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Hope College at 150: Anchored in Faith, Education for Leadership and Service in a Global Society

Jacob Nyenhuis
Published by Van Raalte Press in 2019

“History is…an important way of thinking through the questions about what a university is, what it does, what it should do, and who and what it’s for.  Indeed, given the way in which universities have unexpectedly evolved; given the fact that they lack a single legitimating text or coherent body of substantive doctrine: to think about universities historically is surely the only intellectually justifiable way to assess the idea of the university.” (William Whyte, “The University Reimagined: Past and Present”)

Hope 150 ends by projecting a future: Appendix 12 Planning for the Future,  with a focus on “Hope for the World: 2025,” displays confidence in the values and commitments Hope will bring to bear on its future. Nyenhuis and his fellow authors write in the confidence that the history of the college and its central commitments will provide the imagination and energy necessary to thrive as Hope serves a global society. They portray Hope College as an institution that will rely on its tradition and values to shape a future through the changes our society faces.  

Hope 150 begins by probing the past of the Dutch Reformed migrants coming to Michigan in 1847, under the leadership of Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte, who founded the Pioneer School which began the Holland Academy which became Hope College in 1866, and in 2016 celebrated its sesquicentennial.

Between the beginning and the end, Nyenhuis indicates that his organizing principle is thematic rather than presidential (xviii) and thus Hope 150 is not primarily an institutional history but instead an account of an educational institution; indeed, the question that arises in the mind of the reader is straightforward: what kind of college is Hope College, and what does it aim to do?  Although “a brief sketch of the twelve presidencies” shows that three were ministers, three immigrant sons; three were progressive protestants, and three were “defenders of the faith” (xviii), Hope 150 does not mark continuities and changes by tracing presidential eras. In nine essays and 12 appendices, the authors portray a thematic continuity within the framework of changes in Michigan and North American society and in the college as well.

James C. Kennedy provides the historical context of Hope with an overview of its history, from commitment to training ministers when Dutch immigrants established the college and growing into a Christian liberal arts college, diverse, and enjoying an international reputation.  Jacob Nyenhuis tells the story of Hope’s academic program as the college designed and over the years redesigned mission statements to guide students, faculty, and administrators into diverse—and excellent—curricula with many majors and programs.  Dennis Voskuil tracks continuity and change in the relationship between Hope College and the Reformed Church in America as Dutch immigrants sought freedom of worship and freedom of education that transformed into a college that is Reformed in character but has become independent in finances and goals. 

In one of the most interesting essays, Nyenhuis provides an architectural account of Hope’s buildings, all of them and with fine photos that bring buildings to life, with their architectural style, construction materials, completion date, cost, and size—all to make the point that “the size and beauty of the campus and its facilities bodes well for the future of the college.  Hope College perseveres in its fulfillment of the founding vision…and the articulation of the college’s mission and vision (497).”  Robert Swierenga shows how Hope stewarded the available resources—financial by way of the Reformed Church in America, endowments and gifts, purchases and sales of land, and loans for buildings, and currently with an endowment of more than $225 million.  Alfredo Gonzales and Jacob Nyenhuis trace the history of diversity at Hope in Holland, Michigan, beginning with the cultural divide between the indigenous Ottawa Nation and Van Raalte’s Dutch immigrants, continuing through Japanese students at the college, alumni throughout the world who influenced students to study at Hope, the issues surrounding minority students in relation to the college student body in the 1970s, and finally into the 21st century with increasing appreciation for minority contributions and the benefits of globalization, resulting in increased applications from minority and international students. 

John Jobson and Michael Douma cover 150 years of student life at Hope to show how student life grew from a homogenous Dutch common culture through many twists and turns to the current sophisticated and diverse student body.  Tom Renner covers athletics at Hope, with many accomplishments by scholar-athletes, including baseball, basketball, football, cross country, track and field, tennis, soccer—all in magnificent facilities. Scott Travis begins his discussion of the Hope College Alumni Association 1866 when the alumni numbered eight people and shows its growth to well over 30,000 by the sesquicentennial year and showing the growth of the college from “a formerly regional college…to a true national and global leader as a premier liberal arts college and in Christ-centered higher education (853).” 

Twelve appendices provide copious information about a wide range of topics, from leadership to faculty to enrollment to financials to planning for the future, all of which provide detailed accounts of the operations of the college. While the appendices provide details about the college programs, its buildings, leadership, faculty, students, and alumni, when one casts eyes upon both the theme-essays and the appendices in one glance, it becomes clear that the themes are not merely themes and the appendix information is not merely appendix information.  The appendices are closely and directly connected to the themes, indeed, are embodiments of the themes, or they are the themes in the practice of education. The themes are observable in the practice of education and the buildings that house students and faculty.  They are the values that constitute the foundation of the college and are institutionalized in the practice of studying and learning. Taken together, the tradition, the themes, and the values conspire to serve the goals of rootage in faith, educating for leadership, and service in a global society.

If such lineage between appendices and themes is helpful, a question arises: “What is next?” The final Appendix 12: Planning for the Future” does more than seek a future.  It promises a future well beyond 2025 because Hope College strives for fidelity to its deepest values: anchored in faith, educating for leadership, and service in a global society. This suggests that Hope alumni and students and faculty, and all their supporters, will find this book a resource for thinking and rethinking their lives at their college, and so will all of us who treasure Christian liberal arts education! 

Larry Alderink

Dr. Larry Alderink is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religion at Concordia College.

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