When the students return “home” to Houghton this fall, they will find the campus living room—the Van Dyk Lounge—stylishly but comfortably refurbished. This gathering area serves our student body as a study room, a place to rendezvous with friends, the entrance to our campus store and the site of evening coffee houses. It is also the proverbial front porch through which we at the college welcome visitors, including parents, off-campus guests and prospective students.
We owe the spirit of warmth and hospitality in the campus center to Bob and Elizabeth Van Dyk ’75, for whom the lounge is named. This is not the only space on campus that has benefited from the Van Dyks’ generous support over the years. Their vision and support have also enabled us to establish the Van Dyk Fitness Center, located in Nielsen Physical Education Center (also renewed and upgraded this past summer); remodel the lower level of the Campus Center; and, most recently, create The Robert and Elizabeth Van Dyk Data Science Analytics Suite in the Center for Data Science in the Paine Science Center and the Van Dyk Scholars program. Each of their commitments is intentionally designed, above all, to enrich the student experience at Houghton College.
We recently spoke with Bob and Elizabeth about the reasons for their longstanding investment in Houghton. Given their own successful careers in a range of areas, including health care and medical equipment sales, respectively, and their deep engagement with non-profit fundraising for Alzheimer’s research, plus their love of international travel, it is definitely a deliberate choice to stay connected to Houghton. In addition to their financial contribution, Bob has served for many years on the President’s Advisory Board under both Presidents Chamberlain and Mullen, including a term as the chair of that group.
For Bob, Class of 1975, it is all about Houghton’s impact, which he first witnessed in his daughter, Kristina, Class of 2005, who has become a highly successful artist, children’s book writer, entrepreneur and supporter of children’s orphanages overseas. But this impact goes beyond a personal connection. It is the kind of impact that Houghton graduates in general have on the world because of their “scholar-servant” mentality. As a savvy investor, Bob enjoys knowing that his commitment to Houghton pays dividends for the world. In particular, Bob has noted with appreciation the way that Houghton has sought to “skillfully navigate the changing circumstances of our world in such a way to remain relevant and effective while also remaining loyal to its core Christian values.” Elizabeth, who saw Houghton for the first time through Bob’s eyes, has come to treasure the place for herself. She likes the feeling of “home” and safety that the campus engenders, noting her initial surprise when she saw a stack of unattended backpacks in the Ladies Lounge on her first visit to Houghton. Elizabeth, like Bob, values Houghton’s commitment to prepare graduates with a clear sense of identity and integrity who are also ready to translate those qualities of character into a world of ongoing change.
Both Bob and Elizabeth have cultivated in their own lives the values that they hope to see cultivated in Houghton students. They seek to treat others as they would want to be treated, recognizing that this is more important than ever in a world that is increasingly suspicious of Christian language without actions that match. Elizabeth emphasized the importance of focusing on the needs of clients more than on how to beat out the competition. “Do the right thing,” she said, “and the rest will care for itself.”
They strive to practice transparency and integrity—and always humility. Bob credited Louise Penny, a writer of mystery novels, as an unexpected source of the wisdom when her main character described success in life and business as the ability to say, “I don’t know,” “I need help,” “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong.”
They are testimonies to the surprises of life. Neither of them ended up in places they would have imagined during college. They emphasize to young people the importance of being open to new ideas, considering all options, being willing to change one’s mind and, above all, being committed to one’s own core values. In Bob and Elizabeth, we see individuals who have dared to be themselves. (Kierkegaard would say they have dared to be “originals and not copies.”)
Bob and Elizabeth demonstrate the importance of hard work, careful planning and a focus on helping others find solutions. Today, Bob and Elizabeth are seeking to provide state-of-the-art care amid the COVID-19 pandemic for their nationwide work in elder care. As we thank them for their ongoing generosity to Houghton, we also join them in their tireless pursuit of creative ways to address new challenges, their willingness to reckon with the complexity and persistent uncertainty of this current public health crisis, and their commitment to be part of a community committed to learning together for the good of the world.