On Dec. 8, 2008, on what would have been Dr. William Spoelhof’s 99th birthday, the Calvin community gathered in the chapel to remember him and to thank God for bringing this fine leader to our school.
Dr. William Spoelhof, president of Calvin College from 1951 to 1976 and a fixture on the campus for most of his retirement years, died peacefully in his sleep on Dec. 3.
I never talked with President Spoelhof while I was a student under his charge. He retired from the presidency during my junior year. It was later, when I came back to Calvin as alumni director, that I had the privilege of getting to know the man. And even become his friend.
An important thing I learned about President Spoelhof was his interest in people: who they were, what they did, what they thought about their faith, life and work.
It struck me that he didn’t hold Calvin College—the place—up as something to be idealized. Instead, he believed that “Calvin College” was best found in the men and women of this place who had the integration of faith and learning instilled deep in their bones:
The members of the faculty, excellently trained in universities all over the world, but intent on sharing the excitement of how their fields were guided and governed by a loving God.
The hard-working staff, people who saw what they did on campus not as a job, but as part of an important, Christ-centered mission.
The students, young scholars from communities near and far, big and small, who were taking hold of the Christian liberal arts experience and finding their calling.
And last, but not at all least, the alumni of Calvin College. In them, President Spoelhof saw the proof that this Reformed notion that one could be outstanding in any field of endeavor—and yet be faithful to Jesus Christ—was not only possible, but of vital importance in a complex world.
He knew these graduates by name. He knew much about them, because he cared to inquire. And God blessed him with an amazing memory.
He kept close track of Calvin alumni and their achievements and wanted to talk about them. That’s how we got acquainted. I’d hear three loud raps on my office door and know that President Spoelhof was using his walking cane to see if I was there and had time to chat. I always had that kind of time.
It was important to him that the alumni office knew what Calvin graduates were doing and that we spread the word so others knew yet that another corner of the kingdom had been reached by an agent of renewal.
Because, you see, Calvin College is defined by what we do as alumni, every day, wherever God has placed us, whatever He has given us to do.What God gave William Spoelhof to do was done with heart and soul, mind and strength. May we offer our hearts with the same conviction and grace.
Michael J. Van Denend
NOTE: You may leave a memory of President Spoelhof on his memorial Web site by signing the Guestbook.
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