Rev. Bernard Pekelder, 89, was Calvin College’s first campus chaplain—a gentle, trusted, and authentic spiritual mentor of several generations of students. He passed away on September 21 from congestive heart failure.
Pekelder was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he attended Creston Christian School. After his family moved to Sheboygan, Wisc., he attended Sheboygan Christian School. His high school years were spent at Sheboygan Public High School and Sheboygan North High School.
After consulting with a Christian mentor, Pekelder changed his mind about a career in law and devoted his life to the gospel ministry.
He attended Calvin College and Seminary, graduating in 1947, and also earned a master’s degree in counseling from Garrett Theological Seminary in Chicago.
Pekelder served Jamestown (Mich.) CRC; East Leonard CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Midland Park (N.J.) CRC.
But he will be remembered best for his long and respected association with Calvin College, beginning in l962. In his multi-faceted ministry there, he left a mark of blessing not only on students but also on the college itself.
He began his ministry at Calvin as chaplain and ended it as vice-president of student affairs. To “Pek,” as he was affectionately known, these functions were ministry in the best sense of the word, marked by unswerving commitment to his Sender, empathetic love for students, warm relationships with colleagues, and deep concern for Calvin as a Christian institution of learning. The denomination and Calvin Theological Seminary shared in that affection.
Pekelder had a wonderful sense of humor. He was gracious with words and understanding, remaining self-effacing throughout his life. Bernie’s heart beat warmly for the students who readily sought his counsel and encouragement. His carefully prepared chapel meditations live on in the memories of students and faculty. He always remained a student and retired from Calvin in l985.
Pekelder was preceded in death by his wife, Jane, who passed away in 2007. He is survived by his children, Anne and Michael Bruinooge, Ben and Pam Pekelder, Mary and Tom Hoeksema, Jane and Daniel Ward, and Ruth Pekelder and Rick Huizinga; 20 grandchildren; and 30 great-grandchildren.
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