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Offering Hearts, Shaping Lives: A History of Calvin College 1876-1966

By Henry Ryskamp '15, Calvin professor of economics and sociology and academic dean emeritus, edited by Harry Boonstra '60, Calvin theological librarian emeritus, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Calvin Alumni Association, 2000, 201 pp. $10 - 616.957.6142

Read an excerpt  - See the cover and learn more


"Calvin has become a very important college on the Christian education scene and deserves to have a full-fledged history," said Harry Boonstra.

That was the main motivation behind Boonstra's work in editing and eventually bringing to print Henry Ryskamp's documentation of Calvin's first 90 years of existence. Previously, it existed as an unpublished manuscript housed in Heritage Hall, the archives located in Hekman Library.

"There was the original and a few photocopies," said Boonstra, "but not very many people used it. There are very few citations to the work." The manuscript was acknowledged by John J. Timmerman in his book Promises to Keep: A Centennial History of Calvin College, a history of the college published in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the college.

"This book contains more detail," said Boonstra. "There is information in this manuscript that you won't find anywhere in print, in interviews or documents of any sort."

Especially interesting is the perspective that Ryskamp had first as a student and later as a professor and an administrator. "His characterizations and descriptions of early professors are invaluable," said Boonstra. "Later they became his colleagues so he knew them very well. He describes their characteristics and idiosyncrasies in great detail."

The book begins with the training of students for the ministry of the gospel at the parsonage of Rev. D.J. Vander Werp, pastor of the True Holland Reformed Church in Graafschap, Mich., in 1865. It is here that the idea of Calvin College and the ideal of what it would be got its start.

The book continues with details from the Williams Street Building to the Franklin Campus to the purchase, building and move to the current Knollcrest Campus beginning in 1962.

Other chapters include such details as the history of the Moses statue tradition, student organizations and activities and curriculum changes.

"Another interesting aspect of the book is the focus on the integration of faith and learning," said Boonstra. "This book illustrates how right from the beginning that became the goal of Calvin College."

It is unclear why the book was never previously published. "I believe it was Ryskamp's intent to get it published. I don't know why that never happened. I'm glad it is published now, and am very pleased with the excellent production by Calvin's publishing services, " said Boonstra.

The book is intended as an additional research tool about the college, but also as a book for the non-historian who's interested in knowing and understanding more about Calvin, said Boonstra.

"It's also important as a case study of Christian Higher Education," he said. "There was no comprehensive history of Calvin on record before. This really fills a gap there. I would hope that maybe for the 150th anniversary of the college someone will put together a comprehensive scholarly work of the history of the college where this one leaves off."

The book costs $10 and is available from the Calvin Alumni and Public Relations Office, 3201 Burton St. SE, Grand Rapids, Mich., 49546, (616) 957-6142, email:

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