The stories behind the names

Lauren Hoekstra- Staff Writer 

Contributed Photos

Silver plaques hang all over campus, displaying the names of significant donors to Dordt University. But who are these people who made places like the Bosma Lounge, the BJ Haan Auditorium, the Adam’s Engineering Center, and the Douglas and Henrietta (Miedema) Ribbens Academic Complex possible?

Some may believe that the dedicated areas around campus are just rich people who want their name on something. Erik Hoekstra, Dordt’s president, says it is actually very difficult to convince people to be willing to put their names on Dordt campus. According to him, of the people who earn the merit to have their name on a plaque, only about 25% agree to it.

Reverend B.J. Haan, the first president of Dordt, loved music and knew its importance in the campus community. Dordt named the B.J. Haan Auditorium after him when they finished building it in 1979.

Dr. John Hulst, the second president, had a scholarly reputation and his wife Louise served as the librarian at Dordt for many years. Their combined impact on the campus resulted in the renaming of the library tov the John and Louise Hulst Library.

Dr. Carl Zylstra served as the third president of Dordt. His wife, Gloria, worked as a nurse and when Zylstra took the job as president, his wife is reported to have said “Carl, we have to have a nursing program.” During his 16 years as president, he developed the nursing program at Dordt. For the Zylstras’ contributions to the nursing program, Dordt named the Carl and Gloria Zylstra Nursing Education Center in their honor.

Henry and Helen Van Klaveren contributed millions of dollars to Dordt over the years. Henry immigrated from the Netherlands and never attended college himself. He owned a landscaping and flowering plant company in California. One day he came to visit Dordt himself and said to President Zylstra that while he knew this was a good college, it looked ugly. All the buildings at the time were square brick buildings. Henry loved trees and flowering plants, so he paid for the entire parking lot that used to stretch from Covenant to the Classroom Building to be turned into the greenway that is still there now. He also gave enough money to change the parking lots, build beautiful flower beds, and add trees to campus. 

A while later, Henry and Zylstra visited another college campus and noticed their clock tower. Henry said that if they wanted Dordt to look really nice, they needed a clocktower. Zylstra told Henry that yes, that would be nice, but they had no money. As Zylstra’s retirement approached, Henry donated the money to build the clocktower in 2010 and Dordt built the tower in 2011. Zylstra wanted Henry and Helen to come out to watch the dedication, but Helen was dying of cancer. They performed the dedication over FaceTime on an iPad and Helen watched the ceremony from California. Helen passed away a few weeks after the dedication of the clock tower.

Before he died in 2017, Henry wanted to do one last thing or Dordt. Helen loved to sit in nature and pray, so Henry gave money to build the Van Klaveren Prayer Garden, located in Dordt’s prairie.

“You know what?” Henry asked. “I could wait and give away all my money after I’m dead. But I want to do my giving while I’m living so I’m knowing where it’s going and the joy that it brings me is incomprehensible.”

Doug Eckhardt worked as the registrar at Dordt and lived with his young family in Sioux Center. Every Saturday he got on his bike and road to Casey’s Bakery to buy donuts for his family. On September 20, 1997, a semi hit and killed Eckhardt while on his way home from his Saturday trip to the bakery. Dordt dedicated the large lounge in Doug Eckhardt’s honor when they opened it in 2001.

The Adams Engineering Center is named after Charles Adams, known fondly as Charlie. Adams worked as an engineering professor and made great efforts to incorporate faith into the program. Before his passing, Dordt named the center after him in honor of the effort Adams put into the engineering program. 

“[The plaques] are never to honor rich people. They are always to send a message of stewardship,” Hoekstra said. “These are the stories of Dordt and how this place has impacted people.”

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