Khaznat al-Faroun at Petra, Jordan. Photo taken by Calvin College professor Bert DeVries

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Prince Conference Center
1800 East Beltline SE,
Grand Rapids, MI 49546

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Experience Experience
Return to the PETRA homepage April 4, 2005 - August 15, 2005
Lost City of Stone

About Petra: Steering Committee


Gaylen Byker, President, Calvin College
June Hamersma, Director of the January Series, Calvin College


Phil Beezhold, Physical Plant
Neal Bierling
Sharolyn Christians, Office of the President
Phil de Haan, Media Relations
Sally de Vries
Henry DeVries, Information Technology
DeAnna Doll, January Series
Justin Jackson, Prince Conference Center
Diane Jones, Professional Marketing
Souzan Karadsheh, Development
Kristi Potter, January Series
Joel Zwart, Center Art Gallery

Pro Re Nata Members

Jake Bosmeijer, Chief Engineer for CAS
Daniel Garcia, CAS Professor
Gary Lepsch, Publishing Services
Luke Robinson, Web Manager

Underwriting Committee

Lawrence D. Bos, Sr., Northwestern Mutual Financial Network — co-chair
Dick De Vos, The Windquest Group — co-chair
William Alphenaar, Aspen Gold Investment Management Inc.
William Boer, RDV Corporation
Roger Brummel, AuSable Institute
Larry Gerbens, Grand Rapids Ophthalmology
J.C. Huizenga, National Heritage Academies

Petra is dedicated to the life and legacy of Bastiaan Van Elderen, global scholar and archaeologist (1925-2004)


Gaylen J. Byker and June Hamersma standing outside the Petra exhibit entrance
Gaylen J. Byker, Project Director and Steering Committee Co-Chair, pictured with June Hamersma, Project Co-Chair

Gaylen J. Byker, Project Director and Steering Committee Co-Chair
Dr. Gaylen Byker has been president of Calvin College since 1995. Raised in Hudsonville, Byker is a graduate of Unity Christian High School, Calvin College, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania. He has both a law degree and a master's degree in world politics from Michigan. His doctoral degree from Penn is in international relations. Byker says that it was at Calvin that his interest in the middle east first was sparked, an interest that grew even deeper during his days at Penn. So, after graduating with his Ph.D., Byker decided to teach and live in Lebanon. He made his first trip to Petra during that time and since has twice more returned to visit the Jordanian site. Prior to returning to his alma mater as president, Byker worked as a lawyer, an investment banker, a teacher (in Lebanon) and as a partner in a natural gas firm. Byker earned a United States Army commission at the age of 19 and served as an artillery officer in Washington state and Vietnam, where he supervised 90 enlisted men in combat situations and was repeatedly decorated. He was discharged with the rank of captain and returned to study at Calvin, graduating in 1973 with an interdisciplinary major.

June Hamersma, Project Co-Chair
Although her title is director of The January Series of Calvin College, the largest cultural arts and education series in the United States, one of June Hamersma’s unofficial roles is as Calvin ambassador to the West Michigan community. June is the founding chair of the Hospice of Michigan Foundation and has chaired three major fund-raising projects for the Foundation, the latest being the 2004 Big Picture Project which featured the international IMAX movie premier of The Polar Express. In honor of her work for Hospice, The June B. Hamersma Planned Giving Society of Hospice of Michigan was established in 2004. She has been active in many local, regional and state organizations in health, communications, education, the arts, and the church. In 1997 she was awarded The Art of Giving Award by the Blodgett/Butterworth Health Care Foundation. This is the most prestigious award given for local philanthropic work. In the same year she also received the Tribute Award for Arts and Communication from the YWCA of Grand Rapids. Early in her career she was Director of Publicity and Public Relations for The Riverside Church in New York City.

