News Articles

Dutch immigrant Aay appointed first Professor of Meijer Chair

‘Country of origin’ gets new focus at Calvin College

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan - Henk Aay (61) has become the first holder of the Frederik Meijer Chair in Dutch Language and Culture at Calvin College. The new Professor was born in the Netherlands, and at age thirteen settled with his family in Canada where he graduated with a BA in geography and planning from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

The new chair at Calvin College is sponsored by Dutch American entrepreneur Frederik Meijer, whose father Hendrik - a barber - was born in Almelo, the Netherlands. The Meijers ran a small grocery store in Greenville, Michigan, which son Fred eventually developed into Meijer, Inc., a chain with 176 stores located in five states.

Aay earned a Ph.D. in geography from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and came to Calvin in 1982 as the college’s first full-time Ph.D. geographer. He has long studied the Netherlands, published on the geography of the country, lectured as a visiting scholar at the Free University of Amsterdam and at the University of Groningen and led more than ten Calvin off-campus interim courses in his native country.

Fred Meijer and his wife Lena, who once worked as a cashier in the original Greenville store, have been generous benefactors to the community of Grand Rapids. They are the lead sponsors of both the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center and the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. An avid student of Dutch History, and a regular visitor to the Netherlands, Meijer hopes that the Frederik Meijer Chair in Dutch Language and Culture will provide a thorough and fair-minded exploration of the country he loves. The Netherlands people are a mixture of many things, he commented. He anticipates this chair to explore the pure history of the Netherlands and its people with all the warts and all the variations.

Dutch, Frisian and dialects

The chair’s purpose is to engage in scholarship and teach Dutch culture. The term ‘Dutch’ refers primarily to the Kingdom of the Netherlands; Dutch-American immigrant culture is only peripherally related to the purview of the chair. It is noted that the term ‘culture’ is broad in scope with relevance to fields such as history, geography, art history, literature, and theology.

The activities of the chair will interact with the college’s Dutch language and culture program and thereby enhance familiarization with the languages of the Netherlands-primarily Dutch, but also possibly Frisian as well as Dutch dialects. In communicating a better understanding of the culture of the Netherlands, the chair also will involve the larger College community, its supporting constituency, and the public at large.

Calvin College grew from a distinctive European ethnic root, that of a Dutch Reformed Christian community that settled in the Midwest primarily in the last half of the 19th century. Calvin has nourished that immigrant root through scholarly and cultural immersion into the Dutch-American subculture in which the college thrives.

Model of stability

Less attention has been given, however, to the still-flourishing culture of Calvin’s ‘country of origin.’ In a time when the college’s interests reach into a myriad of nations and cultures, it was found essential to take a critical look at the Netherlands, the country of ancestry of the majority of Calvin students and alumni.

Through the Frederik Meijer Chair in Dutch Language and Culture, Calvin College will embark on a thorough and scholarly exploration of the Netherlands, a country now seen as eminently worthy of that attention. Not only was Holland a cosmopolitan hub of art and the leading maritime power in the 17th century, the Netherlands of today is seen as a model of social and economic stability. The Dutch are a continual innovative and impressive force on the world scene in the realms of art, technology, water and land engineering and social policy, it was observed.

Lectures, performances, workshops, seminars and art exhibitions will be part of the Frederik Meijer Chair in Dutch Language and Culture, and will bring the culture of the Netherlands to the community and college that have grown from that culture and to the community beyond.