When Ervina Van Dyke Boevé ’46 first began teaching theater at Calvin in the mid-1950s, she was asked, “What if one of your students becomes a professional?” For theater was still considered a “dark art” in the Christian Reformed tradition of that era.
“My answer was,” she said, “‘He better be a good one.’”
Thus began the patient and steady work by Boevé to change Calvin’s perception about theater and its place on campus—not only as an extracurricular activity but also as an academic endeavor.
Boeve graduated from Calvin in 1946 as an education major in English and history. In her first year of teaching English at Holland Christian High School, she “drew the short straw” and was assigned the directorship of the senior play.
To prepare for this assignment, Boevé participated in a workshop for teachers of drama and, to her amazement, enjoyed it.
“What I found was that, by being involved with the play, I had much more direct contact with the students,” she said. “I was able to get to know them much better, and I really enjoyed that. I also found that I liked directing plays better than marking English themes.”
Boevé pursued additional classes and completed a master’s degree in theater at the University of Michigan in 1954. She was hired at Calvin that same year.
“At the time I was considered an oddity with a degree in theater—and one of only three women teaching at Calvin,” she said.
In 1956, Boevé took over as director of the Thespian Club. “They were doing good productions of high school material,” she said. “I didn’t think they were at the level that a college should be doing. They (the plays) didn’t have any academic character to them.”
Her first Thespian production, An Enemy of the People, was a memorable one, she said. “It was the first major production that challenged the intellect of the students and the audience.”
Over the next 24 years, Boevé directed more than 100 productions in association with the college, including her ten years directing the Alumni Players. She also helped Calvin theater gain acceptance as an academic pursuit, with a major being established in the mid-1970s.
Her desire for close contact with students continued throughout this time. Boevé and her husband, Edgar—who taught in the art department at Calvin for 33 years and received the Faith and Learning Award in 1995—became parents away from home for many theater students.
“Mrs. B. took delight in us,” wrote a former student in support of her nomination. “She cared about who we were as people and about whom we would become. She cared about us and we knew it.”
First “read-throughs” were held at their home; opening and closing night festivities were planned by the Boevés.
“Ervina cared deeply about her students,” another former student wrote. “She got to know them very well through close work with them in the theater. In many cases, she became a true mentor. She was that for me. She helped me to understand my own potential and challenged me to fulfill it.”
Beyond her compassion for students, Boevé also worked diligently at integrating faith and the arts.
“No matter what show she directed, she taught us about the redemptive moments in it … Long before worldview and every square inch were common words among staff, faculty and students, Mrs. B. was developing a sense of impact on the world of drama … Mrs. B. made theater accessible and respectable within a suspicious context … Without the ground setting work she did in theater, Calvin College would not be taking the kind of leadership it does in the arts.”
“I always believed that you could be as good of a Christian in the theater as you could in any other field,” said Boevé. “I felt strongly, and still do, that whatever we do should be done to the best of our ability. That has always been one of my guiding principles.”
The recognition of her gifts with a Faith and Learning Award is an honor, she said.
“I think it is the best award that Calvin gives,” Boeve said. “The award recognizes what your job is at Calvin as a professor—that is, to open students’ minds to areas that they haven’t been open to before, while helping them maintain their Christian faith.”
The Boevés’ involvement with the college continues even in their retirement to Florida. As leaders for the Southeast Florida chapter, the Boevés enjoy bringing Calvin alumni together for various events.
“Calvin was our life; it is our life,” said Ervina. “We have always been involved with the college. We can’t imagine it any other way.”
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