Dr. Jacob (Jack) E. Nyenhuis, whose career in teaching and administration at Hope College has spanned more than four decades, has been honored with a book celebrating his career, character and impact.
Nyenhuis is an active scholar whose first 26 years at Hope included service as a faculty member, dean and provost. In retirement he has been directing the college’s A.C. Van Raalte Institute.
Together with many of his family and friends, his colleagues at the institute presented him with the book “Jack: A Compassionate Compendium; A Tribute to Dr. Jacob E. Nyenhuis — Scholar, Servant, Leader” on Thursday, May 17, during a recognition banquet in his honor. The volume, co-edited by Dr. Donald Luidens and JoHannah Smith, consists of three dozen tributes, artistic contributions and essays in honor of Nyenhuis.
The contributors were asked to reflect on the ways that Nyenhuis had an impact on their personal and professional lives. The result, covering topics ranging from his childhood to his scholarship to his contributions as an administrator, is a mosaic of images which reflects the many facets of his life and career.
“Two distinguishing characteristics come through in these reflective essays,” said Luidens, a professor emeritus of sociology and long-time faculty colleague who is conducting research at the institute in retirement. “First, Jack is universally recognized for his kind and caring approach to everyone, showing special compassion for those who are least appreciated in society. Secondly, he is applauded for his uncanny memory, a virtual encyclopedia of facts and figures that astounds new friends and old.”
“These characteristics — compassion and compendious intellect — are reflected in the book’s title,” Luidens said. “At the same time, the essays are themselves both compassionate and compendious, warmly recognizing Jack’s broad impact on his family, his church, his academic affiliations and his friends.”
Among those gathered to celebrate Nyenhuis’ accomplishments were former Hope College presidents Dr. Gordon Van Wylen and Dr. James Bultman along with current president Rev. Dr. Dennis Voskuil. All have worked closely with Nyenhuis, and each contributed an essay to the book. In their public remarks, each also reaffirmed his affection and appreciation for Nyenhuis. Luidens and Smith describe Nyenhuis as both caring and exacting as a leader, demanding the best of his colleagues while remaining fully conscious of the challenge which that high standard implies. Nyenhuis leads by example, they said.
“Jack: A Compassionate Compendium” is the third recognition that Nyenhuis has received since the fall. In October, Hope dedicated the college’s new Leona M. and Jacob E. Nyenhuis Sculpture Garden in honor of Nyenhuis and his wife, the lead donors for the park, for their many years of service to Hope. In November, he received a “West Michigan Dutch-American Leadership Award” during the West Michigan Dutch-American Heritage Day celebration.
Nyenhuis joined the Hope faculty in 1975 as professor of classics and dean for the humanities, and was appointed dean for the arts and humanities in 1978 and provost in 1984. He retired in 2001 and subsequently directed the college’s Van Raalte Institute from 2002 until 2015, when he was succeeded by Voskuil. He is serving as interim director for the next two years while Voskuil serves an interim term as Hope’s president. He is also editor-in-chief of the institute’s Van Raalte Press.
Internationally recognized as an expert on the Greek myth of Daedalus, Nyenhuis wrote the 2002 book “Myth and the Creative Process: Michael Ayrton and the Myth of Daedalus, the Maze Maker.” His scholarly work as a classicist included co-authoring the best-selling textbook “Latin Via Ovid” and editions of “Plautus: Amphitruo” and “Petronius: Cena Trimalchionis.” He led the effort to install Kurt Laurenz Metzler’s sculpture “Icarus” in the central campus in 1989 in honor of former faculty member Dr. Clarence DeGraaf.
His interest in local history and the area’s Dutch heritage predates his involvement with the institute. He served on two commissions for the bicentennial of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and the Netherlands (1982), when Queen Beatrix visited Holland, and frequently hosted visiting lecturers and officials from the Netherlands. He led the effort to have the statue of Holland’s founder Albertus C. Van Raalte cast and installed in Centennial Park in conjunction with the city’s 1997 sesquicentennial and also co-authored a book about the project.
Nyenhuis has written, edited and co-edited several books since joining the institute, including “Centennial History of 14th Street Christian Reformed Church” (author), “A Goodly Heritage: Essays in Honor of the Reverend Dr. Elton J. Bruins at Eighty” (editor and contributing author), “Dutch-American Arts and Letters in Historical Perspective” (co-editor), “Across Borders: Dutch Migration to North America and Australia” (co-editor) and “The Enduring Legacy of Albertus C. Van Raalte as Leader and Liaison” (co-editor). He is currently editing and co-authoring a book on the college’s history.
He helped organize the “Colonial Clergy Conference: Dutch Traditions and American Realities,” held at Hope, Western Theological Seminary and First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 2009; and the international conference “Albertus C. Van Raalte: Leader and Liaison,” held at Hope and in the city of Ommen in the Netherlands in conjunction with the bicentennial of Van Raalte’s birth, in 2011. In 2017, he co-chaired the planning committee for the 143rd Annual State History Conference organized by the Historical Society of Michigan, for which he was also a presenter.
Nyenhuis is a past chair of the Michigan Council for the Humanities, and past president of the National Federation of State Humanities Councils. He is also past chair of the Deans’ Council of the Great Lakes Colleges Association.
Prior to joining the Hope faculty, he taught at Wayne State University from 1962 to 1975. He has also held several visiting professorships.
Nyenhuis holds his bachelor’s degree from Calvin College, and his master’s and doctorate from Stanford University. Hope presented him with an honorary degree, a Litt.D., in 2001.
“Jack: A Compassionate Compendium” is listed at $8, but is available through the Hope College Bookstore for the special rate of $30.