Outstanding Service Award • Sharon Brinks '76
A world traveler with her heart in hand
Sharon Brinks ’76 earns Outstanding Service Award

Sharon BrinksWhy would the modern glass lobby of the law firm of Brinks and Associates contain a mountain of those relics of term papers past: manual typewriters?

Sharon Brinks ’76 collects them for shipment to Nicaragua.

“We bring both computers and manual typewriters,” said Brinks, a Kentwood, Mich., attorney. “In the cities, it is ‘latest tech’; up in the mountains, without electricity, our partners have treasured their typewriters.”

Partnership for Justice, one of the organizations that competes for Brinks’ time, brings Christian attorneys to the Central American country to develop a dependable legal system that keeps and maintains records in partnership with Nicaraguan colleagues.

“It is easy to forget that infrastructure is government, as well as resources such as water and roads. You can’t have functioning businesses without an intact legal system,” she said.

Legal decisions made in the mountains are typed up on the manual machines and brought down to a central records building.

Nicaragua is one of many countries visited by this intrepid alumna, and Brinks has made herself a legend in the alumni office by requesting Calvin-imprinted items for any alums in the countries of her destination. Chile, China, Turkey, Iceland and the former Soviet Union are examples of her exploits.

“I guess you could say I do a kind of Calvin parachute drop in these countries,” she said. “I bring Calvin gear and move on. It’s a way to say your school hasn’t forgotten about you.”

Brinks doesn’t recall exactly how she began her involvement with Calvin, but officially things started when Bill Alphenaar ’78 recruited her and Marshall Ellens ’68 to be the core leaders of the new Grand Rapids-area chapter.
“I told Bill ‘no’ a number of times, but he wouldn’t settle for that,” she recalled. “But once I started with the organization of a new chapter, it was fun. It is absolutely amazing to see how that chapter has grown over the years and the things it has done.”

Years as a local chapter leader segued into a stint on the alumni association board. After finally graduating from regular alumni meetings, other projects cropped up.

It was Brinks’ idea to research and print a series of alumni law professionals directories over the years, and she was also a member of the first alumni-faculty study team (on Christian leadership) that was jointly funded by the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship (CCCS) and the alumni association.
If that’s not enough, Brinks has mentored a number of Calvin students, some as unpaid interns—most recently Qumisha Goss ’10 as a law intern and Joy Lee ’09 and Kay Varela ’11 as Partnership for Justice interns.

“It is kind of interesting that I am more involved with Calvin in extracurricular ways now than I was as a student,” she said.

Perhaps that was because she ripped through Calvin in three years, going full-time in summer school each year, while working numerous hours to pay for school. She managed to find time to be a Big Sister through D.A. Blodgett.

She cites her high school debate coach, alumnus Jim Haagsma ’55, as being tremendously influential to her life direction.

“Jim encouraged me to go to a summer study experience for debaters,” she said. “We were to tackle the question of ‘Should the jury system be changed?’ and I came away from that zeroed in on law school.”

Brinks said that Calvin prepared her well. She enjoyed philosophy in particular and believes a major such as that is one of the best preparations for would-be attorneys.

“Philosophy requires critical thinking,” she said, “and legal theory is the foundation of law, not the technical aspects. You might call it ‘big picturing.’ Calvin gave me that approach.”

After time in a larger law firm, Brinks started her own practice in 1993. She specializes in civil litigation, estate planning and employment issues. Living with partial hearing loss all of her life, she has also been attentive to matters related to the deaf and the partially deaf.

Brinks calls herself “apolitical,” but she was recruited to the Kentwood City Commission by former mayor Bill Hardiman and continues in that local leadership role. She’s also been a foster parent, something she has not done in a while but is in the process of being re-licensed.

Brinks finds it very interesting that her time at Calvin was such a quick three years, yet as an alumna she finds her life intersecting with the college so often.

“It’s a good thing to keep in mind that some people intersect with Calvin differently,” she said. “I didn’t live in the dorms or play sports. I worked from 4 to 12 almost every weekday. But I received a lot here. Calvin College and I share a similar vision.”