Alumna Doris Dekker Smedes ’45 wrote me a note this summer, telling me she wanted Spark to run an obituary notice about her brother-in-law, Douglas Hall ’38.
I was sorry to inform her that, generally speaking, we don’t print anything more than the name, class year and date of passing in the magazine. The only exceptions to that rule are for current or former Calvin professors, current Calvin students or for those who have received the Distinguished Alumni Award.
We have this policy because of space limitations. On the other end of the life cycle, we do not print the baby pictures that sometimes come with birth announcements. (We do display them on our “alumni hallway” bulletin board.) Again, we think that once we start showing those cute infants in their Calvin wear, Spark would quickly expand to double its current size.
The challenge of deciding what obituary is most notable or which newborn is the most darling seems too daunting!
But after Doris told me a bit more about Doug Hall, of Wabasha, Minn., I began to wish our policy was a bit more flexible.
It turns out that Doug Hall was the first executive director of the Legal Rights Center Inc. (LRC) in Minneapolis. The LRC represents, without charge, low-income people and people of color who have legal problems associated with the juvenile justice, criminal justice, and child welfare systems. Founded in 1970, today the LRC continues its central mission and has expanded its reach into the field of restorative justice.
The most famous case that came Doug Hall’s way was the eight-month trial of Native Americans Russell Means and Dennis Banks. In 1974 these two leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM) went on trial in St. Paul as a result of AIM’s 71-day occupation of the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota the previous year. Doug was a member of the six-member defense team.
“He wasn’t one of the celebrity lawyers that drew media attention,” said Doris. “But he was the one most close to and trusted by the defendants.”
Doug and his team argued that because of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, Means and Banks could only be tried in a tribal court. That line of defense helped bring to light many government missteps, some intentional, some not. Eventually, the judge dismissed all charges against the two defendants.
I wish I had known about Doug Hall’s interesting career before he passed away. I would have loved to hear his first-person account of the Wounded Knee trial—as well as other fascinating cases and situations he undoubtedly experienced.
Unfortunately, Spark missed telling the complete Doug Hall story while he was alive, and the extended Calvin alumni community missed a chance to learn some interesting things from one of its own.
I know there are many, many incredible alumni stories out there that we haven’t heard, and thus have not been able to pass them on to Spark readers. We do our best from our little alumni offices in the Spoelhof Center to listen and read carefully, to shake out alumni tales of responding to God’s call, of making a difference, of reclaiming “good spots of this earth.”
These stories aren’t all of the Wounded Knee trial variety. Nor do they need to be. “Good spots of this earth” can be reclaimed near and far, in famous halls of justice or neighborhood gardens.
Please tell us your story and pass on the stories of other Calvin alumni you hear about. We want the Calvin community to know that the mission of this college—“Through our learning, we seek to be agents of renewal in the academy, church and society”—is flourishing everywhere.
There are thousands of tales to tell. We’ll list the births and deaths faithfully and succinctly. We need you to supply the details of the adventures in-between.
Want to know what a “good spot of this earth” is? Read the 1986 Calvin Commencement address.
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