Dordt College News

Remembering President J.B. Hulst

May 24, 2013

“We have lost
a visionary
   servant leader”


Dr. John B. Hulst, the second president of Dordt college, died on Friday, February 8, 2013, in Pella, Iowa. Hulst was 83 years old.

The importance of John Hulst’s leadership to Dordt College and the kingdom of God throughout the world is incredible. John’s engaging mind, his servant’s heart, his encouraging spirit, and his tireless work ethic have been a gift to many,” said President Erik Hoekstra upon Hulst’s passing.

Raised and later ordained as a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, Hulst served as Christian Reformed pastor before he began teaching theology at Dordt College in 1968. Over the years, he moved from theology professor to campus pastor to dean of students to president. His presidency, from 1982 to 1996, marked a time of significant growth and maturing in Dordt College history.

As president of Dordt College, Hulst helped put in place a strong faculty development program so that Dordt’s academic program would prepare students well for their future lives and professions. He broadened Dordt’s and its students’ connections to people and institutions around the world, bringing in students and professors from other cultures and expanding the available options for off campus programs. During his tenure, Dordt’s master of education program began, the college received its first $1 million gift, enrollment rebounded, the number of faculty with Ph.D.s increased, a bold campus plan began to be implemented, and new technology was embraced.

Following are some remembrances of John Hulst from people connected to Dordt College and to some of the other Christian educational organizations to which he gave leadership.

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To be reformed is to be reforming

I remember John Hulst’s passion, organizational skills, clarity of vision, sense of humor, genuine interest in others, and gentle love as a husband and (grand)father. Perhaps even more important was his ability to change, grow, develop, deepen, and broaden his perspective on life, culture, the world, and even history. This remarkable gift enabled him to press for ongoing renewal in culture, education, politics, and recreation. His worldview continued to deepen and broaden as he lived. For him “To be Reformed was to be reforming” and enabled him to become less theologically rigid and more biblical, less ecclesiastical and more kingdom-oriented, less seminary-minded and more Christian-education-centered.

Dr. John C. Vander Stelt, emeritus professor, Dordt College


John’s gentleness never served as a substitute for conflict. He recognized that leadership in Christian higher education would entail conflict, including disagreements with other Christians; and yet he showed me ways to minimize conflicts that would weaken the cause. John’s way of living demonstrated an integration of mission and life. As he once noted, John Calvin’s central theological category is grace. In many ways John embodied a gracious response to the disagreements of life. Despite the inconveniences of polio, I never once heard him complain. Despite disagreements over issues general and specific, he maintained a public graciousness even in the face of fierce opposition. I am grateful to God that John so graciously provided us with an example of a fully integrated public life.

Dr. Nick Lantinga, associate professor, Handong Global University, and Hulst’s successor as executive director of IAPCHE while its home office was located on the Dordt College campus

Man with vision

From the time I met him I experienced John Hulst as a man with a vision. In the 70s I was privileged to work closely with John in the writing of Dordt’s institutional statement of purpose: The Educational Task of Dordt College. Our collaboration, requiring meeting after meeting, inviting intensive debate, and prompting mutual encouragement, remains in my mind as a happy memory. When I think back to the years of Dr. Hulst at Dordt College, I think of friendship and good times, to be sure, but especially of his unwavering commitment to vision and perspective. As we know, without vision we perish.

Dr. John Van Dyk, emeritus professor, Dordt College

Supporter of a bigger vision

One of the things that most impressed me about John was his encouragement to those of us working to develop the Association for Public Justice. He, of course, was one of the founders and even though he didn’t know a lot about politics and government, he sensed the common spirit we shared as we tried to develop a Christian approach to politics in the United States. He encouraged us to move ahead, even if he didn’t know where it was going to end up.

Dr. James Skillen, former Dordt professor and executive director of the Center for Public Justice

Dogged fundraiser

I learned to know John as a mentor and friend while I was president of the Institute for Christian Studies and he was chair of the board at ICS. His wealth of experience and the respect he enjoyed were great assets to ICS. John and I particularly enjoyed a good working relationship in fundraising. I learned something from John with every visit we made. I recall an occasion when we were trying to convince someone to take a leadership position in a fundraising campaign. This person politely declined three or four times during our visit, and when John approached the matter from yet another angle, the person said in exasperation, “The word ‘No’ isn’t in your vocabulary, is it?’” It wasn’t when the issue was integral Christian scholarship and teaching.

Dr. Harry Fernhout (’70), president of the King’s University College

Quiet dignity

When Dr. John B. Hulst began teaching theology at Dordt College in 1968, I was one of his first students. I remember his quiet dignity and his impressive command of the material as he lectured to hundreds of first-year students in the old gymnasium at Dordt. Deeply committed to a Kuyperian vision of life and society, John Hulst had an unstoppable passion for higher education in the Reformed tradition. What I remember most vividly, however, and with greatest appreciation, is John’s genuine interest and care for the young people he served over the years. Blessed with a deep bass voice and a lively intelligence, he would always seek me out at meetings to ask about my life and to offer words of appreciation and encouragement. Even though he had served thousands of undergraduates over the years, he always let me know I had his personal blessing. We have lost a visionary servant leader. Asking God to sustain his loved ones, we give heartfelt thanks for his life and work.

Dr. Lambert Zuidervaart (’72), one of Hulst’s early students, now professor of philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies


Dr. Hulst often reminded me that the development and promotion of a Reformed Christian perspective was more important than promoting the college, although he saw promoting Dordt College as crucially important to promoting such a vision.

Lyle Gritters, former vice president for college advancement at Dordt College

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