May 19, 2011 | Matt Kucinski
On Tuesday, May 16, 2011, Calvin professor of history emeritus Herb Brinks died at his home after a lengthy bout with myeloma.
Brinks, 75, served the college for more than 30 years as a history professor and as curator of the archives. He is survived by his wife Ruth, four children and seven grandchildren.
Brinks started at Calvin as a professor of history. But soon he would be doing far more than teaching.
“He was driven by this desire, as most historians are, to understand not just what happened, but why something happened,” said Dick Harms, curator of the archives at Calvin.
That led Brinks to dig deeper into the past. He began tracking down material on the Dutch in North America since the 1840s and collecting important archival records of Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary and the Christian Reformed Church in North America. His findings served as the foundational basis of the archives in Heritage Hall, which he founded in 1965.
Brinks loved collecting. But, those who knew Brinks well knew he loved sharing more.
“He was driven by a desire to share what was learned by these investigations with not just historians, but with the general public,” said Harms.
It was that desire, that in 1983, prompted him to establish Origins, a semi-annual magazine that presents the history of the Dutch in North America to a general audience. His passion for sharing history became contagious and soon he had volunteers helping him collect and archive.
He also authored a number of books and journal articles, which reflected his concern for all aspects of the immigrant heritage shared by those who came from the Netherlands to North America.
During the latter part of his time at Calvin, Brinks began serving in the local community, something he’d put much more emphasis on once he retired. In 1991, he organized a Heartside Area Writers Club for inner-city residents interested in improving their literary skills. He also volunteered with Degage Ministries, God’s Kitchen and the Food Pantry of Westminster Presbyterian Church. He mentored clients of the Criminal Justice Chaplaincy and was an active supporter of Dwelling Place, an organization, which has as its purpose making the inner city a hospitable community for those who live there.
“He had a heart for people,” said Harms, “especially people he thought were disadvantaged and he thought they were deserving of his time, his attention and his effort.”
Those close to Brinks remember him as a good friend and a straight shooter—“He didn’t mince words,” said Harms. “If he thought you were wrong, he’d say you were wrong and that’s what many people liked about him. That’s what I liked about him. He was a good friend, a good supporter, when he said ‘That was a good thing you did,’ you knew he meant that.”
Calvin history professor Bert de Vries and his wife Sally, long-time friends of Brinks and his wife Ruth, reflected on their final conversation with Brinks this past Sunday.
“What struck us a lot was his sense of contentment; he said he was happy, that is, satisfied with his life and grateful for the many friends and relatives with which he has shared that and who surround him now. He is ready to go, and would rather it be sooner than later.”
Just two days later he died. de Vries summed up Brinks’ life:
“Herb loved and was loved; he lived well; he discerned astutely and critically; he was a blessing to many, and he departed satisfied.”
There will be a visitation from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. on Saturday, May 21 at the Woodlawn Church Ministry Center. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 23 at the Calvin College Chapel.
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