Sydney Youngsma — Building a campus
By Richard Harms, College Archivist

“There is an ancient Groningen verse,
which I just made up …”
— Sydney T. Youngsma

In 1929, a debater and basketball guard of some ability from Chicago Christian High School came to Calvin. Syd Youngsma had spent a year after high school taking classes in a business school and working in a Chicago glue factory (his father was a paper merchant) and later said he left that job because he couldn’t “stick to it.”

While attending Calvin he roomed with fellow Chicagoan, orator, humorist and writer Peter De Vries in an apartment above the Wealthy Street Theater. The apartment was the location of much hilarity, bordering on bedlam, according to one report. Youngsma stayed at Calvin just two years, during which he served on the Chimes staff and met his future wife, Dorothy Brink. He completed his college education at the University of Chicago.

Sydney YoungsmaAfter graduation in 1933, Youngsma and Brink married and raised two sons, Steven and Curtis. Also in 1933, Youngsma opened an art gallery in Chicago. He noted later that buying during the Great Depression was not a problem; the problem was selling. After three years, he joined his father’s paper business where he stayed until 1952, save for service for the U.S. Navy during World War II.

In 1950, Youngsma conducted a successful campaign to raise $320,000 for Timothy Christian School in Cicero, Ill. A gifted speaker and humorist, Youngsma, who once said, “There is not a single mosquito in Detroit; they are all married with large families,” was much in demand as a public speaker.

In 1952, just after quitting the family paper business, he came to the attention of William Spoelhof, the newly appointed president of Calvin College.

Youngsma accepted an appointment as secretary of development to raise $2 million over five years to fund construction on the Franklin campus. As part of this work, he also became the college’s publicist, later becoming assistant to the president.

A few years later when Youngsma had raised $1.2 million, the decision was made to move to the Knollcrest campus; his fund-raising abilities became crucial for this move. He regularly traveled from coast to coast on behalf of the college, giving countless speeches using his determination, optimism, humor, wit, fictional characters, poetry and Yankee Dutch to make the case for the college. In spite of opposition and setbacks, when he retired in 1974, Youngsma had conducted 17 telethons and directly raised $14 million for the school.

In retirement, Dorothy suffered a stroke and died in 1978, and Youngsma suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak for a time. When he died in 1994, William Spoelhof credited him as one of the three people—with Henry DeWit and John Vanden Berg—most responsible for helping to build Calvin College on the Knollcrest campus. His own view on things comes from one of his last speeches while working for Calvin: “What good is a fiddle without a bow, so let’s get back to the old ballgame.”

Update, 3/11/08: Calvin will name one of its newest campus buildings after Youngsma.