President emeritus William Spoelhof celebrated his 95th birthday in December in grand style. His beloved children and grandchildren came from many places to be with him. The Calvin community held a special chapel service and sang a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday.” And his (mostly) retired friends in the “Emeritorium” off the Hiemenga Hall corridor enjoyed a festive meal together.
However, all of this merry-making wasn’t enough. Typically, Calvin folks wanted to put some of this into words — to tell stories about an amazing individual.
Thus it was that Forever Faithful: Stories of William Spoelhof and Calvin College was born. Chaplain Dale Cooper first surfaced the idea. He noted that in almost every place he visited, conversations about Calvin College always included a “Spoelhof story.”
And why not? Dr. Spoelhof began as a student at Calvin in 1927, and other than relatively brief assignments as a graduate student, high school teacher and U.S. intelligence officer during World War II, his history has been the history of Calvin. Student, faculty member, president, president emeritus — all told, that’s 61 years of active involvement with the institution. What a blessing for the college!
An editorial committee was formed to ask community members for their favorite stories about Dr. Spoelhof. (And, by the way, on behalf of the committee, my sincere apologies if you were not asked to contribute. See the P.S.) The results are contained in a delightful 180-page volume. I encourage alumni and friends to pick up the book to catch wonderful vignettes of college history.
But there’s an even more important reason to read Forever Faithful. It is striking to me that for as many stories in the book that refer to famous college milestones, just as many refer to quiet, small interactions that reveal Dr. Spoelhof’s depth of character.
There are helpful conversations and acts of kindness and encouragement that only the writer and Dr. Spoelhof knew about. These stories paint the picture of a famous man who exercised humility and grace in his personal interactions. He was obviously faithful in the small things of life as well as in the large responsibilities that came with being college president.
I think there’s an important lesson in that for Calvin graduates, most of whom do not regularly have the spotlight of national or local attention on them. They go about their lives with purpose and persistence. It wouldn’t occur to them that they have anything to share with others in the “Alumni Notes” pages of Spark magazine.
But, my friends, being an “agent of renewal” in God’s kingdom means being faithful in the small things. As I have been learning through the personal lives of distinguished alumni of Calvin who have passed away in recent years — Lew Smedes, Jo Boomsma, John Steensma, Jay Van Andel — and now through the life of William Spoelhof, what seems small to us looms large in God’s eyes.
May the stories told about you be about many small things.
P.S. While he gave us permission to go ahead on this venture, Dr. Spoelhof, true to form, did not want us to trumpet this work in progress far and wide. If you weren’t given the opportunity to share your Spoelhof story, the committee encourages you to send it to Dr. Spoelhof, c/o firstname.lastname@example.org or via the alumni office.
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