Grand Rapids Press Article

January Series chief moving on to next stage

Friday, May 05, 2006

By Barton Deiters

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- For two decades, June Hamersma has run the Calvin College January Series, drawing thinkers and artists to Grand Rapids .

Now, the 77-year-old dynamo is leaving.

"The two words I don't want used in regard to this are retirement or resignation," Hamersma said Thursday. "I think there's a whole new world out there, and I'm ready to conquer it."

Hamersma has been at the helm of the January Series since its beginning in 1987. She took a moribund midday lecture series that drew about 50 people and transformed it into an event that last year drew a record 18,000 people over 15 days.

She will be back for her last series next year, and reluctantly has consented to be a speaker.

"I always believed in leaving when you are at the top of your game," Hamersma said. "I decided it would be a good time to move on to something else."

Hamersma began coordinating the series after being recruited by then-provost Gordon VanHarn, who admired Hamersma's work in promoting the college's Music Department Artist Series with her husband, John.

"I can put on my resume 'I hired June Hamersma' as a tribute to me," joked VanHarn, who now serves as director for the Van Andel Education Institute. "There isn't another institution in the country that has a lecture series like that."

He said it is hard to imagine the series without her.

"I would be deeply concerned about what (the series) will be like five years from now," VanHarn said.

Calvin plans to keep the series intact, according to Phil DeHaan, college spokesman. No process for finding Hamersma's replacement has begun.

"The January Series has become a vital and integral part of each Calvin year and has provided the entire community with wonderful intellectual sunshine in the middle of winter," Calvin President Gaylen Byker said in a statement. "June has been an inspiration and a role model."

Hamersma was hired with the understanding that she could operate with virtual autonomy.

"I have kept my promise to fill the seats in the Fine Arts Center, and they have kept their promise to let me do it," she said of the college's administration.

Among the speakers she counts among her coups: Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor, Tony Snow, now the White House press secretary, and former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

In her free time, she will continue to travel to her favorite places, such as Turkey , and she vows to continue work with health organizations. She is founding chair of the Hospice of Michigan Foundation. The June B. Hamersma Planned Giving Society of Hospice of Michigan was established in 2004.

As for what she will do next, Hamersma believes there is something out there for her.

"I'm hoping, when the story gets out, I will get some offers," she said.

©2006 Grand Rapids Press