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December 18, 2000

Calvin Loses Beloved Employee

Ruth Marie VanderWal worked at Calvin College for almost a dozen years, serving in a variety of posts where her behind-the-scenes maneuverings were seldom seen but always effective.

Her titles in 12 years at Calvin included administrative assistant to the Vice President for Administration and Finance, Interim Human Resources Manager, Liaison to then-President Anthony Diekema (during a time in which her division was between VPs) and finally an Event Coordinator and then Director of Hospitality in Calvin's Development Office.

"And," said Connie Bellows, Calvin's Director of Human Resources, "she was everybody's mom."

VanderWal, 67, passed away early on December 18 from complications surrounding multiple mylenoma. She had been retired from Calvin just 12 days shy of one year.

"Ruth touched the hearts and lives of many of us in the Calvin community in her years here," said Calvin Vice President for Development Robert Bekhof. "She taught us all a lot. She brought events to a new level during her tenure. People involved in the (Comprehensive) Campaign still talk about the festive activities that she planned."

It was in her last position, as Director of Hospitality, that the gifts VanderWal nurtured in previous positions fully blossomed. Her task was to plan special events for the President's Office and for the Development Office, often social events for donors. Much of her work took place during the last Comprehensive Campaign, a $60 million fundraising campaign, and her efforts were a key part of the Development Office's fundraising. Her gift of gracious hospitality led to an official job title change in 1996 when she was promoted from Event Coordinator to the Director of Hospitality. In that capacity she worked closely with Calvin President Dr. Gaylen Byker.

Her work in hospitality was mentioned in a January Series speech in 1997 by Calvin Dean of the Chapel Cornelius Plantinga. In that talk, titled "No Need to Earn Your Keep: The Gift and Challenge of Hospitality," Plantinga spoke of the Christ-commanded mandate to be hospitable. He quoted the gospel of Matthew and the words of Jesus who said simply: "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me." And then Plantinga pointed to VanderWal and her gifts in that area. "Hospitality is bigger than we thought," he said. "Maybe Ruth VanderWal, who is a superb Director of Hospitality here at Calvin College--I wonder if maybe Ruth ought to be appointed to the Department of Religion and Theology?"

This week Plantinga recalled that January Series talk and his reference to VanderWal. "Ruth had a gift," he says. "The definition of hospitality is making room for others and helping them to flourish in the room you have made. That's what Ruth did and she was one of the primary people I had in mind when composing the speech."

VanderWal's role at Calvin was almost always not the front-line work that got a lot of attention. But her efforts impacted most of the campus during her tenure. For example, in her five years as administrative assistant to the Vice President for Administration and Finance she not only assisted the VP, but also administered the campus credit card program, coordinated all campus travel, was purchasing agent for all college office furnishings and supervised the campus Mail Room and Copy Center.

Prior to coming to Calvin in January 1988 VanderWal worked at the University of Michigan, Western Michigan University and Geneva College in Pennsylvania. VanderWal is survived by her husband, Marv, a retired Professor of Engineering at Calvin. Also her children David and Lisa VanderWal, Nick and Melanie VanderWal, Jim and Mary VanderWal, and Dan and Cindy VanderWal. A sister, Carol Gootjes, works in Calvin's Human Resources Office. A brother, James DeBorst, is a retired Calvin Political Science professor.

Funeral arrangements are being made at the Zaagman Funeral Home. Visitation will be from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday and 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday. A Memorial Service is planned for the Calvin Chapel at 1 p.m. on Thursday, December 21.

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Contact Phil de Haan.