Letter to the Editor: July 13
Bill Vande Kopple died this week, a few days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was a professor, scholar, essayist, titan of Calvin’s English department and an inveterate prankster.
He would lean his tall frame into a colleagues’ classroom, usually giggling before he got there, drop a few provocative hints about a conference in New York or an incident in the locker room after a racquetball game, project his roaring laugh over the heads of the students, and then continue on his way, the lecture blown open like a pheasant at close range. I can imagine him strolling down the hall savoring his work, the saboteur.
Students like me remember him best for the grammar interim he taught with Prof. Vanden Bosch and for the annual writers’ retreats, when, in the soggy depths of March, he led troops of students up to Walhalla on the banks of the Pere Marquette River where he would engage them in snowball fights, discourse on fly fishing, provoke his colleagues with more innuendo (he had an endless supply) and eventually bring his students face to face with their own words, ambitions and, most significantly, their motivations for writing in the first place.
The day he became one of those professors I will never forget was a Friday. The Chimes had come out that morning, and it included an article I’d written about the planned tuition increase. I was walking through the east atrium of the newly renovated English department when he pulled me aside to tell me he’d read my piece and been thinking about it.
He confessed that every year he felt a little more alienated from his students. As tuition climbed, the social strata they emerged from became increasingly rarified, and they resembled less and less the student he had been when he attended Calvin in the early ’70s.
He said that if he were a student today, he wouldn’t have been able to afford the cost of a Calvin education. Thank God he grew up when he did. Calvin College is unimaginable without him.
Which makes me wonder.
Professor Vande Kopple, you’ll be missed. Thanks for everything.
Strong like bull,
Andrew Steiner, ’12