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January Series Nears Halfway Mark
January 13, 2005

By the end of this week the annual January Series at Calvin College will be at the halfway mark of its 15-speaker run.

"Eight down, seven to go," says June Hamersma, the energetic Director of the award-winning lecture series.

"But," she adds, "the best may be yet to come."

Hamersma's addendum is said, however, with a smile on her face.

For, truth be told, picking the "best" out of the 2005 line-up of speakers would be a little like asking a mother which of her children is her favorites. Indeed, that analogy probably comes as close to any in describing Hamersma's relationship to the annual slate of speakers she brings to Grand Rapids as Calvin's yearly gift to the community.

For by the time a speaker actually takes to the stage of the Fine Arts Center Auditorium at Calvin, Hamersma has read their work, listened to their interviews and studied their interests and expertise with the vigor of a young sports fans poring over newspaper boxscores. Suffice it to say she has invested countless hours in every speaker who ends up at Calvin. And they all end up being her favorites.

Still the second half of the 2005 edition of the January Series will provide some highlights for Hamersma. Just as the first half already has.

Next Monday, for example, on Martin Luther King Day, the speaker will be Calvin's own Barbara Omolade, the college's first Dean of Multicultural Affairs. A Christian scholar specializing in African-American and women's issues, Omolade has journeyed through civil rights activism, African-American cultural awakenings, early feminism and the dawning era of women's studies. During that time she also raised a family, earned two graduate degrees, taught college, did pioneering scholarship, home-schooled her son and converted to Christianity. A woman after Hamersma's own heart.

The next day brings Jon Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek, who will speak on "From FDR and Churchill to Bush and Blair: The Changing Face of Leadership," a timely topic which comes just two days prior to the inauguration of President Bush.

That timeliness is an annual hallmark of Hamersma's leadership on the series. Each year speaker after speaker ends up being in tune with significant events happening not just in the U.S., but around the world. And the remainder of next week is no exception. Wednesday, January 19 brings Tom Ackerman, Chief Scientist for ARM, the U.S. Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who will speak on global warming. January 20 will see New York Times columnist Peter Steinfels speak on "One Fourth of the Nation: Catholicism & Politics in 2005" and the week will conclude with Sports Illustrated senior writer Frank Deford speaking on Friday, January 21 on "Writing, Sports & Frolics."

The January Series will conclude January 24 and January 25 with two more timely topics. First up will be Howard French, senior writer for the New York Times, who will speak on "The Tragedy and Hope of Africa." Then the series wraps up on Tuesday, January 25 with an intriguing talk by Fleming Rutledge, a female Episcopal priest and pastor who will on "Christian Right, Christian Left: The Polarized American Religious Scene."

All of these come on the heels of talks last week and this on such topics as how men and women approach work and play differently, what's happening to democracy in Russia and the new realities in a post Civil Rights era. And while those talks have played to full houses in the Calvin Fine Arts Center Auditorium, their messages have spread even beyond West Michigan thanks to the wonders of RealAudio internet broadcasts. Although the numbers for those broadcasts are not yet in for this year in the past January Series listeners on the internet have tuned in not just from the state and the nation, but even from international locations.

Hamersma notes that one of this year's speakers, inner city pastor Eugene Rivers, also spoke last year at the January Series and then spoke later in the year at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

"After his talk at Morehouse," says Hamersma, "he had students coming up to him saying they had heard his talk at Calvin on the internet. So he was happy to come back to Calvin because not only does he get an engaged and appreciative crowd in the Fine Arts Center he also gets a chance to have his message heard even more widely via the (January Series) website)."

Despite the easy access to the speakers via the internet, Hamersma encourages people to come to the campus to attend the lectures if they're able.

"There's still something about being in the auditorium," she says. "There's always a buzz there, an energy that is really amazing. The internet is a good back-up but in my opinion nothing beats the real thing, nothing beats being there."

Each presentation runs from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the Calvin College Fine Arts Center. Parking is convenient and free; reservations can be made for groups by calling 526-7018.