Presidents of Hope College

A Brief Survey of Challenges and Highlights from Hope College's Presidents

Philip Phelps Jr.

First President, 1866-1878

Charles Scott

Second President, 1878-1893

Hope is an ill-funded newborn in the wilderness. Appointed principal of the Holland Academy in 1859, the hands-on president helps the students build the first gymnasium/chapel in 1862. An Easterner, he has connections that prove invaluable to founder A.C. Van Raalte as he seeks support for the new school. Hope survives the 1871 fire that destroys much of Holland.

Times are still lean, and whether or not Hope will continue to operate is an open question (the college even has trouble raising $50 to install lightning rods on Van Vleck Hall). Church support from "the West" is disrupted by the denomination's secession troubles. Even so, construction of the President's Home and the start of Graves Hall suggest the shape of things to come.

Gerrit J. Kollen

Hope Class of 1868
Third President, 1893-1911

Ame Vennema

Hope Class of 1879
Fourth President, 1911-1918

Hope's first lay president, he possesses business experience that his predecessors lacked, and at a time when it was desperately needed. Raised on an Overisel farm, he becomes a debonair fund-raiser who achieves a coup in convincing philanthropist Andrew Carnegie -- to whom he bears a resemblance -- to finance Carnegie Gymnasium (he normally built only libraries).

He inherits a policy that bans the ever-more-popular athletic teams from traveling during school terms, and with faculty support suspends the men's basketball team for violating the rule in 1913. The students react by striking, a shocking move for the day. (The travel restrictions are eventually eased during his tenure.) Enrollment drops as Hope men enlist following the nation's entry into World War I.

Edward D. Dimnent

Hope Class of 1896
Fifth President, 1918-1931

Wynand Wichers

Sixth President, 1931-1945

In the closing months of the war, Hope hosts a unit of the Student Army Training Corps, helping to fill and support the war-depleted campus. For the first time, Hope charges tuition (starting at $35 per year in 1920). He leads the effort to construct the Memorial Chapel, and rumor has it that he paid the remaining debt himself when the Great Depression hit.

The college's fortunes suffer during the Great Depression, and do not improve when World War II enlistment keeps male enrollment low. With overall enrollment down to about 400 students, there is even talk of closing Hope's doors. Dr. Wichers helps bring in the Army Specialized Training Program, which in turn helps keep the college running.

Irwin J. Lubbers

Hope Class of 1917
Seventh President, 1945-1963

Calvin A. VanderWerf

Hope Class of 1937
Eighth President, 1963-1970

As former GIs flood the nation's campuses, enrollment more than triples to some 1300 in the first years of the presidency. Massive construction follows; Hope's first president with a Ph.D., he also hires several young scholars. The college's reputation grows, and in 1957 The Chicago Tribune names Hope one of the nation's top 10 co-ed colleges.

A turbulent and activist time nationally extends locally, as students protest campus policies like mandatory chapel and become involved in broader issues, such as demonstrating on behalf of Civil Rights. His emphasis on the sciences and advocacy of Hope's research-based model is viewed as playing a vital role in developing the strong reputation Hope's program enjoys today.

Gordon Van Wylen

Ninth President, 1972-1987

John H. Jacobson

10th President, 1987-1999

The college enters the 1970s with a certain ambivalence concerning its character. He helps make Hope's focus deliberate by crafting a mission statement that emphasizes academic excellence in a Christian context. The era sees a building boom that ranges from the completion of Peale through the construction of the Van Wylen Library. Hope's reputation grows.

The student body continues to grow, leading to discussion of just how large Hope should become. Students, faculty and programs alike receive national acclaim. The campus extends with an eye toward Hope's relationship with the surrounding community. Hope struggles with questions of diversity and how best to prepare students for and to serve in a multi-cultural world.

 Dr. John Knapp

James E. Bultman

Hope Class of 1963
11th President, 1999-2013

John C. Knapp

12th President, 2013 

The emphasis throughout Dr. Bultman’s presidency is on assuring that Hope is both exceptional academically and vibrantly Christian.  The college updates its mission statement and creates additional missional literature to both provide an overview of the distinctive qualities of Hope and serve as a guide for the future.  Extensive campus enhancement meets an increased need for facilities as enrollment tops 3,300, and across his tenure the acreage of the campus increases threefold, and virtually every major campus building is renovated and multiple new buildings are constructed or planned.

Dr. John C. Knapp becomes Hope’s 12th president on July 1 after serving most recently as the founding director of the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.  His leadership experience includes higher education and business, and his scholarship includes multiple books and articles on leadership ethics, issues in higher education, and the intersection of faith and work.