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'Around Town' continues to unite alums, inform community


Hot off the success of a rousing "Calvin Around Town" event at the new Van Andel Medical Institute in May, the Grand Rapids Area Chapter was ready for a series of encores during the fall and winter months.

The planning team came through with two large-scale gatherings in October and January, as "Calvin Around Town" continues to gain momentum.

"It is hard to improve on 650 persons attending an alumni reception and the Institute offered a one-of-a-kind opportunity," said Association executive director Mike Van Denend ’78, "but we managed to package two fine events that enlightened and helped build relationships."

The purpose of "Calvin Around Town" is two-fold—to gather alumni together for information, education and socialization and to build awareness about Calvin’s importance and influence in the minds of local community leaders.

In October, planners seized on the amazingly eventful presidential election process by hosting an event in the Gerald R. Ford Museum. Featured speakers were two of Calvin’s national political experts, Corwin Smidt and Doug Koopman, along with the director of the museum, Richard Norton Smith. Mr. Smith had been a fixture on national political talk shows during the election season.

In addition, Calvin President Gaylen Byker made public presentations to three Calvin grads that were retiring from the State Legislature due to term limits—Bill Byl ’74 and Jon Jellema ’66. He also thanked two other local political reps for their years of service—Kent County Commissioners Jerry Kooiman ‘84 and Jim Talen ‘76.

"Around Town enables the chapter to bring alumni together for so many good reasons," said event host Sue Randall De Vries ‘81. "At the museum we learned even more about the election and saw how some among us put in faith in action through politics."

Van Denend said that while the alumni interaction was, of course, very important, he liked to watch how the "featured guest" was affected by the large Calvin alumni turnout at these events and the kinds of insightful questions and dialogue that alums offered.

"It never fails to happen that our community leaders comment about the impressiveness of Calvin’s alumni, in service, faith, commitment and intellect. It underscores to me that we’re being successful in this venture," Van Denend stated.

The new year brought a first-ever partnership between "Calvin Around Town" and the heralded January Series. The director of the series, June Hamersma, brokered the extra-day stay of one of her featured speakers, Sports Illustrated writer and NPR commentator Frank Deford, so he could headline a special edition of "Around Town."

"Thanks to June, the alumni chapter was able to advertise a nationally known journalist," said Van Denend. "We were also able to dovetail that speaker with a topic we had not yet covered—sports—and a venue we had not yet used—the Van Andel Arena.

After a reception in the arena’s main lobby, guest were ushered into a large meeting room, where chapter host Perrin Rynders ’82 moderated an open-ended discussion on sports in America with Deford, Grand Rapids Press sports editor Bob Becker and local NBC television affiliate sports director Jack Doles.

"The January Series is terrific and our group thought that a companion event that was more freewheeling discussion rather than lecture would be a winner," said Rynders.

The lively dialogue certainly proved Rynders’ statement to be true. He had to finally call a halt to the evening with many more questions and topics yet to cover.

"Frank Deford is probably the finest sports journalist in the country, plus we had local athletic commentary by our city’s most prominent sports journalists. It was a great combination," said Rynders.

The Grand Rapids Press wound up covering Deford’s visit to Calvin in one edition and the sports panel the next day; Doles had Deford interviewed twice as well, with one interview conducted live at the alumni chapter event.

"Around Town" leaders believe the program is on a smooth track now and are looking for additional venues, topics and speakers to continue what has now become a well-regarded Grand Rapids area alumni tradition.

Frank Deford Event Photos

Election Event at Ford Museum

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