As a German professor, Wally Bratt didn't deal primarily with English compositions. That all changed, however, when Bratt was asked to teach Written Rhetoric, more commonly called English 100, in the late 1980s.
"Enrollment kept shrinking in the German department, so I was asked if I could teach a course in English," said Bratt. "I ended up teaching one class each semester for several years. Providentially, that prepared me for the work I've been doing lately."
What Bratt has been doing since his retirement in 1997 is volunteering at Calvin—sometimes up to 30 hours per week. Many of those hours have been spent editing copy for books that have been produced by the Alumni Association and other Calvin faculty members.
"Teaching those courses in English made me think a lot more about writing," said Bratt. "I had tremendous help from the English department and that's how I gradually learned to help people produce prose which is clear and perhaps even graceful."
Bratt's biggest project in this capacity was chairing the editorial committee for My Heart I Offer: Daily Reflections on the Journey of Faith. This book of devotionals, written by Calvin alumni, was published by the Alumni Association in 2000.
"Wally played a pivotal role in the whole project," said Lois Konyndyk, a fellow committee member. "He kept us on task, always keeping our focus on the larger goal. He edited with a generous and thoughtful style; he took on a number of the more difficult tasks and through it all showed remarkable patience. He led with a generous spirit, clear vision, quiet persistence and gentle humor."
Bratt devoted many hours over many months soliciting contributions, reviewing and editing submissions and working with the committee and general editor Jan Walhout to produce the book, which received a very positive response.
"What made that project particularly rewarding was that the outcome was so wonderful and inspiring," said Bratt. "We found a lot of alumni out there with important things to say about the Christian life, and the fact that so many of them were willing to share it was deeply satisfying."
Over the last few years, Bratt also has spent time assisting former colleagues such as Dave Tuuk, physical education professor emeritus.
Tuuk wrote Maroon and Gold will Bind our Hearts, a history of Calvin athletics from 1915 to 1953. Bratt was called upon to edit the work. He also assisted in the editing of Barbara Carvill and David Smith's The Gift of the Stranger: Faith, Hospitality and Foreign Language Learning.
"Both of these books, like the devotional book, came out of the author's desire to serve the Calvin community and the Kingdom," said Bratt. "Dave Tuuk wrote his book because he thought athletic history was important to the college and as a service to older alumni. Barbara and David's book is a unique, thoughtful, biblically-based rationale for foreign language education. It's very well done and exemplifies Calvin at its best."
Thus, Bratt believes, he was only assisting the selfless efforts of others in giving something back to Calvin and the wider Christian community.
"The Calvin I know is a place in which so many people give so much; so to try and give something of yourself becomes a very natural thing," he said. "It's part of the air you breathe here; it's the environment around this place."
After spending his entire 39-year career teaching at Calvin, Bratt thinks it would be incomprehensible to feel any other way.
"I honestly feel that I am doing just what everyone else around here is doing," he said.
Also teaching an occasional interim class and chairing the curriculum committee of the Calvin Academy of Lifelong Learning (CALL), Bratt continues to be involved in many facets of Calvin College.
"I am very grateful for the award because the people who made the decision to give it to me are people I respect and admire very much, but I also want to make it clear that there are so many people doing the kinds of things that I am. There are all kinds of people who are contributing to make the CALL organization successful and a lot of other people doing a lot of wonderful things. This is a very generous place. This award enforces what we mean by grace," he said, with a smile, "—unmerited favor."
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