Barb Jansen says it takes time to become wise about certain things, like what makes a college exceptional.
The realization of how rich and formative an experience Calvin offered her and husband Bruce didn't really sink in for them until they began to look at colleges for their three children. Then, she said, "We saw what a good choice Calvin was for us and for them-the academic excellence, the thorough integration of faith and learning, the lifelong friendships."
Ditto and amen, said fellow Denver, Colo., alum Barry Meyer, who also sent three children to Calvin.
Marj Youngsma's heartfelt appreciation for the college began earlier. Attending Calvin in the mid-'50s against the wishes of her father, she found her classes and choirs "wonderful, a salvation in a difficult time." She proudly watched her four children graduate from Calvin.
Recognizing how their Calvin years shaped their later lives has led these four alumni to vigorous involvement in and leadership of the Colorado alumni chapter. Each has, at one time or another, served on the chapter's board, and three have served as its president. Three of the four have also sat on the national alumni board, and Youngsma is finishing a six-year term on the college's board of trustees.
They wouldn't have had so much success at home, Meyer said, if they hadn't been part of the national exchange.
"At national board meetings, other chapters gave us ideas that we brought back to Colorado," he said. "Then we'd go back to the national meetings and talk about our success, and that would energize those chapters."
The Colorado chapter traditionally held one event every year-a dinner with a speaker and a scholarship fund-raising auction-typically in a church basement. Following the "Calvin Around Town" model of other chapters, the Jansens and Meyer have moved that event to Denver-area attractions. The Denver Zoo was the site of last year's dinner, where 200 alums plus the wait staff, too, crowded in to hear Calvin Professor Bill Romanowski discuss faith-based film criticism.
Still, the dinner/auction wasn't attracting many new faces. "We needed activities that would draw in younger people," Bruce Jansen said, "fun stuff that didn't get in people's pockets."
Satellite broadcast of the Calvin-Hope basketball game has proven to be one of those activities. By the fourth year of the broadcast, the crowd had outgrown the host restaurant and moved to a larger venue. Last January, 20 Hope and 196 Calvin fans gathered to cheer their home teams. Bruce Jansen reports that even non-alum customers were interested in the outcome.
Another summer event they've designed to draw new faces is an outing at Snow Mountain Ranch. At the 5,000-acre park in the Rockies, alums are invited to hike, picnic and sing around the campfire with Calvin students and staff there for the college's Leadership Challenge Institute.
And, to draw still other alums, they've invited Calvin sports teams and choirs to visit Denver.
While Meyer and the Jansens have been busy designing events, Youngsma has been working on other fronts. "She is the epitome of warmth and hospitality," said Darlene Meyering, Calvin's executive associate to President Gaylen Byker. "For 30 years she and Curt [Youngsma, winner of the 1979 Outstanding Service Award] have been hosting guests from the college in their home." At her home Youngsma also initiated another gathering, inviting 12 to 15 potential donors to hear Byker and Vice President Bob Berkhof discuss the Calvin mission and experience, because, she said, "people are more receptive in someone's home." She herself has felt most helpful on the board of trustees, where she offers her insight as a business owner to the business of the college, especially its marketing campaigns.
Enjoyable as it is, the point of building a robust chapter is not to offer alumni more opportunities to socialize. What they're most proud of, these four Colorado leaders say, is that their events and Meyer's letter-writing campaign have led area alums to contribute more money to the scholarship fund. For the 2005-2006 school year this relatively small chapter was able to offer nine $1,000 scholarships, rivaling what the largest chapters offer. Concomitantly, the number of Colorado students attending Calvin has jumped. At Denver Christian High School, Meyer tirelessly spreads the word to his students that money is available to attend what he thinks is the best college in the country. And the Jansens, public school educators, have lately found their students applying for and winning the scholarships.
For all this-and more they've planned for the future-Colorado's winners of the Outstanding Service Award are somewhat puzzled at the recognition. "We're honored," Bruce Jansen said, "but we're certainly not the only ones who have grown this chapter."
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