By 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, production is well under way. The computer screens that ring the room are aglow with newspaper layouts, and the editors are leaning toward them, mouses a-click as they nudge text around the page and add punctuation here and there. In the middle of the room a foursome of copy editors ply their red pens on hard copy. “‘Dumpster’ and ‘Velcro’ are highest on my list of surprise trademarks,” remarks one of them as she consults the AP Stylebook. A pair of sports editors argues over Shaq’s basketball talent. The features editor quizzes her colleague: “Why do you bring the brownie if you never eat the brownie?” Co-editor-in-chief Christine Holst reassures one staffer, “It’s not jumping at all. It’s like 250 words.” Quizzed about the great editors of history, the group offers a litany of familiar names: “Schrader,” “Vander Klippe,” “Dykhouse,” “Oppewall,” “Wolterstorff,” “Monsma.” The best scandal? “The Bananer.” They talk the history, and they care about the history, but in every other way this is just another weeknight, in a hundred years of such nights, of getting out the paper. “It’s what we call the Chimes culture,” says news editor Justin Pot. “It has a way of regenerating. And the harder you push on it, the stronger it gets.”
The first Chimes appeared in January 1907 as a 15-page literary journal. It contained an introduction by editor D.H. Muyskens, comparing the school to a developing infant: “And now it starts to talk!” he rhapsodized. “Its baby-lisping is the Calvin College Chimes.”
Richard Harms, the Calvin archivist, echoed Muyskens’ 100-year-old opinion of the student publication. Chimes, said Harms, was established as the former John Calvin Junior College was distinguishing itself from its partner theological and preparatory schools and becoming a four-year, degree-granting institution—the Calvin College of today. “Chimes becomes the voice of that emerging college student body,” he said.
At first, and for many years of publication afterward, that voice spoke both Dutch and English, and the early issues of Chimes ranged over issues religious, civic, newsy, cultural and other.
There were homilies such as “Een Woord van een Oud-discipel” or “A Word from an Old-disciple” and essays such as “The Christian in Politics,” which warned against the dangers of “worldlimindedness,” as well as discourses on matters scholarly. The early Chimes also hosted short stories, poems, the activities of various clubs and corps, and, well in advance of Spark, bits of alumni news.
Peter De Vries ’31, who first made the masthead in the Oct. 28, 1928, issue, is notable in Chimes history not only because the author is one of several of Chimes’ long parade of celebrity staff—authors Fieke Fiekema ’34, Meindert de Jong ’28, Bill Brashler ex’68 and filmmakers Paul Schrader ’68, Jeannine Oppewall ’68 and Penny Rozema ’81 among them—but because he wrought upon Chimes its first major transformation: In 1930, he turned it into a bimonthly newspaper, in which form it remained for a few years before lapsing back to its former state.
Chimes became a newspaper in earnest in 1946 under Roberta Timmer ’47, who converted it to a weekly. Her successor in the job, ’47–’48 editor Bette De Bruyn ’48, used her turn at the helm to expand the paper’s vision: “Those were the years that the boys were coming back,” she said of her post-WWII tenure. “We wanted the issues to be a bit broader.” De Bruyn, like many editors before and after her, enjoyed the camaraderie of her era’s Chimes staff: “I think what the paper did for us is make a community of like-minded friends,” she said.
Even 60 years later, De Bruyn relishes her sole editorial brush with controversy: The Chimes staff was uneasy about the sale of college land to Calvin Christian Reformed Church. “We were afraid that that was going to become the college church. … We wrote editorials to that effect. And that was not very well-received by the community,” she reminisced. “Well, it was so exciting. To think that our little paper, which we thought was just a college thing, could get them upset … because before it was a nice, gentle little paper that reported on the college.”
Ron Jager ’55 faced a tamer controversy during his 1953–1954 editorship of Chimes. When a reporter delivered an editorial critical of that season’s performance of the Messiah, that perennial of the Calvin Oratorio Society, the article was surreptitiously yanked by a faculty adviser. “I came out of the chapel and picked up the Chimes and opened it, and on the editorial page, there was just a blank space. And there was a parenthetical statement which said today’s editorial statement was postponed. I was fit to be tied,” Jager said. “It’s not an indication of a cooperative working relationship if the faculty simply jerks the editorial from under your nose on Friday night.”
