America” originated from a PBS show from the 80s, created by Steve Allen and titled “Meeting of Minds.” The show, presented in the format of an interview, starred professional actors who portrayed historical figures. Nieuwsma had this to say about the program: “…it was one of the most creative and intelligent things I had ever seen on TV.” He knew he wanted to recreate something similar to Allen’s show, but instead as a talk show.

“Inventing America” is going onto its fifth year of development, thanks to the collaboration of minds between Nieuwsma and Chuck Furman. Furman is one of the founders of WGVU, the PBS station in Grand Rapids, and original mastermind behind the idea. Furman pitched the idea to Nieuwsma as a reboot of Allen’s show. Nieuwsma’s and Furman’s intent was to revive the program that Allen created decades prior, but they quickly ran into issues. The quality of the videos they took were less than desirable, so they reworked “Inventing America” into a talk-show format instead.

To Nieuwsma, the best part about working on “Inventing America” is the cast and crew. He calls the majority of the cast members “historians in their own right,” adding that he has learned a lot just by working with them. Nieuwsma says the director, Hope theatre professor emeritus John Tammi, was delightful to work with, along with members from Hope’s History and Theatre Departments, such as Dr. Marc Baer, Dr. Fred Johnson and Perry Landes. Nieuwsma is also eager to recognize the WGVU film crew — Phil Lane, Zach Liniewski, and everyone else who works there.

Nieuwsma also went on to praise the executive producer, fellow Hope alum Darell Schregardus ’63: “One of my great joys was working with him on this project. Without Darell, ‘Inventing America’ wouldn’t have happened. He and I are friends going back to the first grade in Bellflower, California. His dad was a dairy farmer, my dad was a preacher. Then we both moved away. We reconnected at Hope as freshmen and graduated together in 1963. We decided that working on a show together in our old age was better than wasting away on a park bench (like Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin in ‘Going in Style,’ that is, before they robbed a bank!).”

With the 4th of July weekend right around the corner, we can learn a lesson from the historical figures who star in the second episode of “Inventing America.” Nieuwsma believes that without compromise in public debates, neither the Declaration of Independence nor the U.S. Constitution would be the living documents they are today. These documents — and individuals like Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and George Washington, who developed them — teach us about the importance of compromise, something to keep in mind over this holiday weekend. So, at that family picnic, if your little cousin grabs that last piece of watermelon, let him have it, and go enjoy a popsicle instead. Happy Fourth!

Watch it! “Making a Government,” the second episode of “Inventing America,” is also being shown on WGVU-HD on July 2, at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., and then on WGVU-Life on July 3, at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. It has been made available nationwide to PBS stations over the 4th of July weekend.

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