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W W W . E T O W N . E D U

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B U I L D I N G A C O MM U N I T Y, S H A P I N G T H E M E S S A G E

COVER STORY

Building a Community, Shaping theMessage

When Carl Strikwerda reflects on what he calls the “larger narrative” of his

life, he concludes that it revolves around the idea of community-building.

His career as a history professor, researcher and author, academic admin-

istrator, and now leader of Elizabethtown College has that as a theme, a

common thread.

jects that would hold his interest through the years. After graduation, he worked on a master’s de-gree at the University of Chicago. He married at the end of his year in Chicago and accompanied his wife, Gail Bossenga, to the University of Michi-gan, where she had a fellowship and where they both eventually earned their Ph.D.s in history. The couple lived in Belgium and France for a year and a half and traveled extensively through-out Europe while they conducted research for their doctoral dissertations. “That was just a great ex-perience for us in terms of learning about the rest of the world,” he said. It planted an appreciation of different cultures and a respect for the value of learning abroad.

Strikwerda taught at the State University of New York at Purchase and the University of Cali-fornia at Riverside and then joined the University of Kansas, becoming a full professor and going into administration as associate dean of liberal arts and sciences. He says he was attracted to The College of William & Mary, where he became dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, by its smaller size. “It reminded me of the good things I’d had at Calvin.” Similarly, when he turned up on Elizabethtown’s re-cruitment list he realized he felt attracted to some-thing “even smaller yet.” He said, “I wanted to do

The rangy and soft-spoken Strikwerda cer-tainly presents himself as a man comfortable in his own skin, at ease with where he came from, where he has been and where he is going. Having turned 59 and taken the reins of Elizabethtown College in the same month, he appears to be embarking on a career denouement of considerable promise. Strikwerda grew up amid the Upper Midwest-ern stability of Grand Rapids, Mich. “I think I was drawn to history because, to some degree, I saw it around me. The community I grew up in was shaped by the immigration of the late 19th and ear-ly 20th centuries,” he explained. His grandfather was among the emigrants from the Netherlands who, with his descendants, became part of a strong Dutch Calvinist culture in western Michigan. Strikwerda was the fifth of six children in a family that valued education (three older brothers have Ph.D.s), and he followed his parents and older siblings to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, a liber-al arts school affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church, which has roots in the Netherlands. At Calvin he enjoyed the “intense learning environ-ment” and the challenge of wrestling with the “big questions of life.” And he began delving into “what makes communities,” through his studies of labor unions, consumer cooperatives and migration, sub-

STORY BY Don SARVEY PHOTOS by Russell G. Frost

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Elizabethtown College