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April 19, 2004

Mourning Terry Etter

Shortly after joining the faculty of Calvin College as a professor of business, Terry Etter did an interview for a Calvin publication in which he talked about the challenges of being a teacher.

Etter came to Calvin with a variety of experience under his belt. He entered the Air Force straight out of college, spent two years learning how to fly a Phantom F-4 fighter jet (at the time the most sophisticated jet in the world) and then went to Vietnam where he flew 200 combat missions in the span of one year.

After that he went on to be a vice president for human resources at two different businesses and also spent seven years working on men's ministries projects on a national level.

And still, back in October 2000, he looked back at his first two months as a Calvin professor of business and shook his head with a wry smile.

"I've found the transition a very humbling and demanding experience," he said at the time. "It's been every bit as challenging as any business project or position that I've held in business."

Despite the challenges, Etter worked hard at his teaching. And he believed he'd found in the classroom his true calling.

But on Sunday, April 18, at approximately 2 a.m., Etter answered a new call - his Savior's call - as he yielded to cancer after a 13-month battle with the illness. He was 60 and is survived by his wife Rosemary, an assistant director of admissons at Calvin, as well as two daughters, Lisa and Rachel, his mother and numerous siblings, nephews and nieces and extended family.

On a website set up to detail the Etter family's fight against Terry's cancer, Terry wrote clearly about his approach to cancer.

"My kids decided having a personal webpage is a good idea to keep everyone updated on my situation and treatment," he wrote as the site began in March 2003.

He continued: "In a peculiar sense this has been a very special time. My wife and girls have been with me throughout this week, we are going through this as a family and it has been a very special time of family intimacy. Expressing love and affection for each other comes very easily and that feels really good. I can't tell you how much it has meant to know that you are lifting us in prayer."

Etter also spoke about his responsibilities at Calvin in that first entry.

"Please pray," he wrote, "for my family to be protected, wisdom for treatments and that I can be focused to continue my teaching responsibilities at Calvin starting Monday. I fully intend to keep serving at this position that I love and feel privileged to be."

When he came to Calvin in the fall of 2000, Etter was excited to bring together his various talents in one place. His work at Calvin as an educator combined interests he began to develop already as a doctoral student when he earned his Ed.D. degree at the University of Illinois in organizational development with a dissertation on integrating technology into the workplace.

He also was excited to be teaching at a Christian college.

"Teaching at a Christian college is a profound experience," he said. "I was led to Christ when I was in my 30s, after a period of real struggle. When I got out of the Air Force I no longer knew how to define myself. I was a fighter pilot; that was who I was. Then I didn't have that anymore. I was really searching. And God found me. I was discipled by a Christian businessman. Now I have an opportunity to not only teach, but also, hopefully, disciple others. Of course, that's part of the challenge too."

Calvin colleagues say he met the challenge.

"He did a lot and achieved a lot," says Roland Hoksbergen, chair of the economics and business department at Calvin. "He had a firm and never-wavering conviction about what he was doing here."

Hoksbergen says Etter was instrumental in forging links between Calvin and the local business community.

"He continued to consult with local business after he began teaching at Calvin," Hoksbergen recalls, "especially Gordon Food Service. And he often had students in his marketing classes working on real-life projects for local businesses. They'd consider a challenge or a problem, work through it with Terry's guidance and then present a report. He was very good about making those connections with local business."

In his last website entry, dated December 29, 2003, Etter wrote about a more enduring connection.

He had just finished a book written by Rodney Stortz, a minister, called "Diary of a Cancer." Terry described the book as "a powerful testimony of a man of faith's walk with a very rare cancer and his desire to be obedient, not give in to despair, remain engaged and contributing and to honor God and point people to Christ throughout the journey."

And then Terry wrote: "These are all things that I've expressed too. The thing that was sobering is that Rodney Stortz was not healed from his disease, at least in the flesh, and he died on March 9, 2003. Reading this journal was sort of a wake-up call for me in that in spite of my desires, it is entirely possible that I will not escape death as a result of this disease. Does that diminish my hope or my desire to fight? Absolutely not. It does bring up the question "are you willing to completely trust me in this?" The answer is yes, by God's grace."


For a guestbook and details on memorial and funeral services see the Etter family website

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)