William Spoelhof, who was president of Calvin College for 25 years, passed away in his sleep Dec. 3, 2008. The Grand Rapids, Mich., school is the official college of the Christian Reformed Church.
Spoelhof began at Calvin in 1946 as a professor of history before becoming president in 1951. During his tenure as president, he oversaw a multitude of changes at Calvin: enrollment at the college more than tripled, the college relocated to its current Knollcrest campus, and academic programs were greatly expanded.
Spoelhof also presided over difficult times, including faculty upheavals in the 1950s, student protests in the 1960s, and the publication of The Bananer, a spoof of The Banner that had a ripple effect throughout the denomination.
Through it all, Spoelhof maintained a calm and even-tempered demeanor that earned him praise from students, faculty, and administrators alike.
“William Spoelhof’s magnum opus was his care for people,” said friend and former Calvin chaplain Dale Cooper. “He taught us that leadership is best expressed by those who show they love those whom they lead.”
Long after his retirement as president, Spoelhof maintained an office at the college; he regularly had coffee with colleagues to discuss the college and the church, and he interacted with students who passed by in the hallway or stopped in to see him.
More than 500 people attended a memorial service for Spoelhof that was held at the college on Dec. 8—which would have been Spoelhof’s 99th birthday. It was Spoelhof’s deep faith and humble care for others that earned him the greatest praise at the service.
“To me, Bill Spoelhof was more than just a predecessor as president, he was the consummate scholar, leader, manager, and Christian role model,” said current Calvin president Gaylen Byker. “He was a man gifted by God with a heart of wisdom.”