Dr. Anne E. Irwin, Hope College’s first director of women’s athletics and an unfailing advocate for gender equity in college sports, died on Saturday, April 3 at her home in Fennville, Michigan, after a battle with cancer. She was 79.

It was her wish to be cremated and interred at the Fennville Cemetery without a memorial or funeral service.

Irwin arrived at Hope in 1976 at a time of watershed change in college athletics, as Title IX – the mandate that required the equal treatment of men and women at federally funded educational institutions – had been passed in 1972. She had previously been a professor and coach at Queens College in New York City, where she also headed up a Title IX Committee

Anne Irwin Photo Gallery

At Hope, she immediately began to enhance the women’s athletics program – which consisted of seven sports at the time – while keeping the men’s program strong.

“Anne was a pioneer for women at Hope,” said Tim Schoonveld, director of athletics. “We all owe her a debt of gratitude for what she accomplished. Her work helped put our entire program on a national playing field for reputation and excellence.”

Over her years, Hope’s women’s teams grew to 10 — and its participants more than three-fold — at the time of her retirement in 2003. While she administrated, she coached, too – as head coach of women’s basketball (1976 to 1979), softball (1977 to 1987), and field hockey (1979 to 1980) and as assistant coach of women’s soccer and volleyball. Her 1980 field hockey team and her 1981 women’s softball team won the State of Michigan Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women championships, the first-ever titles in women’s team sports at Hope. (The AIAW was the only organization offering athletic governance and postseason championships for college women at the time; the NCAA began to do so in 1982.)

Also, during her tenure, Hope won the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) Commissioner’s Cup 17 times over 23 years (1981-82 thru 2003-04). In 1998-99, the MIAA instituted the Women’s All-Sports award. It was claimed by Hope College five of the next six years before Irwin’s retirement.

Irwin held the rank of professor of kinesiology as well. She taught anatomical kinesiology, biomechanics, Health Dynamics and other upper-level courses in the department. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the University of Michigan and master’s and doctoral degrees in biomechanics from Michigan State University.

Her impact on Hope extended outside of the intercollegiate athletics program. Irwin also developed the college’s intramural program that grew to serve 50% of the student body (more than 1,500) by the time she retired. When she took it over, approximately 300 Hope students took part.

Irwin brought solid credentials to Hope as both a competitor and a teacher-coach. The softball team she had coached while doing graduate work at Michigan State University went on to win the College World Series. She had competed regionally in volleyball and field hockey, and nationally in fast-pitch softball and basketball.

Even in retirement she stayed involved in the college, teaching biomechanics and assisting with the intramural program for one more year, and serving as a bus driver In Hope’s transportation department until 2015. In 2008, the college named the press box at the Wolters Softball Stadium in her honor.

Irwin is survived by her partner of 31 years, Kay Zuris; brother, Dr. Charles F. Irwin, and sister, Emily Jean Irwin as well as six nieces and nephews (Emrick Lordan, Stephen Irwin, John Irwin, Meghan Fuller, Parker Reed and Andrew Wasuwongse).