Nov. 14, 2003
Professor Emeritus Don Vroon
EDITOR'S NOTE; See bottom of this page for funeral details and to leave a memory of Coach Vroon. Read memories collected thus far.
The Calvin community mourns the death of Calvin professor of physical education emeritus A. Donald Vroon.
Vroon, who was a professor at Calvin from 1959 to 1996, passed away on November 14 after suffering a stroke earlier in the week. He was 70 years old. He is survived by his wife Judy, four children and numerous grandchildren.
In addition to his duties as a professor, Vroon also made his mark on Calvin College as an athlete and a coach. A New Jersey native and a graduate of Eastern Christian High School, Vroon arrived on Calvin's Franklin Street campus in 1953 after spending the previous year studying at Farleigh Dickinson College where he played one year of junior varsity basketball under coach Dick Holub a former NBA standout and pupil of basketball coaching legend Claire Bee.
Vroon made an immediate impact on the Calvin men's basketball team, earning three straight All-MIAA awards (1954-1956) and being named the MIAA MVP in 1956. He also ran cross country, played basbeball and won Calvin's Bere award in 1956 - an honor given annually to a male senior athlete who best exemplifies athletic ability, scholastic achievement, character and leadership.
The 1954 season was not only Vroon's first at Calvin, but also Calvin's first year in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The Knights promptly won that year's league title, a feat they repeated in 1955 and 1956.
Vroon graduated from Calvin in 1956 with a bachelor's degree in history and minors in philosophy and economics and then spent a year in law school before being drafted into the armed services where he served two years. While in the armed forces, Vroon was approached by Calvin officials about returning to his alma mater to serve as a coach and instructor in the physical education department. After careful consideration, Vroon decided to accept the offer and joined the Calvin faculty for the 1959-60 academic year, beginning a 37-year career in education.
After his retirement from Calvin he reflected on that decision.
"I had received so much from Calvin as a student," he said, "that when the call came from out of the blue to come back to teach and coach, I decided to accept because I wanted to give something back to the school. It turned out to be a great decision."
Calvin colleagues agree. During his almost four decades at Calvin, Vroon was a tireless advocate for the Calvin athletic department. His tenure included stints as men's basketball coach, men's tennis coach (a remarkable 32 years in that role!), men's baseball coach and women's basketball coach.
His 32-year run as men's tennis coach is the longest in Calvin men's tennis history and the second-longest of one team by a Calvin coach, surpassed only by the recently concluded 36-year career of Marv Zuidema in men's soccer. During his 11-year run as men's basketball coach, Vroon compiled a won-loss record of 140-105, ranking him fourth on the all-time Calvin list for career victories. He also served for six years as the head coach of the semiprofessional Grand Rapids Tackers basketball team.
And he served on numerous Calvin and NCAA committees and directed the Calvin intramural program for a number of years. All the while he taught a variety of physical education courses.
Former Calvin professor and women's athletic director Doris Zuidema recalled Vroon's role in advancing women's sports.
"Don was always willing to take time to share his ideas with you," she said. "He was a great advocate for women and was especially helpful to me when we were trying to increase the number of sports for women. He helped women's athletics by coaching the basketball team and bringing them to a top notch program. He will be missed but never forgotten."
Current men's basketball coach and athletic director Kevin Vande Streek had come to know Vroon well over the last almost eight years.
"Don quickly befriended me when I came to Calvin," he said, "and was a true mentor and friend to me. He helped me every year with our team selection, opponent scouting and as an extra eye at our practices. He was a tremendous help to me and to our team. We had lunch just about every other week for almost eight years just to talk about how things were going. I will miss those meetings and I will miss Don."
As a teacher and as a coach, Vroon drew on his experiences as a student.
"My life as a student at Calvin was truly life changing. It allowed me to know more about the kingdom of God," said Vroon. "Calvin was a small school with small class sizes and the professors always had time to sit around after class to talk about the subject matter or life in general. Nearly every Sunday afternoon after church I was invited to dinner at a professor's house. When I took the job at Calvin, I tried to do the same things, inviting my players and students over for dinner and trying to be available to talk whenever possible."
Mike Phelps played for Vroon in the late 1960s as an All-MIAA point guard and remembers those dinners well. Phelps, currently the athletic director and boys basketball coach at Holland Christian High School, said those visits created a closeness between Coach Vroon and his players.
"Don was my coach for three years," said Phelps, "and someone that I became very close to. Our (basketball) team used to go over to his house for Sunday dinners and his wife would cook lasagne. Don and his wife were just a special couple to all of us. Over the years, I would see him occasionally and we would reminisce about all of the good times we had. He was just a special guy."
Vroon had several opportunities to leave Calvin over the years. He had become good friends with Ashland University basketball coach Bill Musselman and twice Musselman offered Vroon assistant coaching jobs (at Western Michigan and at Minnesota). Vroon declined the offers on both occasions.
"The opportunity to coach at the Division I level was tempting but Calvin was the place for me," he said. "I had the privilege of coaching so many high-quality young men and women who have gone on to become teachers, ministers, coaches, doctors, lawyers. Seeing what they've accomplished is one of my greatest satisfactions."
The Don Vroon File