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Calvin Announces Meijer Chair
May 8, 2006

Calvin College has a new chair in Dutch language and culture thanks to a generous donation from a legendary Grand Rapids businessman and community benefactor.

The Frederik Meijer Chair in Dutch Language and Culture at Calvin is being funded by a gift from Meijer grocery store founder Frederik Meijer, whose many other contributions to the West Michigan community include Meijer Gardens (a botanic garden and world-class sculpture park) and the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center (established in November 2004 as West Michigan's first and only heart center), to name just two very different, but essential local facilities.

Dr. Aay will be installed as the first holder of the chair on Tuesday, September 26 and will speak at 8 p.m. on
“Positioning a Heritage”
in the Prince Conference Center. Dessert reception following, featuring authentic Dutch pastries. Free and open to all.

The first holder of the new Meijer Chair will be Dr. Henk Aay, a professor in the geology, geography & environment studies department at Calvin. An inaugural event to celebrate Meijer's gift and Aay's selection (and to chart a course for the chair) will take place at Calvin in September 2006.

Aay, a native Dutch speaker, who began at Calvin in 1983, will serve an initial three-year term. He says he is delighted to be afforded the honor of becoming the first Meijer Chair occupant at Calvin.

"In some ways," he says, "it feels a little like the culmination of my career, the icing on the cake. I have had a passion for the Netherlands all my life. It will be a privilege to make that passion part of the work of the new chair."

Calvin president Dr. Gaylen Byker says: "Dr. Aay is a scholar and a native of the Netherlands who has broad experiences with the country including co-leading regular off-campus interims there, facilitating visits of Dutch scholars to Calvin, sabbatical work at two Dutch Universities, a variety of essays and books and much more. I am very pleased that he will be the first holder of this chair."

Henk AayAay's scholarly interests have several focal points: the history and philosophy of geography as well as cultural and historical geography. He has published research on the settlement geography of the Dutch in West Michigan, on the relationships between nature and culture in works of fiction, on environmental advertising, on the history of geographic education, on the perceptions of geography textbooks, and on the nature of the cultural landscape. Currently, Aay is writing a book on Arie van Deursen, an important, but forgotten Dutch geographer.

Aay and Byker note that with deep roots in the Netherlands, Calvin College is ideally suited to promote academic and community engagement with Dutch language and culture.

"With a decline in understanding and knowledge of Dutch language and culture in the United States," says Byker, "the activities of the chair will focus on the college's Dutch language, culture and arts programs, enhancing familiarization with the languages of the Netherlands, primarily Dutch, but also Frisian. In communicating a better understanding of the culture of the Netherlands, the chair shall also involve the larger Calvin community, its supporting constituency, and the public at large."

The donation from Meijer will go toward two tracks at Calvin. Part of the funds will support and ensure the continuation of Dutch language instruction at Calvin. The other track will underwrite efforts to promote understanding of past and present-day Netherlands.

Aay says those efforts will include speakers, workshops, seminars and other efforts to help the Calvin campus, West Michigan and Calvin’s broader constituency understand where the Netherlands has been and where it is today.

"The Netherlands is an important part of Calvin's heritage," says Aay, "but we have changed in many ways in recent years with students and professors with a much greater diversity of backgrounds. And that's great. In addition, through off-campus interims and semesters abroad our students have the ability to study in numerous countries. Their international understanding and experience has expanded, which is also great. Yet I believe that better understanding where the college came from will help us stick to and further articulate our educational and scholarly mission."

The other aspect of the new chair that Aay finds exciting is how it will assist in understanding modern-day Netherlands more fully.

"I believe we can learn a lot from issues the Netherlands faces," says Aay. "The country is a leader in modern architecture for example. People like Rem Koolhaas are known around the world for their innovations in architecture. How the Dutch relate to the land and their environmental management are noteworthy. How the Dutch deal with immigration, what their modern-day Protestant church looks like, how they are both preserving and losing their identity -- these are all things that are fascinating.

"Also, the Netherlands is somewhat of a microcosm of the European Union. The tensions that led to riots in France over the role of ethnic minorities in French society are also felt and seen on the streets of major Dutch cities. The place of and contributions of Muslim communities and minority populations to Dutch society are issues the Netherlands is struggling with."

Aay did his undergraduate work in geography and planning at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and his Ph.D. in geography was earned at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Born in the Netherlands, Aay journeyed to Canada with his family at the age of 13. That country remained his home for 25 years and he says its strong British-inherited tradition in geography captured his interest and enthusiasm already in high school.