Wally

Longtime colleague leaves a blessing of wise counsel and much grace

by Michael Van Denend '78
Summer 2012

One of the special privileges of working at Calvin College is the chance to develop personal relationships with individuals that you revered as a student and never expected to ever call by first name.

I never got used to obeying Dr. Spoelhof’s insistence that I call him “Bill,” even though my wife, Loni, knew him on that first-name friend basis from years of sharing a hymnal at Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church.

There’s also something challenging about the switch to calling a respected coach by first name, so for me it will always be “Coach” when I see my Calvin cross country and track mentor Dave Tuuk.

Here in the Youngsma Center, tucked away from the main Knollcrest campus, my alumni teammates and I have had the joy of getting to know professor of German emeritus Wallace Bratt very well over the last decade or so. Dr. Bratt has been the curriculum coordinator of the Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL) since the organization began, and the CALL offices have always been near the alumni offices.

Professor Bratt is retiring from the CALL post in June, and we all understand that this development means the end of our years together as office neighbors. The CALL leadership is sad to see him go after years of distinguished service (although pleased that Dr. Bratt endorsed his replacement, the just-retired professor of biology Uko Zylstra).

For his alumni neighbors, however, this transition will be especially hard. We are losing close contact with a role model, encourager, wise friend and treasured companion. He has become, over the years, “Wally.”

It is common for Calvin retirees to never really be retired—at least when it comes to college service. Many of our professors are asked by their departments to stay close, teach some courses that need covering due to sabbaticals or illness, and continue important research or committee work.

Others, like Professor Bratt, are called to brand new areas of service to Calvin. Actually, Dr. Bratt has been called to many, many things, in academic departments and beyond. The alumni association was part of that roster of organizations that knocked on his door; one instance was to ask him to be a part of the editorial committee that put together My Heart I Offer, the volume of Calvin community devotionals. Although that book was published back in 2000, we continue to get notes from alumni and friends about how encouraging that set of spiritual reflections has been for them. 

But for the alumni team, the main blessing has been the decades-long joy of knowing a very astute and very compassionate older brother in Christ. Each one of us in the alumni office has experienced important moments of caring and sharing with him that we will never forget. Professor Bratt’s—Wally’s—presence among us has been a wonderful gift.

That’s the way it is on this campus. We’re surrounded by saints who aren’t concerned about their professional reputations but about being the hands and feet of Jesus. They walk among us, bringing us wise counsel and much grace.

We don’t want Wally to go. So, it looks like a second volume of Calvin devotionals needs to be on our alumni office to-do list and we’ll need another editorial committee. We know just the person to ask.