Dean of men
By Richard H. Harms, College Archivist, Heritage Hall

Albertus RooksIn his late teen years and living just east of Holland, Mich., Albertus J. Rooks (1869–1958), a genial person pictured stricking a stern pose for this office photo, thought of becoming a medical doctor or a teacher and began taking classes at nearby Hope College. Due to lack of funds, he left college before graduating and began teaching in elementary schools in west Michigan, discovering that he liked teaching. Three years later, having saved the necessary money, he returned to Hope and graduated in 1893 and then earned a master’s in foreign language from the University of Michigan in 1894. During his year at the university, Rooks married and was appointed to teach in the literary department of the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church.

The reason for the appointment was that the school with 50 students began admitting prospective teachers that year in addition to those preparing for the ordained ministry. The appointment was unique because Rooks was the first instructor in school history not born in the Netherlands and not an ordained minister. Initially, he taught all English, geography, German, American history and civics, physiology and beginners’ Greek classes. Rooks excelled as a teacher and in 1896 was granted “appointment for life” (tenure). In 1900 the literary department formally separated from the theological department, with each having its own administration, although both reported to a single board of trustees. Rooks became the principal of the literary department and proved to be as able an administrator as he was a teacher. As was common in colleges and universities at the time, students gave him the title prexy (slang for president). He continued to teach but, as the faculty grew, he eventually taught only the Latin classes.

During his tenure as prexy the curriculum was expanded from an academy (comparable to today’s high school) with the addition of a two-year junior college that became a three-year junior college and finally a four-year degree-granting college. To accommodate this growth and that of the theological school (now Calvin Theological Seminary), a new campus was purchased in 1910 for $12,000, and in 1915 ground was broken for a $15,000 building on this campus. Through it all Rooks taught and ably administered an enrollment that increased from 72 in 1910 to 325 in 1918.

When the four-year college began in 1919, the trustees had selected Rev. John Hiemenga as the first president, and Rooks was appointed dean of the college (comparable to the present office of provost). Although his official title was dean, students continued to refer to him as prexy. He retired from teaching in 1939 and as dean in 1941, when enrollment was 520, a tenfold increase from when he had joined the faculty.