Henry Holstege ’54 has been teaching at Calvin for 47 years. He plans to make it at least 48 when he returns to the campus to teach again this fall.
“I’m addicted,” said the sociology professor, who officially retired in 1997. At age 72 — a member of the self-described “young-old” — Holstege is living out what he has taught for so many years.
“People think at 65 you’re old,” said Holstege. “That’s the problem. Culturally, we define 65 as old.” Yet, based on much of his own research, Holstege has found that to age well, people have to be active until they die.
Holstege and Calvin colleague Ted Rottman began researching the elderly in 1964, when they performed a random study of the aged in Michigan for the state government. At the time, little research had been done on this age group. The research conducted by Holstege and Rottman, which reported on the problems for the elderly in Michigan, helped establish the Office of Services to the Aging.
Intrigued, Holstege delved further into the subject, questioning how we organize society toward the elderly and what it means to age as a Christian.
“I think Christians need to ask themselves, ‘What do I do now with the last one-third of my life?’” said Holstege. “I’m all in favor of people goofing off for a month or two, but there has to be more to life than that. You don’t retire from your work for God.”
Holstege has received numerous grants to support his research. With those funds he has produced educational videos, developed programs and organized conferences, including one which took place at Calvin on June 1, 2005, on social policy issues as they relate to older persons in American society.
His research has made its way into the classroom, too, with Holstege teaching a popular class on gerontology. He also has co-authored three books on the subject: The Christian Guide to Parent Care, Growing Older in America and Caring for Aging Loved Ones. A fourth book — this one on Christianity and social policy as it relates to aging — is forthcoming.
“I’m all in favor of people goofing off for a month or two, but there has to be more to life than that. You don’t retire from your work for God.” — Henry Holstege
Gerontology will be one of the classes Holstege will teach this fall; the other, Sociology of the Family, is his Calvin legacy, according to Cheryl Brandsen, sociology department chair.
“Many of the courses he taught were equally or more influential in helping students make decisions about how best to live out one’s calling in the world,” she said, yet this class is the one most referred to by alumni.
“This summer I met with an incoming first-year student and her parents,” continued Brandsen. “The parents had both taken Henry’s Sociology of the Family course. They offered several concrete decisions they had made while dating and with respect to marriage and children that had been influenced in a positive direction by this course.”
A practical course for college students making important life decisions, it is frequently taken by sociology and non-sociology majors alike.
“The family course deals with the great biblical themes of love, commitment, forgiveness, grace and redemption within the context of family life,” said Holstege. “The family is a mediating institution; it stands between the individual and broader society. In that context it should be seen as the primary institution for the socializing of children.”
The course also takes into account that in a broken world Christian family life is tried and tested by conflicts such as spousal strife, parent-child antagonism, sexual frustration, inadequate communication and even abuse. Students are challenged to think about Christian responses to divorce, infidelity, immaturity and financial irresponsibility.
“I had the privilege of taking Sociology of the Family from Professor Holstege. My then-future wife also took the class. His class helped both of us enter our marriage relationship with a realistic perspective, and we are grateful for that. There are 29 years of marital bliss as a testimony to what we learned from him,” wrote a former student.
Holstege’s own relationships provide validity to what he teaches as well. His wife of 52 years, Lois, five children and 16 grandchildren are central to his life. In addition to his ongoing research and teaching, Holstege enjoys traveling, walking and serving the Christian Reformed denomination, to which he has made thousands of presentations.
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