The Director's Desk
by Mike Van Denend '78
SAILING WITH THE PRESIDENT
The current President of the Calvin Alumni Association, Sharon Poel Thompson '86, is a hard-working volunteer on behalf of Calvin College. You'd expect that, given the role she plays as leader of Calvin's 46,724-member Association.
However, you might not expect the winding road Sharon took to that position, or the fact that her current living situation finds her afloat while at home.
Let's take the latter observation first.
Sharon, an executive for Classic Floor Designs in Washington, D.C., and her husband, Scott, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, live about 30 miles southeast of Washington in the harbor town of Deale, Maryland.
Well, not exactly in the town of Deale. Sharon and Scott live on a 40-foot Pearson sloop on the Chesapeake Bay, docked in a Deale marina. Their home is called SliBheatha, which is Gaelic for "Way of Life."
Why do the Thompsons live on water?
"Maybe I didn't know enough to say no at the start," laughed Sharon. "Actually, Scott grew up sailing and I found it intriguing. It is a wonderfully simple life. There isn't room for many possessions, and with the limited space you tend to focus on what is essential in life. Our residence is also an instant vacation home, so we can be vacationing and stay at home all at once."
The Thompsons often invite friends to their home for sailing on Saturdays in the summer.
"We've had many Calvin grads over," Sharon said. "The boat is quite adequate for our regular living quarters, and we have room for a few friends to join us on day or weekend excursions."
Sharon adds that she and Scott are considering a move to dry ground, but the boat will always be a part of their lifestyle.
"I have come to appreciate sailing for its meditative quality," she said. "The instant you turn off the engine, you hear the rush of the water and the wind filling the sails. You come to realize your Creator God in a very powerful way."
The Calvin Alumni Association was not part of Sharon's lifestyle for a number of years after graduation. "I didn't run away from Calvin, but I didn't maintain connections, either," she said. "I felt a bit of an outsider while a Calvin student --- with my dad in the Air Force, I had lived in a number of places around the country. At the time I went to Calvin, my family was living in Texas. My Korean-American roommate and I felt as though we represented something other than the expected. I valued Calvin for getting me back in touch with my heritage, but I didn't find a lot in common with many fellow students."
The "outsider" feeling stayed with Sharon for a time, changing when she landed in Washington, D.C. and began meeting young Calvin alumni at various events in the city.
"I felt a connection to the Calvin grads in D.C.," she recalled. "It seems as though we moved to a large, politically oriented metropolitan area for similar reasons. It was a natural progression, and I soon found myself becoming involved with the local chapter and volunteering to help organize D.C. Chapter events."
From chapter volunteer to chapter leader to member of the Alumni Association Board to President of the Association --- Sharon still shakes her head in amazement about the journey she's taken.
"You're at a college for four years or so, but it's really a lifelong commitment --- on both the alum's part and the college's part," she noted. "I've found that maintaining alumni connections to Calvin ensures that an excellent Christian college experience will be around for future generations."
And Sharon's disappointments as a student have turned into advocacy for the college, alumni and students.
"My Alumni Association experience has opened my eyes to many positive things happening at Calvin," Sharon said. "I'm impressed that the college continually works at improving itself. Walking into a packed Friday Chapel service and seeing the genuine love of Christ in the faces of students and staff is inspiring. I'm also impressed with the student-faculty relationships, both the professional mentoring and the Christ-like caring. It's easy to forget how important that support structure is for young people.
"I guess you could say that I've turned disappointment into action," she concluded. Sharon Thompson's energy as board president has been a catalyst for numerous Association ventures. Her story illustrates the discoveries that alumni make about Calvin as they interact with the college through the Association.
"Calvin's Alumni Association is action-oriented," Sharon said. "Most people think of alumni organizations as strictly social groups, but this Association seeks to use the talents and gifts of alumni to benefit and improve the college. There's no need to feel outside of Calvin's community --- it extends worldwide and to all alumni and friends."
Sharon Thompson has the Association sailing in the right direction. Although she and Scott need to limit their boating companions, the Association has room for 46,724 persons. Get on board!