It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of Spark, and now I’ve been hearing some talk about 50 years on the Knollcrest campus. Is it really true that we’ve been on that campus for 50 years? And is there nothing better to do at Calvin than to celebrate such old things? What’s happening now?
Yours for the moment,
Dear Las Vegas,
I hear your impatience with the old and with the past, but even Las Vegas has a history. In fact, if you think of millionaires out at the edge of civilization throwing large, lavish and festive parties, and then add boxing exhibitions, exotic animals and even more exotic people to the mix, it’s hard to tell if it’s Knollcrest or Las Vegas that’s on your mind. But enough about the similarities—there will be plenty of that sort of information in the rest of this issue.
No, it’s not the case that “we’ve been on that campus for 50 years,” but it is true that the campus was purchased 50 years ago, in June of 1956. That’s why this year’s CRC synodical delegates had a 50th anniversary party on the lawn of the De Wit Manor this summer, and it seems to me entirely appropriate to celebrate the purchase. It’s hard to imagine the present Calvin College—its campus and its programs—without the move from the old, landlocked campus on Franklin Street. There is, clearly, a great deal to be said about leaving the city in the early 1960s and moving the college to the edge of town, but, again, you can read all about that long discussion elsewhere.
Now that I’ve cleared away the noxious undergrowth of your letter, I’m mainly interested in your last two questions: “And is there nothing better to do at Calvin than to celebrate such old things? What’s happening now?”
It is not necessary (probably not even possible) for such a large and complex institution as Calvin College to do only one kind of activity at a time—clearly it’s not true that celebrating old things accounts for all that is happening at Calvin College. As your second question suggests, there are many things going on simultaneously at Calvin, including the celebration of the new, planning for even more novelty, grieving for the old that cannot stay, and experiencing institutional misgivings about some things old, some things new and some things yet to be.
Like most visitors to the college, I often sense that we all belong to the Worldwide Church of What’s Happening Now. But there is no end of tales to be told about Calvin College. Take a brief look around to see what I mean.
1. The Franklin campus has for some time now been enjoying its new life as the administrative headquarters for the Grand Rapids public school system. If you stand on the sidewalk in front of 1310 Franklin St. and gaze northward, you will have a quick glimpse of how much and how little can change in 50 years or less. A quick glance from left to right will show you the old music building, the administration building and the library, all still recognizable over all these years, but one part of the old campus will be hard to find. You will look in vain for the dormitory; there are benches and a parking lot where Frederick Manfred and Peter De Vries once slept, studied and played. Still, take a look around. The past isn’t dead, as Faulkner said; it isn’t even past yet. The coops across the street from the administration building could themselves provide a fascinating history of the college, right up to the present moment.
2. Go to the William Spoelhof College Center on the new campus and take a glance at the pictorial history that graces the walls across from the provost’s office, past the president’s office and beyond. Don’t be afraid to gaze at those faces, young and old, and what they communicate to us today. Even someone from Las Vegas can learn from these pictures how important it is to seize the day in ways that matter for the long haul. Stop, stare and take another look. Could it be that de te fabula narratur?
3. Visit the Seminary Pond and picture the alligators that used to frolic there, or the Ecosystem Preserve, where deer and foxes still cavort. Fire up your Google Earth software and get the big view of the Knollcrest campus; you will see quickly how small our presence is here, if only we achieve the appropriate distance. Not too far north from the Knollcrest campus, Ralph Stearly and his students excavated a mastodon skeleton seven summers ago—consider our little moment in relationship to the day of the mastodon in Kent County, and marvel.
4. Take a trip to the top of the Calvin Observatory so that you can get a better sense of the role of Vanden Heuvel, Griffioen and Spoelhof in the world of asteroid studies. These heavenly bodies are making their appointed rounds, but they also have a larger tale to tell about Grand Rapids, Rehoboth, N.M., and astronomy at Calvin College.
In general, Las Vegas, consider the prestige and attractiveness that almost always accompany a highly developed historical imagination. You should consider the usefulness of such an imagination, too, not to mention the general rightness of taking history seriously. But all history is at one in telling us that the prospect of prestige and attractiveness can be a powerful motivator, even to graduates of Calvin College.
Which is probably why we keep asking what is happening now.
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