Professor Ron Blankespoor installed as the first-ever holder of the Brummel Chair in Organic Chemistry at Calvin College.

Professor Ron Blankespoor installed as the first-ever holder of the Brummel Chair in Organic Chemistry at Calvin College.

Too often, chemicals get a bad rap according to Calvin professor Ron Blankespoor. “There is a misconception,” he says, “that all chemicals are bad for us. What about the chemicals we refer to as water, sugar and aspirin? Are these bad for us? Just because a chemical is made in a natural setting like a plant doesn't make it good for humans. Neither does a chemical made in the laboratory automatically make it bad for us.”

In 2006 Blankespoor was named the first Brummel Chair in Organic Chemistry. A decade ago he also received a singular honor when he was named the winner of the Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching. Read more about that award.

What's good and what's bad in the world of chemicals will be part of the focus for a talk Blankespoor will deliver at Calvin on October 17 when he is installed as the first-ever holder of the Brummel Chair in Organic Chemistry at the college.

The chair was funded by Roger and Connie Brummel, both Calvin graduates and both connected to the college's board of trustees (Connie is a former board member and Roger serves currently). Roger Brummel earned his degree in chemistry, mathematics and education at Calvin, prior to earning a pair of master's degrees and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Wayne State University.

After several years in the classroom as a high school teacher, followed by graduate school, he spent the majority of his career with Parke-Davis at Holland, Mich., in a variety of positions, including vice president of chemical development, a title he also held at Pfizer after that company purchased Parke-Davis in 2000.

As the first holder of the chair, Blankespoor, who has been at Calvin since 1977, will have a reduced teaching load that will give him more time to pursue his research interests. He also is able to hire student researchers during the school year to assist him in his work.

Blankespoor says the endowed chair is a big positive for the college and the chemistry department.

“I think this chair will end up being a very nice recruitment tool for us as a department,” he says. “With the reduced teaching load we should be able to attract new faculty who want to spend more time on their research during the academic year.”

Interestingly, Blankespoor and Roger Brummel are former Calvin colleagues.

After he retired from Pfizer, Brummel returned to classroom, this time to the Calvin chemistry department where students and colleagues greatly benefited from his industrial experience and perspective.

Brummel's Pfizer connections also benefited Calvin in other ways.

For example, he and other alumni, who were working for Pfizer at the time, played an important role in the donation of a large amount of equipment to Calvin when the Pfizer lab closed several years ago.

The department also received four original paintings that Brummel had commissioned for the Pfizer lab, paintings by former Calvin art professor Edgar Boeve depicting the four Greek elements of earth, fire, air and water. Those paintings now hang in the entryway to DeVries Hall, where Blankespoor has his lab and office. And they serve him as a reminder of God's hand in the world.

“A verse that has always been meaningful to me in my work,” he says, “is Psalm 24, verse 1: The earth is the Lords's and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.”

Blankespoor says that that verse is a comfort, but also a call.

“We have a responsibilty to be good stewards of God's creation,” he says plainly.

It's a topic he explores in many of his classes. He also lives it, biking daily to work (he dismisses the one-mile ride as hardly worth mentioning) and to many other destinations (logging about 4,000 miles a year on his bike!).

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