posted April 16, 2012

Address to Focus on World War II Navajo Code Talkers

The Navajo Code Talkers of World War II will be the focus of a lecture at Hope College on Saturday, April 28, at 3 p.m. in the Fried/Hemenway Auditorium of the Martha Miller Center for Global Communication.

The public is invited.  Admission is free.

The talk will be delivered by Dr. Everett Nienhouse, who has been active in sharing the history of the Code Talkers through his long-time volunteer work with Rehoboth Christian School, which serves the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.  Among other work with the group’s history, in February 2009 he and his wife, Ericka, spearheaded an expansion of the school’s Navajo Code Talkers Museum, service that included identifying and interviewing members of Code Talker families and planning a ribbon-cutting that honored four of the living Code Talkers.  Their interest in the Code Talkers began in 1999, when they co-authored a lead article in the school’s quarterly newsletter.

The Navajo Code Talkers served with the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater during World War II.  They communicated with each other over military radio or telephone with codes developed from their people’s language.  For example, the Navajo name for a tank was “tortoise”—slow-moving, hard shell.  The Japanese never broke the code.

The public lecture is scheduled in conjunction with the college’s Alumni Weekend, which will be featuring reunions for the Classes of 1962, 1967, 1972, 1977 and 1982 for class reunions as well as a variety of other activities.  Nienhouse, who is a member of the college’s Class of 1958 from Ellsworth, Mich., and Carlsbad, Calif., will be receiving a Distinguished Alumni Award from Hope during the annual Alumni Banquet later in the day.  He is being honored for his impact as an educator, including his decades on the chemistry faculty of Ferris State University, from which he retired in 1994, and his continued service as a volunteer.

Nienhouse majored in chemistry and minored in mathematics at Hope, where his activities also included the Blue Key Society, Fraternal Society, German Club, Symphonette, orchestra, track, and participating in the first Vienna Summer School in 1956.

After Hope he completed a Master of Science degree in organic chemistry at Northwestern University and a doctorate in organic chemistry and biochemistry at the State University of New York at Buffalo.  He subsequently joined Ferris State, where he remained for 28 years, additionally holding visiting professorships around the country as well as at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Across his career he taught nearly 4,000 students and his professional accomplishments included more than 100 scholarly publications, abstracts, and regional and national presentations related to his discipline.  The youngest faculty member to be promoted to full professor in Ferris State’s history, he received multiple other honors including being named Distinguished Professor of the Year by his Ferris State colleagues in 1975 and Professor of the Year by Ferris State students in 1980; the Michigan Association of Governing Boards of State College and University Award for excellence in teaching, research and scholarly activities in 1984; and elevation to Distinguished Merit Professor in 1992.

A dedicated volunteer throughout his life, he has become especially active in service in retirement.  In addition to his service to Rehoboth Christian School, he is an enrichment lecturer in the communities in which he lives and for a variety of organizations; a cruise speaker for the Holland American Lines and Netherlands Waterways Cruises; and prepares full-hour choral programs and special worship services for churches in Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico and Southern California.

Nienhouse has been active in the life of the college since graduation, including presenting chemistry lectures as a guest speaker and serving on the planning committee for his graduating class’s 45-year reunion in 2003.  In addition, he and Erika, who also participated in the first Vienna program, spearheaded an effort to enlist the support of alumni of the Vienna program in funding construction of the Martha Miller Center’s Fried/Hemenway Auditorium, which is named in honor of the original and current leaders of the program.

He and Erika, who had both lost their spouses to cancer, became reacquainted during their 40-year reunion in May 1998 and married in October 1999.  He has two sons, Eric and Jonathan, from his marriage to his first wife, Elaine; and four grandchildren.

The Martha Miller Center for Global Communication is located at 257 Columbia Ave., on Columbia Avenue at 10th Street.