The Director's Desk
By Mike Van Denend '78
They've lived and worked in Grand Rapids, yes, but also two very diverse places --- Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and La Grange, North Carolina.
John and Dottie Voss are the new caretakers of Ravenswood, at one time the home of Calvin President Anthony Diekema, but now the hospitality center for special guests of the college.
"We get to meet very interesting people here," said Dottie. "There have been academic lecturers, entertainers and consultants from all over the world."
"And we are looking forward to meeting many of the January Series speakers in a few months," added John, a Calvin graduate of the Class of '49.
Ravenswood is a quiet and comfortable home on the north side of the Knollcrest campus, just above the track and soccer field, near the Lake Drive entrance to the college.
Calvin staff members reserve lodging at Ravenswood through the Office of Conferences and Campus Events, which, in turn, lets the Vosses know who their boarders will be for the week.
"Some guests are very curious and talkative," noted Dottie. "There was a gentleman from South Africa here recently, his first time in the United States, and he asked many questions about life in this country.
"Other guests," she said, "need privacy and a peaceful environment. John and I make certain we are aware of their needs and make their stay pleasant."
John and Dottie understand hospitality. They have been expert at it throughout their lives and have been on the receiving end in life-changing ways.
John, a physician, had a thriving private practice in Grand Rapids, when he took on the challenge as medical officer for Raytheon, a defense systems corporation with a large complex in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
"I was the company's first full-time physician," said John. "I was responsible for the 450 families connected to Raytheon, plus a growing number of Saudi employees and their families." John and Dottie took children Lois and Julie with them to Jeddah --- son Mark was born while they were there. In all, the Vosses were in Saudi Arabia for nine years, with a year off in the middle of that time for John to spend at East Carolina University in a practical residency program.
"I had to keep my skills sharp," said John. Dottie was impressed with the emphasis on children in Saudi Arabia and the kindnesses that were showered on her family.
"I felt very safe there," she said. "When John was gone visiting other medical sites, there was a constant stream of friends and neighbors, checking up on us."
Another fond remembrance is the regular sharing of meals and conversation with other families --- an almost daily occurrence.
"We entertained constantly," said Dottie. "There were often dinners for 20 persons and talks going well into the evening."
The Vosses were friends with U.S. Ambassador John West, who even allowed them to begin holding church services within the embassy compound.
While enjoying life in Saudi Arabia, the Vosses left so that the children could attend schools near home. After nine years in Grand Rapids, John agreed to staff a small medical clinic in La Grange, North Carolina, a town of 2,000 persons.
"We actually lived in Kinston, a larger town down the road so I could be near the area hospital, but I spent most of my days at the clinic in La Grange and we became a real part of that community --- shopping, banking, Rotary, festivals and all the rest," said John.
Again, a different kind of hospitality made an impression on John and Dottie, as small-town community warmth enveloped them.
It was in North Carolina that the Vosses first seriously thought about considering a "host and hostess" role.
"Since we were on the way to Florida, it seemed as though Michigan friends would stop over on the way south regularly," said Dottie. "There were months when we had overnight guests every weekend." Dottie also helped out at a local bed-and-breakfast for a time.
Finally, John was called by a former colleague who was working at Cherry Street Health Services in Grand Rapids, a clinic designed for the underserved of the city.
"I had volunteered at Cherry Street the last time I was in Grand Rapids," said John. "Now they needed a full-time physician there and wanted me for the position." At the same time, Don and Alyce Boender, Ravenswood's caretakers were leaving the college for a stay in California.
John's interest in Cherry Street and Dottie's willingness to host guests dovetailed perfectly. Calvin gained an experienced, sensitive couple to welcome visitors to Knollcrest.
"People are certainly amazed when they experience Calvin and Ravenswood for the first time," said Dottie. "Often, just before they have to leave the college, a guest will say, 'Can I leave my suitcase here a minute? I'd just like to walk the campus one more time. It's so beautiful here!'"
It certainly seems natural that the spiritual gift of hospitality is nurtured on the Calvin campus. John and Dottie are well qualified to serve as our role models.