Heather, Jackson and Barry Van Dyke were all humanities majors at Calvin—English/art, religion/sociology and philosophy (with a bit of biology thrown in)—but they eventually found themselves renovating houses around the corner of Wealthy and Union streets in Grand Rapids.
"As it turned out, our diverse education at Calvin was the best preparation for what we do now,” said Heather Van Dyke-Titus ’97. “It has all informed the diversity of our work because what we do is holistic.”
Heather Van Dyke-Titus, Jackson Van Dyke, Barry Van Dyke
Photo by Brian Kelly,
The MBA@Calvin organization, made up of young business alumni, honored the Van Dykes with its Horizon Award, given to young grads who “demonstrate significant contributions to their field and the impact of faith on their work.” This is the fourth year of the award, and it was given at the group’s fall networking meeting on campus.
Raised in Chicago, educated at Calvin and, after a few stops along the way, back in Grand Rapids, the siblings started Bear Manor Properties in 2004 to do for-profit rehab work from a sustainable perspective.
This venture grew to 13 residential properties, and the Van Dykes enjoyed learning as they went, doing everything themselves, every new project an adventure.
"I remember working on the front porch of a house on Union,” said Jackson ’03, “and there was plenty of illegal activity to witness in those first few years.
"But it is amazing what investment and care and community can do for a neighborhood. Eventually, more people are working on their homes, people come out on to their porches, and a not-so-nice place becomes a quiet, positive living situation.”
Bear Manor’s reputation as a values-based organization grew and from residential success, business opportunities became available. Heather started to sit on community and business-related boards to make connections and better understand neighborhood and city issues. Barry and Jackson kept their eyes open for further renovation projects.
Eventually, a slice of Wealthy Street begged for care and keeping.
"The section of Wealthy that we operate from now was a ghost town at night,” said Heather. “There was no foot traffic, and only a few businesses were open. We saw how symbiotic development can be with good plans and good people involved.”
The Van Dykes bought and renovated a stretch of establishments near one another, places that now beckon Grand Rapids residents with a solid reputation for attractive design, good food and well-run business—Brick Road Pizza, the Meanwhile Bar and the Electric Cheetah. The Electric Cheetah has LEED certification and uses locally grown food for its menu items. Neighbors and customers fill the blocks around these businesses most nights.
Bear Manor is busy, but far from done. Next up is a major renovation, turning an old liquor store into a family-friendly café and brewing company.
Called Harmony Brewing Company (Facebook page), the building, just east of the famous corner of Lake and Wealthy, is intended to be a community gathering spot, one in which neighborhood meetings could be scheduled.
"We would want to take our kids there,” said Barry ’05. “We’re aiming for a café atmosphere, not a pub. You’ll actually be able to hear each other talk in this place. Hopefully, people nearby will take ownership of it—that’s a key goal.”
As they move into more of a business development mode, Bear Manor continues to think about residential living and how neighborhoods are connected.
The Van Dykes are working with Calvin director of community engagement Gail Heffner and biology professor David Warners regarding a series of four adjacent houses on Wealthy Street that Bear Manor has renovated and decorated with a seasonal theme—fall, winter, spring, summer. These houses are in the beginning stages of becoming an intentional Calvin community on Wealthy Street. Currently, one is home to Calvin students and a live-in mentor.
"We have Michigan-native landscaping in front of the homes, thanks to Dave Warners and his students,” said Barry. “We’d like students to take responsibility for the houses and become involved in neighborhood change.”
"Heather, Barry and Jackson care as much about building community as they do about restoring buildings and contributing to a healthy ecosystem. They are wonderful people and embody the mission of Calvin to be agents of renewal in their place,” said Heffner.
Bear Manor Properties has given these three Calvin alumni—and eventually Calvin students—a chance to put their education and faith into a tangible “shalom project”—building neighborhoods of peace and community.
"It is remarkable,” said Heather. “Who would have thought that real estate could enable you to hit on all of these important concepts? Here’s to a liberal arts education!”