The 1997 Faith and Learning Award
John J. Timmerman
Professor of English, Emeritus
by Bruce Buursma ‘73
A few years following his retirement from the English faculty at Calvin College, John J. Timmerman recalled the "noble profession" that was his for more than four decades, the final 30 years in service to students at his beloved alma mater. The essay was vintage Timmerman -- thoughtful, whimsical, and brimming with truth and grace.
"One of my college teachers [at Calvin] once said in class that he enjoyed teaching so much that he sometimes felt as if he should be paying for the privilege," wrote Dr. Timmerman, who immediately added this note of personal confession: "I have never been seized by such euphoria. Teaching is no effortless joy ride. I have felt at times as if I were prodding a tortoise for fifty minutes."
Among the more than ten thousand Calvin students who sat under Timmerman's spell, many felt his insistent prodding, and most -- even those with the hardest shells -- were in time beguiled. One underclassman received a paper back from Timmerman with the note, "An example of hitherto unrivaled economy of effort." The note inspired the student to pursue excellence, and ultimately to a distinguished career of his own alongside his mentor in Calvin's English Department. His name: Richard Tiemersma, the recipient of the 1994 Faith and Learning Award.
"No one in my career gave me more classroom ammunition than Tim did," remembers Tiemersma, who remains one of Timmerman's closest friends and fondest admirers. "Tim was my model, from the very first class I took with him to my final lecture at Calvin."
From 1945 to his retirement in 1975, John J. Timmerman was a model for uncounted students and for scores of his colleagues on the Calvin faculty. Former President William Spoelhof, a classmate of Timmerman's both at Eastern Academy in New Jersey and at Calvin from 1927 to 1931, regards his longtime friend as "one of the truly great teachers" in Calvin's history and a character who is "respected highly in the memory of his students."
This abiding respect and affection is underscored in the letters of nomination for this award, a number of which were drafted with passion and eloquence on Timmerman's behalf. Carol Schemper Kamp, of the class of 1959, praises Timmerman for his "sparkling wit (and) unimaginable skill" as both a writer and teacher, warmly recalling his "Ivy League flair" and his collection of bold and colorful neckties. A student who attended Calvin during the tempestuous late 1960s and early 1970s remembers Timmerman as a "commanding presence on campus . . . a luminous Christian gentleman" who inspired students to "think creatively and write with style." And Tiemersma, who studied under Timmerman a half-century ago, recalls those long-ago lectures as "notable examples of the eighteenth-century ideal for literature: to instruct and delight."
Timmerman has devoted his retirement to those activities through which he found greatest meaning and pleasure -- reading good books, engaging in lively conversations with friends and family and, until her death in 1994, keeping company with Carolyn, his wife of 56 years.
At 88, he battles the infirmities of age and the gnawing grief over the loss of his beloved spouse. He is no longer able to read a book at one sitting for the strain it puts on his eyes. Yet his spirit remains indomitable, and his love for Christ, the church and Calvin College is as vibrant today as it was when he wrote these concluding lines in his essay on his profession: "If one is a Christian teacher, he or she will at the right season and in the right way sow the good seed with the firm hope of harvest."
Among the very many teachers who have given their best years to this high calling and noble vocation at Calvin, John J. Timmerman stands with radiance and splendor. He also stands with heartfelt gratitude for the recognition that "my teaching was worth something -- that it made a difference for some people." The harvest has come in with abundance.
The Faith and Learning Award, given annually since 1992, is granted to a current or former Calvin professor for excellence in teaching, spiritual impact, concern for students and lasting influence. Candidates are nominated by Calvin alumni and chosen by a committee of Alumni board members.