Dordt College News

A family affair

August 21, 2012

President Erik and Dr. Barb Hoekstra carry forward a family tradition

Dr. Erik and Dr. Barb Hoekstra had a pretty good sense of what serving as president of a college would mean for them and their children when Erik became the fourth president of Dordt College this year. Both of them grew up in families of a college president.

Erik recalls sitting on the steps at home listening to conversations between his father and leaders in education, the church, and the community.

“I absorbed many conversations about organizational effectiveness,” he says. As a boy, he listened to discussions about the need for churches and Christian organizations to get involved in reconciliation during race riots in the late 60s and early 70s, and he heard ideas about how to make organizations work better. His father became president of Trinity Christian College during a time of institutional and administrative turmoil and later went on to lead the Barnabas Foundation.

Barb was a high school senior when her father became president of Trinity a few years later. Her family had long been connected to educational institutions because of her dad’s work as a school system superintendent in California and a college advancement officer at Calvin College.

“It was kind of like being part of a pastor’s family,” she says. She thinks of it as her family’s call to serve in the Christian community.

“It was fun,” she says, looking back. She recalls that members of her family were always involved: taking tickets at events, stacking chairs, helping with landscaping. “Dad was always willing to do anything that needed to be done to help the institution,” she adds. “That’s had a lasting impression on me.”

Erik and Barb say that living in the home of a college president gave them many incredibly rich experiences. They met interesting people from around the world and learned to serve and welcome them.

The Hoekstras believe their experiences growing up help them anticipate how their children will be affected by their more public role as a college president’s family, a transition eased by the fact that they did not need to move, switch schools, and make new friends. The Hoekstras have been in Sioux Center ever since Erik took a position in Dordt’s business department in 1997.

In the years since they moved to Sioux Center, Erik has served as a business professor at Dordt, a partner in a locally based international electrical contracting company, and Provost of Dordt College. Barb has been a member of the education faculty since 1999.

“I couldn’t love this place more,” says Barb. “I believe so strongly in its mission; I love its earnestness, its integrity, its humility, its warmth.”

“I’ve not seen a place that takes as seriously its mission to help students see how their faith and worldview meets the world,” says Erik.

A philosophy and history major in college, Erik opted to get an MBA rather than go to seminary or graduate school in philosophy. He owned and operated a landscaping business throughout high school and college and, following M.B.A. studies at the Rotterdam School of Management, he headed Eastern Floral in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I loved it,” he says. More specifically, he realized he loved figuring out how to make the organization work better. “It’s like working a puzzle, putting the pieces together so that they all fit together beautifully.” Whether they sell flowers, build buildings, or recruit and educate students, well-run, vibrant organizations follow good practices and principles, he says, and they need good leaders. He’s absolutely convinced that growing good leaders is essential to growing good organizations.

“I’m interested in helping work out the Big Story of God working in his world,” Erik says. 

Hoekstra admits that he left teaching because he is not as personally passionate about teaching as he is about supporting those who teach and seeing the results of their work. That realization grew out of and helped shape his personal mission statement, which he summarizes as “Growing People and Organizations to Glorify God and Grow the Kingdom.” His goal as president is to help create a context in which all members of the team will be excited about working and serving together.

“I realize it’s a bit of an oddity to have a personal mission statement,” he says, but he decided to write one about 10 years ago when the company he was working for decided they needed to grow leaders if they were to grow the company. What he learned about himself in the process helped him decide to apply for the position of provost and return to Dordt College when it was offered to him.

“I’m a generalist, interested in helping people bring glory to God in their work by unleashing unrealized potential,” he says. In a sense it doesn’t matter to him whether the work is connected to flowers, electrical construction, or education. But his connections to higher education and the conviction that Dordt College has tremendous potential drew him here.

As president, Erik is unabashedly enamored with results. He loves telling people about the 18 Dordt graduates who work for Boeing, the nursing and engineering pass rates, the principals from the U.S., Canada, and across the world who yearn for more Dordt teacher education graduates in their schools, and the leadership roles Dordt graduates have taken on in their communities.

“If you start with God’s principles, blessing follows,” he says. A building stands, a patient gets better, and students learn more when they understand that God designed the world so that everything affects everything else. That’s why the Core curriculum is so important—learning in the context of a comprehensive foundation helps students understand who they choose to serve, why and how the world is designed, how the whole creation has fallen away from God, and what they might begin to do to make things right.

“Education at Dordt is unabashedly Reformed—and always will be,” Erik says. “It helps make the connections that so many Christians are looking for—helps answer the question, ‘how does my faith integrate with every aspect of my life?’”  Such comprehensive worldview thinking is appealing to Christians of many denominations and traditions, Hoekstra believes. He uses the term “hospitably Reformed” to describe how the college will present itself to those from other traditions.

“We must stand firm on the creeds, confessions, and principles of a Reformed way of following Jesus, but do so in welcoming ways that are inviting and intriguing to Christians looking to have their faith connect to the world and to loving their neighbors as themselves.”

Erik goes so far as to say that vibrant Christian faith is in essence Reformed, because it encompasses every part of one’s life. It’s not about being a nurse and a Christian, for example, but about being an excellent Christian nurse; it’s asking “how can I be a disciple in my life work?”

“Being a good engineer or a good writer helps you fulfill the Great Commission,” he says. “It draws people’s attention to what you are doing and why.”

Hoekstra pledges that under his leadership Dordt College will maintain that perspective and prepare students to make important contributions in Christ’s kingdom. That means nurturing graduates who will work for economic development in Africa, graduates who will head businesses, and graduates who will lead in their homes, families, churches, and communities.

He’s fond of telling about a friend of the college who learned about Dordt because he kept running into Dordt alumni who impressed him with their professional expertise rooted in a strong faith commitment. He sees that kind of witness as a model for all Dordt College graduates.

The Hoekstras are throwing themselves into their new roles. Because Erik’s appointment left the position of provost open, the first months have focused on getting the provost work covered. He’s thankful for three people who he worked with last year who are filling the gap while a national search for a Provost is launched.

Erik has already done quite a bit of traveling, visiting supporters and finding new friends and support for the college. He also intends to be very involved on campus.

“We want to live right on campus,” the Hoekstras say.

Their family will not move to campus for another year, although they live only a short walk away. Over the next year, the current alumni house will be expanded to add space for the Hoekstras to entertain campus guests, students, staff, and faculty while still ensuring that the family—and especially the children—have their own space. The former president’s house, a stone’s throw farther away, will become the alumni house.

Both Erik and Barb are strongly committed to warmly welcoming the campus community and its visitors. 

“I watched my mom at work,” says Barb, recalling the days before her mom died suddenly from cancer. “She not only opened our home, but also enjoyed talking with visitors about what they were busy with, shared the joys and concerns of the campus, and met people where they were. I remember her reading about quarks before one campus speaker came to stay with us. She was a good role model for helping people feel welcome, not just in our home, but on campus as well.”

Barb expects to follow her example in her own way, balancing her role as president’s wife with her responsibilities as a faculty member.

“I want us to celebrate who we are as a college community and show care for people—students, faculty, alumni, staff, the UPS man—everyone who comes into contact with Dordt College,” she says.

Although she knows from experience that some days this side of their lives may feel quite public, she looks forward to the opportunities she knows it will give them as individuals and as a family. She currently has a reduced teaching load so that she can join Erik in telling others about the place they’ve committed themselves to. They look forward to every bit of effort they’ll put into it.


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