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Death of Professor Emeritus Lagerwey
June 6, 2005
Walter Lagerwey
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Walter Lagerwey -
A Remembrance

By Wallace Bratt
Professor Emeritus of German
Calvin College mourns the death of Walter Lagerwey, who passed away on June 2 after a short illness. He was 86, having passed away nine days shy of his 87th birthday.

Lagerwey is survived by his wife of 62 years, Wilma; his children, Wallace and Marcia Lagerwey, John and Veronique Lagerwey, Nelva and Wayne Lagerwey-TeBrake, Marcia Lagerwey and Loren Hoekzema, Mark Lagerwey and Gwen Johnson; many grandchildren and great grandchildren; and one sister, Sophia Lagerwey Howes.

Lagerwey retired from Calvin College in 1983 after 30 years of service to the college as a professor of Dutch.

At the time of his retirement Lagerwey served as the Queen Juliana Chair of the Language, Literature and Culture of the Netherlands. That chair was established in April 1952, when, as part of her post-World War II tour of the United States, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands made a courtesy call to the college's Franklin campus.

Lagerwey was the first holder of the Chair (followed by Martinus Bakker and now Herman De Vries).

Born on the west side of Grand Rapids, Lagerwey lived in West Michigan until he was 14. His family then spent four years in the Netherlands where the teenage Lagerwey fell in love with the country's language and culture. During World War II he worked as a monitor and translator of Dutch radio broadcasts for the United States Foreign Broadcast and Intelligence Service and then as a member of the United States Army Signal Corps, including service on a team of Dutch language specialists assigned to General Eisenhower's European headquarters.

After the war's end Lagerwey enrolled at Calvin College as a student, graduating in 1949 with a major in history and minors in English, German and philosophy! He spent two years at Columbia, earning a master's in Germanic languages, and then did further graduate work at the University of Michigan and the Free University in Amsterdam, eventually earning a Ph.D. in 1958 from Michigan in Germanic Languages and Literatures.

When he began his teaching career at Calvin he found a dearth of printed textbooks and teaching materials to assist in the instruction of the Dutch language and the illumination of Dutch literature.

So, he wrote his own text.

Speak Dutch was published in 1968 and quickly became a valued resource for not only the Calvin community, but also colleges and universities around the country. Over the years Calvin students also benefitted from a wide range of unpublished materials that Lagerwey produced for use in Calvin classrooms.

His work and influence in Dutch language and literature extended far beyond the Calvin classroom. He served for a time as president of the Netherlandic section of the Modern Language Association of America.

And in 1978 he was named an Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau, a prestigious honor accorded to him by the Dutch government in recognition of his many years of service on behalf of the cause of Dutch language, literature and culture. He joked one time that he was the first truly Dutch Knight on Calvin's campus as a result of that honor!

At the time of his retirement Lagerwey told the student newspaper, Chimes, that teaching at Calvin had been a privilege.

Calvin, he said, is a community of scholars and teachers who mutually enrich each other by their knowledge and their insights.

He added: "I have a profound gratitude to God for the people and students he placed in my way."