Director's Desk • 1924: A very good speech
By Michael Van Denend '78

During this centennial year of the Calvin Alumni Association, we've been finding some historical gems about the organization in the back storage rooms and archives of the college.

Henry Beets

Henry Beets

As we mentioned in the last edition of Spark, one of the most important persons in the history of the association is Henry Beets, the gifted professor, missionary and administrator-yes, the man after whom Beets residence hall is named.

College archivist Richard Harms unearthed a speech Henry Beets gave to the Calvin Alumni Association on June 2, 1924, when the organization was a mite too sleepy, in Beets' estimation.

The incredible thing about the 83-year-old speech is how many of the insights Beets had about how alumni could impact their alma mater are still relevant today. On small cards, Beets had written-in a beautiful, flowing style of penmanship-10 points he wanted to get across to the assembled Calvin faithful. All of the themes contained in this visionary address are worth our reflection today. Here are a few of them.

. Beets began by stating he wanted "to make a plea for a strong alumni association." Given that the association was founded on April 9, 1907, Beets thought the organization "should be a vigorous youngster by this time." He noted that schools in England and the Ivies of the United States were setting examples Calvin should emulate.

. Alumni associations bind people together, noted Beets. And he humorously admitted that a "great national fault of the Dutch" is "extreme individuality." He concluded that Calvin alumni need more "amalgamation."

Calvin Alumni Association Mission Statement:
   The Calvin Alumni Association is committed to building community among Calvin College alumni and friends, providing opportunities for service and inspiring alumni to answer God's call in life and vocation.

. Alumni associations are needed to give intellectual support for colleges. "We graduates are supposed to know real needs better because we are best acquainted" with higher education, he said. "We are the ones to plead for an ever better and larger curriculum, better paid teachers, better buildings and equipment."

. Alumni, stated Beets, "should realize that [everyone] gets more out of school than can be measured in dollars and cents. No collegian ever paid in money what his education cost and brought him. Hence, we owe vast obligations which render moral support and obligation not to be shirked."

. Graduates can also "call attention of the young to the merits of our school." Calvin alumni ought to be the college's best recruiters, and "advertising our enthusiasm will call attention."

. Alumni associations help increase financial support for their alma mater as well-"directly through donations by alumni as the Lord prospers them. But indirectly, what opportunities, especially to lawyers and preachers, as people speak to them about drawing up wills."

. Strong alumni associations can "obtain large influence in determining the policies and plans of Calvin," he said, and cited the examples of alumni association nominees on the boards of Harvard and Princeton. Beets was a mere 67 years ahead of his alma mater. Calvin opened up three alumni trustee seats on the board of trustees in 1991.

. Beets proclaimed that a stronger alumni association could "launch big projects for Calvin." He said that as Calvin grows, more buildings, grounds and publicity will be necessary-and "we graduates should be anxious to offer our people a noble volume recording the past, emblazoning the present and outlining future plans."

. His conclusion: "Finally, we need a stronger alumni association with branches everywhere that we may organize 'school days' in various places. Meetings for inspirational, educational and intercessory purposes." To Beets, the intercessory part was to "plead at God's Throne to obtain the true dynamic of Christian education through the Holy Spirit."

Back in 1924, at least one person knew the impact that dedicated Calvin alumni and friends could have on their school and for their school. One hundred years later, while many more have come to see the importance of a vibrant alumni association, there's more on that list of Henry Beets yet to be achieved.

Let's start the next 100 years of the alumni association with his enthusiasm and vision-and with the same spirit Beets invoked as he ended his speech: "In Him we shall do valiantly."


Michael J. Van Denend,
Executive Editor, Spark