Neal Bierling, Archaeological and Educational Projects Director
A 1969 graduate of Calvin, Neal Bierling has a special connection to Petra: he served a short stint on the team that helped unearth a marble Byzantine pulpit at Petra. Bierling, a local educator, photographer and businessman, has been working on middle east digs for 32 years. After graduating from Calvin he earned his master's degree in near eastern studies and archaeology from the University of Michigan. For the last 15 years, Bierling has designed and set up outdoor, hands-on archaeological dig sites for local schools and now trains educators nationwide in the development of such sites. In 1995 Neal and son Joel (also a Calvin graduate) formed, a company dedicated to developing educational materials on middle eastern archaeology. Their present project includes the production of a PanoReality Tour DVD of Petra, to be used at the Petra exhibit and for educational purposes in school districts throughout the Great Lakes region.

Sally de Vries, Adult Petra Programming
For Sally de Vries the Petra exhibit at Calvin College will feel a bit like a homecoming. That's because de Vries has been visiting Petra for over three decades, beginning in 1972 when she and her husband Bert, a Calvin history professor and archaeologist, lived in Jordan for two years. In those early years she and her family would sleep in Petra's caves on their visits to "the lost city!" From 1988 to 1991 she was the administrative director of ACOR, the American Center for Oriental Research, which facilitates the many American archaeological expeditions to Jordan. And for eight summers Sally was the administrative director of the excavations at Umm el-Jimal, her husband Bert's excavation site. Sally's particular expertise is in the traditional cultures of the native Bedouin people, especially the study of their daily life and customs as found in their textiles, clothing and costumes. She has collaborated with Jordanian colleague Widad Kawar on two books and several catalogues as well as the Kawar collection website at She also has developed her own collection of textiles, jewelry, carpets and household accessories.

Joel Zwart, Exhibition Curator
Bringing Petra to Calvin College is a dream come true for Joel Zwart, the colleges' director of exhibitions who will act as both onsite curator and exhibition designer for the Petra: Lost City of Stone exhibit. Zwart, a 1997 Calvin graduate, currently oversees the Center Art Gallery at Calvin, directs all other college-related exhibitions and manages the placement, storage, care and conservation of the college's permanent collection of over 1,200 pieces of artwork. He also is responsible for the design and updating of the art gallery's website at In 2000 Zwart earned a master's degree in historical administration at Eastern Illinois University. Prior to coming to Calvin he served as the director of education at the Holland Historical Trust in Holland, Michigan.

Souzan Karadsheh, Hospitality Project Director
Many of the people working on the Petra project have close ties to the exhibit. Karadsheh is no exception. She came to Calvin College in 1997 as an international student from Port Said, Egypt, and graduated in 2001 with a bacherlor's degree in business communications. She was raised in Egypt; her husband is from Jordan. She is currently hospitality events manager in the Calvin development office. Prior to that she worked for Calvin's Office of Conferences and Campus Events. She has been a travel and tour leader for church and school groups and her familiarity with the middle east will add authenticity to the events associated with the Petra exhibition, including a trip to Jordon, media conferences, opening night gala, Mediterranean buffet and dinner celebrations, a family festival featuring Middle Eastern products and performances, a theatrical performance from Arabian Nights, and a performance of Scheherazade by the Grand Rapids Ballet Company.

Exhibit Dedication

Bastiaan Van Elderen, Class of '49
Bastiaan Van Elderen (1925-2004)

Bastiaan Van Elderen, Global Scholar, Archaeologist (1925-2004)
A graduate of both Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, Bastiaan Van Elderen also taught at both institutions, retiring in 1990. He was an internationally respected scholar who conducted numerous digs in Jordan, Egypt and Turkey, uncovering evidence of early Christian communities and churches. Van Elderen once wrote: "We are heirs to a rich past. The archaeologist tries to uncover some part of that. Even the smallest artifact can be an exciting find." He played a key role in bringing the 2003 Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit to Grand Rapids and then educated the public on the rich history surrounding this exhibit. He inspired many others to pursue a career in archaeology or to develop an interest in the Middle East. His legacy will live on through the lives of the people he touched with his kind and wise words and actions.

Waves of sand