“My dad was an ordinary boy from an ordinary family from an ordinary neighborhood in an ordinary town called Muskegon,” said one of Howard Vanderwell’s sons at his memorial service. “But while my dad himself wasn’t extraordinary, I think how he lived was.” A great storyteller and a man of warmth and kindness, Vanderwell will be especially remembered for his pastoral and mentoring presence. He died on March 23 after a 15-month valiant fight with pancreatic cancer.
After graduating from Calvin College and Seminary, Vanderwell was ordained in 1962. Over the next 40 years he served the following Christian Reformed congregations: Lebanon, Iowa; Trinity, Jenison, Mich.; Bethel, Lansing, Ill.; and Hillcrest, Hudsonville, Mich. Along the way, he received a DMin from Westminster Theological Seminary in California. After he retired from pastoral ministry in 2002, Vanderwell began a second career—working for Calvin Seminary and the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship as a resource specialist and as an adjunct professor of worship. He served there until two weeks before his death.
In addition to his pastoral roles, Vanderwell served as delegate to synod numerous times and as its president on three occasions. He is the author of many books, including his well-known Proven Promises, a devotional for those walking through the valleys of life written from the perspective of his own encounters with cancer. Vanderwell enjoyed gardening, walking, photography, and model railroading. In 2017 he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Calvin Seminary.
Vanderwell leaves behind, Ellie, his wife of 57 years; three sons and their spouses; and 10 grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter, Barbara Jean.