The mildness of the Messiah controversy was in character with the ’50s-era Chimes, which reported on pep rallies, parking policies and professorial accomplishments and boasted headlines such as “Calvin Students Greeted with Campus Alterations” and “Freshmen to Flip Flapjacks at Fling.” A Calvin student of a race other than Dutch might be profiled in the Chimes of that day simply for being other than Dutch, as attested by headlines such as: “Korean Likes American Way of ‘Boy Meets Girl’” and “Among the Dutch, a Native American: Wonder What a Navajo Will Think of a Michigan Winter?”
Jager remembers the camaraderie of his era’s Chimes staff as fairly unfrivolous. “In those days, a lot of us were ambitious intellectuals, potential intellectuals. We took ourselves very seriously … more seriously than subsequent generations did, and they were probably more correct.”
Though the ’60s-era Chimes took on such issues as nuclear disarmament, the war in Vietnam, and disenchantment with elections and politicians, a Jan. 13, 1961, article on “The Illness of the Biblical Spectacular” is an early indication of the next big issue for the newspaper’s staff: movies and the Calvin student’s desire not only to attend them, but to critique them.
In a Nov. 16, 1962, editorial “Art Critics in Filmland,” Dale VanKley ’63, the 1962–1963 editor, argued that the college seemed to be receiving its ideas about appropriate movies from “Synod, the pulpit, and the ladies aid societies.” He argued that the Christian liberal arts student had a responsibility to critique art, including movies.
VanKley, later a history professor at Calvin and Ohio State University, was forced to print in the following Chimes, without comment, an official reprimand by a joint committee made up of the student council executive board and the faculty-student publications committee. The reprimand accused the editorial with “impugning the motives of Synod … and an apparent lack of concern with the worldliness which has caused Synod to address itself repeatedly to the possible danger of certain forms of amusement.”
“He was told he had to print the reprimand in Chimes, and when he printed it, he chose to set it in Gothic type. Like: ‘These people are from the Middle Ages here,’” remembered George Monsma ’63, who, when he took over the editorship from VanKley in 1963, inherited the movie controversy.
When Monsma, who retired this year as a Calvin economics professor, dared to print an article publicizing an off-campus Ingmar Bergman film festival, he was both reprimanded in the Inter Campus Bulletin and censored. “The punishment was that I would have to submit the copy for the next three issues to the mentor so he could approve or disapprove before it could be published,” explained Monsma, who received a vote of confidence from the student council and lived to publish another day.
It is an interesting twist in Chimes history that a few years after the movie controversies (1967 through 1968, to be exact) Chimes was helmed by two future filmmakers: Oppewall, who has received Oscar nominations for her production design on such films as Seabiscuit and Pleasantville, and managing editor Schrader, screenwriter of films including Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ.
“Chimes was a lifesaver,” wrote Schrader in a recent e-mail interview, explaining that he began writing film criticism for the paper as a way of staying out of trouble. When the administration denied his application for Chimes editor, he persuaded Oppewall, then his girlfriend, to run. She was elected.
“The previous year’s editor, Mark Wagenveld, had confided to us that his greatest regret as Chimes editor was not getting the paper shut down. Jeannine and I agreed,” Schrader said. “I felt that in times like these if they don’t shut us down, we’ve done something wrong. The counter-culture was now in full swing, and it was incumbent upon us to carry the banner of the new generation.”
When the administration canceled a scheduled campus appearance by activist Dick Gregory, Chimes demanded an administrative apology. Oppewall and Schrader got the sack. “At this long remove, having lost the editorship means very little to nothing to me,” Oppewall wrote in an e-mail interview. “But I did learn something from it: If you believe that you are right, stand up for it. Just because someone has more money and more power than you do, does not mean that they are necessarily right and you are necessarily wrong.”
