Director's Desk • A Friend First
by Michael Van Denend '78

Mike Van Denend
Michael Van Denend
Executive Director, Calvin Alumni Association
I met Lewis Smedes in May of 1985 at the airport in Grand Rapids. He was flying in to receive the Calvin Alumni Association's Distinguished Alumni Award. It was my first experience as Calvin's alumni director with meeting a recipient of the award, the highest honor the college bestows on a graduate.

Lew's reputation had, of course, preceded him. His books, articles and lectures were well known. Christians from coast to coast turned to him with questions about personal relationships. I was nervous while waiting for his plane to arrive.

My worries, however, were needless. His warm greeting, gentle manner and authentic interest in others made my first interaction with Lew a delight. Although I wanted to talk about the details of the award weekend as we waited for his luggage, Lew insisted on hearing about me, my family and my work at Calvin.

Finally, he allowed me to get to the particulars of the commencement ceremony and the award. I was eager to tell him that I had lobbied the planning committee to permit our award winners to say a few words to the Calvin community. In fact, it was because of Lew that the "no alum may speak" rule was changed. "Do you mean Lew Smedes will be standing in front of 4,500 people and he won't be allowed to talk?" I had asked incredulously. Time, of course, was the enemy, and no one trusted a gushing alumnus to keep things short.

More Online
The Making and Keeping of Commitments
The Stob Lectures 1987 by Lewis Smedes

What? We Have a Friend in Jesus?
By Lewis Smedes
The Banner

Distinguished Alumni Award
Bios of the award recipients

When Lew did stand behind the podium, award in hand, he said this: "I want you to know that I like Calvin College. And it is nice to know that, after all these years, Calvin College likes me, too." That's it. He sat down.

Lew passed away suddenly on December 20, after a fall at his California home (see "In Memoriam"). He was hanging Christmas lights to welcome loved ones coming for a visit.

At the service of remembrance for him in Grand Rapids a few weeks later, many references were made to his gifts of intellect, writing and speaking.

The most effective words, however, reflected on Lew's care and consideration as a friend and father. His son, Charles, and daughter, Cathy, acknowledged his great talent and achievements, but—with great emotion—talked about a person who was kind and gentle and intensely interested in them. Their words brought my first meeting with Lew immediately to mind.

I came away from that service picturing a headstone at Lew's grave with these words under his name: "Husband, Father, Friend." That's it. Nothing more.

Lew gave the first-ever Henry Stob Lecture at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary. His insightful talk was titled, "The Making and Keeping of Commitments." Here's how he concluded this address:

… in our time we need nothing more than this: that we help each other accept ourselves again as persons who, like God himself, can say to someone: I am the one who will be there with you, no matter what. And in so taking on his name, we may create communities of steadfast love and create ourselves as persons—persons who are what we are because of the commitments we have dared to make and cared to keep.

Thank you, Lew. Calvin College does, indeed, like you. May your brothers and sisters in the Calvin Alumni Association continue to learn from the wisdom in your books and lectures—but especially from remembering how you were there for your spouse, your children and your friends, no matter what.