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Calvin Prof Earns Top Recreation Award
March 14, 2007

A Calvin College recreation professor will receive one of the highest honors in his field later this week.

Dr. Don DeGraaf has been selected as the 2007 winner of the J. B. Nash Scholar Award, awarded annually by the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation and based on professional commitment, leadership, service, research and publication.

He will formally be presented with the award on Friday, March 16 at the American Alliance for Health Physical Education Recreation Dance and Sport national convention which is being held March 13-17 in Baltimore, Maryland.

He also will on Friday deliver the 2007 J.B. Nash Scholar lecture. His talk is entitled "From Servant Leadership to Social Entrepreneurship: Becoming Hopeful Travelers."


The award came as a shock to the self-effacing Florida native who said he was excited, surprised and humbled - all at the same time - especially as he thinks about the winner of the award in the past.

A 1982 Calvin graduate who went on to earn his master's in therapeutic recreation from Indiana University and his Ph.D. in management of leisure service organizations at the University of Oregon, DeGraaf returned to his alma mater in 1998 to serve in the health, physical education, recreation, dance and sport department.

He believes strongly in the power of recreation in society and thinks the recreation major at Calvin serves an important purpose for the college.

"I believe that recreation has the power to improve people's lives," he says, "in lots of different ways. If you think about something as simple as Saturday-morning parks and recreation soccer program here in Grand Rapids, it's about the kids and the skills they're developing, but it's also about the parents on the sidelines and the networks created and enhanced. Recreation programs really can serve as a mechanism to pull a community together."

DeGraaf says it takes a certain kind of person to major or minor in recreation at Calvin and eventually to become the people needed to organize those Saturday-morning soccer games, to run youth camps, to organize programs for people with disabilities, to set up seniors with rec options and much more.

"For me the (recreation) program at Calvin provides an opportunity for a certain kind of student," he says. "A people-person for one. And someone who wants a very hands-on major, with lots of opportunities for engaging with the community. Those students can shine in this major. And once they graduate they can find their place in the kingdom and provide a valuable service, while making a difference in the world."

DeGraaf says Calvin has about 40-50 recreation majors in the pipeline at any given time and notes that many of those students work as interns during the fall and spring semesters at such locations as parks and recreation departments in Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Kentwood; Hope Network, Pine Rest and Raybrook Manor; Camp Roger and Camp Tall Turf; and even Walt Disney World!

The diverse placements are mirrored in DeGraaf's own efforts on campus.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Calvin HPERDS department, which he serves both as a professor and as department chair, DeGraaf also works with Calvin's Asian Studies major as an adjunct faculty member.

He has lived and worked in Asia in the past, including the Philippines, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan, and has taken student groups to Asia, something he hopes to do at Calvin in the near future.

And he has partnered with professors and colleagues in other departments on interesting research projects. For example, a recent study he was part of that looked at "how the Calvin experience connected the mind, heart, and hands in a meaningful way for both students and society."

That study looked at intentional Christian communities associated with Calvin between 1965 and 2004, including the Worden Street Community and Calvin's current Project Neighborhood houses.

In his personal life recreation has been a central them for DeGraaf and his wife Kathy who jokes that he and his spouse are “avid and safe (not to be confused with good) kayakers, hikers, and rock climbers.”

Calvin professor Glen VanAndel, who began the recreation major at the college, says his former student's presence on campus has been a positive one for him and the program.

"One of Don's many contributions is his creative ability to connect theory to practice," he says "For example, in his history of physical education and recreation class, he developed an Urban Bike Tour through the city of Grand Rapids with stops at selected neighborhoods. His goal is to show students the historical, social, economic, religious, environmental, and cultural impact each of these places have for the community as a whole and the civic responsibility each of us have to care for and contribute to our community."

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