People ask me now, ‘What was your major?’ And I say, ‘Chimes. ’ If you were editor, you didn’t do pretty much anything else.” —David Dykhouse
In the 1970s, remembered David Dykhouse ’71, a Chimes chief editor from 1970 through 1971, the newspaper continued to take on the big issues of war and racism and the desperate need for reform in the church. “Maybe it was arrogant, but Chimes editors thought of themselves as the cutting edge of Calvin College and the cutting edge of the Christian Reformed Church,” he said.
On the cusp of the new decade, in October of 1969, the newspaper took on a CRC issue outside the immediate Calvin community when it addressed racism and fear in a Christian Reformed community in Illinois. “Timothy Christian Schools in Cicero, Illinois, denied admission to black kids, plain and simple,” Dykhouse said. “And of course we were trashed by everyone in the area. We were carpetbaggers, outsiders; we didn’t understand the issues.”
Dykhouse remembers Chimes as the highlight of his Calvin career: “People ask me now, ‘What was your major?’ And I say, ‘Chimes. ’ If you were editor, you didn’t do pretty much anything else.”
In the ’80s, Chimes headlines spotlighted AIDS, South African apartheid and the issue of female deacons in the CRC against news of a new campus chapel, the political races of several Calvin professors and the preservation of a college woodlot, among other things.
In 1983, the newspaper staff defied a fiat by the communications board, convened by then-President Anthony Diekema, and published an editorial reporting a possible breach of confidentiality of the chaplain’s office. Rod Ludema ’83, editor ’82–’ 83, was fired.
By the ’90s Chimes was rife with international coverage while still covering the campus community that launched Streetfest in 1993, welcomed new President Gaylen Byker in 1995 and new Provost Joel Carpenter the following year, and debated both the building of the West Michigan Regional Lab and the visit of Charles Murray, notorious for The Bell Curve.
In 1998, when VanKley, by then a fixture in Calvin’s history department, wrote an 18-page letter critical of the Byker presidency and resigned, Chimes covered the incident. “Because they [the administration] wouldn’t let us print it, it was one of those rare times our freedom of the press was in question,” recalled Dorina Lazo ’99, the ’97–’98 editor. “I remember … not being totally convinced it should be printed in our paper because it was pretty extreme. That was one of the times as an editor and as a student leader I had to make a judgment call that my staff didn’t totally agree with.”
New millennial Chimes editor Nathan Vander Klippe ’01 had his turn at covering a campus controversy when Chief Justice William Rehnquist was invited to speak at Calvin’s 2001 Commencement. A segment of the Calvin community protested that Rehnquist had a racist track record as a jurist. “It felt like the college was putting other interests above that of the students as well as the mission,” Vander Klippe said. “We thought it was our duty to roll out some of the arguments counter to what the college was putting out, I guess.”
Vander Klippe, who published the first color edition of Chimes, enjoyed the furor: “When you’re a college journalist, everybody likes to rake a little muck,” he said.
The era of the aughts has already provided a number of opportunities for Chimes to do so, as Calvin has been criticized for what amounts to worldlimindedness by World Magazine and has welcomed, amid a faculty protest that reached a national audience, George W. Bush as the 2005 Commencement speaker.
But it isn’t the sensational story alone that fuels the Chimes culture in whatever headquarters it has occupied on the three campuses where it has been published. Not to hear the current editors tell it, anyway.
“The heart and soul of that newspaper is in that office,” said Holst, who shares the top of the 2006-2007 masthead with Allison Graf. “I think Chimes has always been that way.”
“I think for a very long time, each of the Chimes staff has regarded itself as a close-knit family,” Graf said. “The deadlines, the energy, the adrenaline, you have to get it from one another—and perhaps from various caffeinated beverages. I think just because of the nature of journalism, it thrives off the nature of free speech. You can say anything. You can basically in the newsroom say anything that is on your mind and feel like you are being heard.”
And Vander Klippe editorialized thus: “That little office brought together a group of people who could stay up late yelling at each other through the night and somehow a paper came out of it. … We did our best given who we were at the time.”
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