Director's Desk • 1907: A very good year
By Michael Van Denend '78

One hundred years ago, two important Calvin traditions were born.

On campus, in January of 1907, editor D.H. Muyskens introduced the first edition of a student-run publication titled Chimes. Off campus, in April of 1907, an alumnus by the name of the Rev. William Bode decided to “agitate the matter” of alumni-college relations with the administration. The Calvin Alumni Association was born. In the same year, Calvin heard from both students and alumni that public dialogue about the institution was important.

Both got to be pretty good at “agitating.” If you look at the American Heritage Dictionary reference on this page, perhaps one might say that it was the tendency for Chimes to specialize in the definitions one and two and the alumni association in definitions three and four.

ag-i-tate (aje-tat’), v.1. To move with violence or sudden forcefulness; excite physically: a storm agitating the ocean. 2. To upset; disturb; Grief agitated the widow. 3. To arouse interest in (a cause, for example) by the written or spoken word; discuss; debate. 4. Archaic. To ponder over; plan. —intr. To stir up interest in a cause.

The alumni association and Chimes celebrated centennial anniversaries during Homecoming this February, and it is striking how the organizations have been both firmly at the side of alma mater and, at times, “agitators” (to borrow the Rev. Bode’s word).

Listening to the Chimes alumni who returned to celebrate and reflect on this milestone, it is clear that many who served on the newspaper over the years revel in the fact that they were a bit (or quite a bit) rebellious, campus skeptics and, well, agitators.

As part of the Chimes reunion festivities, alumnus Steve Sieberson gave a humorous, educational and thoroughly researched presentation on the making of The Bananer, the 1970 parody of the Christian Reformed Church’s magazine The Banner, the benchmark against which all subsequent Chimes spoof issues are measured.

Putting the publication in historic context, Sieberson convincingly described why the parody simply had to be made and that the intense college and denominational dialogue was a positive contribution to the Calvin community and its supporters.

Chimes has been a positive contributor to Calvin Nation for its 100 years, primarily for its role as a weekly place for current Calvin students to report, debate and agitate about campus, church, national and world events. I think the drama over the spoof issue (and perhaps the attempt of many Chimes staffs—unsuccessfully—to match The Bananer in impact) has been overstated; the more impressive contribution has been the weekly challenge for each Chimes staff to promote thoughtful conversation among us.

The alumni association doesn’t have the same reputation for rebelliousness. Most people consider such organizations “flag-waving, alma mater-singing” college supporters.

But since I’ve been sitting at this desk for almost 23 years now, I can tell you that our alumni do “agitate the matter” on a grand scale. Gratefully, most of them don’t throw the college out of their lives every time they disagree with a professor, policy, campus event or even the latest Chimes spoof.

But they care deeply about this place. It is “home” to them. And they want this school to live up to the ideals that are important to them.

The alumni association, through its 36 chapters, 23 board members and over 200 volunteers, has worked alongside the college to strengthen the institution. For the most part that comes in the way of positive collaborations: admissions referrals, fund-raising campaigns, career networking, alumni communication efforts, and programs that offer tangible faculty and student support. Sometimes “agitating the matter” does come in the form of critique.

But like most of the storied Chimes leaders of the past, the intent is to make Calvin better. In that, I think both organizations have been successful and have 100-year track records to prove the point. (And by the way, it turns out that the Chimes alumni who returned this year can sing the alma mater just as well as any reunion group.)

Yes, 1907 was a very good year for Calvin College. May 2007 prove to be a year in which today’s students and alumni are equally as engaged, involved and invested.


Michael J. Van Denend,
Executive Editor, Spark