Ron Baylor '77
Shortly after moving to Kalamazoo in 1980 to begin his law practice with Miller Canfield, Ron ’77 and Mary Jane Breuker Baylor ’78 received a call from a former classmate working in the Calvin admissions office. Bill Alphenaar ’77 asked Ron to be part of a new initiative called the Calvin Admissions Support Effort (CASE). The Baylors agreed to serve as a local contact for high school seniors in the area, encouraging them to consider Calvin. They hosted pizza parties and visited with students and school counselors. Thus began Ron’s long history of volunteer service to Calvin.
When there was a need for callers at the annual fund phonathons, which were then organized locally with calling centers in area businesses, Baylor joined the effort. Within a few years, he co-chaired the Kalamazoo area effort and participated in the business drive.
In 1986, while referring a client to a lawyer in another state, Baylor thought it would be helpful to have a directory of Calvin alumni law professionals across the United States and Canada, for referrals and networking. He proposed this project to the alumni office. Soon a directory was compiled, and it eventually went through three more editions.
There were plenty of opportunities for the Baylors to get involved in regional events in the Kalamazoo area. They served as hosts at Calvin-Hope satellite game sites, fed and housed Calvin band and choir students needing overnight accommodations, and helped to organize educational and fund-raising events for the local network scholarship. And always, they have encouraged high school students and their families to give Calvin a serious look.
Ron has a knack for Calvin-related conversations with people—at work, in the community and with perfect strangers in his travels. Sometimes wearing a Calvin shirt or even a lapel pin has opened the doors for dialogue and an opportunity to promote Calvin.
In 1999 Ron agreed to join the Calvin Alumni Association Board and eventually served as its president. Meeting students from around the world, Baylor began to ask what has become one of his favorite questions: “So how did you happen to come to Calvin?” The answers were almost always inspiring.
In 2005, the alumni board nominated Baylor to Calvin’s board of trustees, where he served for six years. He was a member of the executive committee and vice president of the board. As a trustee, he had less contact with students and parents but more contact with professors and staff. “Calvin is blessed with bright, passionate, dedicated people who love the idea of excellent Christian higher education. It’s a remarkable place,” he said.
“My appreciation for Calvin runs deep,” he wrote in his trustee nomination letter. “I believe God directed me to Calvin—against all odds—and has used my Calvin education and association to enrich my life in more ways than I can count.”
Calvin was not part of Baylor’s college plan until a state of Michigan scholarship prompted him to seriously consider Calvin in the summer of ’73. As a small-town boy from a rural public school, he was initially intimidated. “I remember my first night on campus as the loneliest moment in my life. That first evening, some professor told me that for some students, Calvin is the perfect place—a place where you really grow up and you form relationships that last a lifetime,” Baylor said. “Who knew that he was talking about me?”
A year later, he met Mary Jane Breuker in philosophy class and learned that they lived in the same dorm complex. They have been married for 35 years. Ron describes her as his partner in all things, including service to their alma mater. Their enthusiasm for Calvin increased as they saw the growth—mental, spiritual and emotional—in the lives of their three daughters, Rebecca ’04, Christina ’05 and Alicia ’06. “It certainly deepened our love for the place. I’m hoping to see my first granddaughter in the Class of 2032!” Ron said.
“I’ve had the privilege to serve on two leadership boards in this little corner of God’s kingdom,” he said. “As trustees, we worked through some tough issues. We worked alongside some truly amazing professors, administrators, students, parents and alumni. It was a rich thing to feel God’s blessing on our work.” Those years also tuned Baylor’s ears to listen to outside impressions of Calvin—and inspired him to challenge false impressions and stereotypes. “I engage them now—I’m more vocal than I used to be. With accurate information, Calvin sells itself,” he said.
“If anything,” Baylor continued, “I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of Calvin over time: It’s a very countercultural place. Our society is marked by indifference and even hostility to Christianity—and to belief in general. As Calvin alums around the world make a difference in their communities, in their companies and homes, doing excellent work, being leaders and friends, they prove every day that Calvin is more important than ever.”
After 30 years as a volunteer for Calvin, Baylor doesn’t see his commitment going into retirement mode. He and Mary Jane continue to recruit students, including nieces and nephews, and they continue to pitch in where needed. “Calvin could use another $50 million for scholarships,” he said. “We need to get organized!”