Dordt College News

Distinguished alumni

August 20, 2011

Distinguished Alumnus: Social Sciences


Dr. James Verbrugge believes that if the American people were told the truth about the United States economy they would understand what has to be done.

I have faith in people, but not so much in the politicians who lead us,” he says. That’s because much of what happens is driven by money. “News and talk shows don’t tell us the truth. A president should, but neither Obama nor Bush has done so.” He thinks that former president Dwight Eisenhower knew what he was talking about in his farewell speech to the country in which he warned Americans to beware of the growing military industrial complex.

Verbrugge (’60), received his A.A. Degree from Dordt College in 1960 when it was a two-year college. He is emeritus professor of finance at Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia. He completed his B.A. at Calvin College and received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Kentucky.

An expert on the banking industry, Verbrugge has testified on the modernization of the Federal Home Loan Banking system before the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. His research on financial markets and institutions, banking, and bank privatization has been widely published, and his teaching interests include venture capital, management of financial institutions, entrepreneurial finance, and money and capital markets.

While Verbrugge doesn’t claim to be able to solve U.S. economic problems overnight, he knows what the solution is: the country needs to create an economy that is sustainable. He thinks the past summer’s focus on the debt ceiling is much ado about nothing. The market crash of 2008 was the consequence of years of unsustainable practices, policies and laws, he believes.

“It’s like ignoring symptoms of poor health until a person faints,” he says. He believes that politicians haven’t been willing to address deepening problems and have only looked for short-term fixes.

“Instead of focusing on the deficit, we need to find long-term solutions and create conditions that lead to economic growth over time,” he says.

Verbrugge believes the U.S. needs to decide  how it wants to spend its money. That means, among other things, tackling large entitlements—from defense and cotton subsidies in Georgia to ethanol subsidies in Iowa to sugar subsidies in Louisiana. He advocates a complete overhaul of the tax system.

“We need to create a system that considers the interests of U.S. citizens as a whole, not the interests of individual groups and states,” he says. That is not an easy task. Every program and tax break has advocates, and the more money the organization has, the stronger its lobby. Every mortgage deduction, farm subsidy, and corporate tax break means those who don’t benefit from it pay more, Verbrugge points out.

He says we need a way to generate revenue that is efficient and equitable.

Verbrugge believes that the Simpson-Bowles Presidential Commission which proposed some short- and long-term policies to improve U.S. fiscal sustainability made some good recommendations. But the political will was not there to move forward.

Coming back to Dordt over Alumni Weekend brought back memories that Verbrugge has not thought about for some time. Dordt was the right place for him when he arrived as a Minnesota farm boy, and his time here served as the launch pad for the rest of his life. He didn’t know what he wanted to do back then, just that he wanted to do something other than farming. It was in graduate school that he realized his interests and skills were in finance. He expected to stay at the University of Georgia for two or three years. That turned into 35 years.

“Life is a journey,” he said. It took him out of the Christian Reformed community of his youth to the Presbyterian community of his adult life, but for him the journey hasn’t just been toward the final day of Christ’s coming. It’s been working as a grace-filled person who knows something about banking and finance and has been given opportunities to share what he’s learned with students, government leaders, and those he worships within Athens, Georgia.

Distinguished Alumnus: Humanities


John Rozeboom prizes his Dordt student friendships, many of which continue today.

John Rozeboom recently retired as Director of Home Missions in the Christian Reformed Church, a position he held since 1986. He spent his entire career helping develop new churches across the United States and Canada.

In remarks at the dinner honoring this year’s distinguished alumni, Rozeboom used two words to characterize Dordt College and the Dordt people he’s known throughout his lifetime: audacity (spirited risk-taking) and tenacity (persistent hanging on).

Rozeboom recalls a choir tour on which he and his fellow travelers listened to founding president B.J. Haan encourage students not to be afraid of taking risks to accomplish good things. And he recalls Mrs. Deborah Haan adding, “And pray.”

“I never got over Dordt College,” he said, citing breathtaking risks by leaders of a fledgling institution, bold leadership through writing and speaking, godly teaching and mentoring, a scrappy basketball team that never should have done as well as it did in the early years, and 60-year friendships that encouraged and inspired him—like angels, God’s messengers of grace.

“I pray your testimonies of risk-taking and hanging on keep hanging on,” he concluded.

Distinguished Alumna: Natural Sciences


The Des Moines Register has called Marlys Popma one of the top 50 individuals in Iowa who can make or break a GOP presidential candidate.

Popma, who has held numerous state and national political roles, is currently the Senior Projects Director at Campaign Headquarters, an organization whose website calls itself one of the country’s best conservative call centers.

Popma has also served as Executive Director for the Republican Party of Iowa, founding chair of Iowa Right to Life, and executive director of the Iowa Family Policy Center. She was the spokesperson for the McCaughy septuplets born in Iowa several years ago.

In her remarks at the dinner honoring this year’s distinguished alumni, however, she calls herself first of all a wife, mom, and grandma.

Popma became involved with Right to Life in the early 80s. As a young wife and mother, she became actively involved in the Agape Christian Action Council in Northwest Iowa. During those years, she recalls feeling impatient that others didn’t bring the same passion to fighting abortion that she did. Today she says she’s learned that not everyone is called to be an activist—although she firmly believes that everyone is called to educate themselves on issues and vote in a way that reflects their deepest convictions.

“God has work for all of us,” she says, believing that each person has the responsibility to do the best they can at whatever they choose to do. “Christ expects excellence,” she says. “Ardent faith and love of the Lord can take you on an amazing journey if you’re not afraid of who you are because of him,” she says. Popma recalls having that thought as she and her husband walked out of a Christmas party in the East Room of the White House some years ago.

Popma spent eight months during the last presidential election working in Virginia with John McCain’s campaign as the National Director of Evangelical Outreach. Even though it was one of the most difficult jobs she has had, she believes she made the right decision in joining the campaign.

“Maybe the most important thing that came from it was leading a Wednesday night Bible study faithfully attended by 35–40 young campaign workers,” she says, noting that it’s not as hard to stand firmly for what you believe at 55 as it is at 25.

Popma’s political work is driven by a strong faith and a worldview she learned at Dordt College, where she was a physical education major. She’s motivated by the belief that God is sovereign over everyone and everything and that everything she does must honor and glorify him. 

“The more I mature the more I understand how important it is to be cloaked in God’s grace,” she says. In a conversation with another political activist who she describes as being as far away from her politically as is possible, she told her she would pray for her husband, recently diagnosed with cancer. In the often rancorous world of partisan politics, Popma’s unexpected and simple statement made an impact. Popma hopes others will see what drives her and that they will experience Christ’s love even if they disagree with her.

Among conservative political activists two approaches are emerging, Popma says. One she calls the “movement conservatives”—those who are engrossed in one issue, often lacking in love as they fight for it.

The other approach emphasizes social justice and is more pragmatic about bringing change, she believes.

“Over the years, especially the last three or four, I’ve realized that there is only one great commission,” she says. “Our task is to be faithful, not to win.”

Popma remains passionately committed to working for pro-life and other family issues, but she also believes that if people cannot see Christ in her actions, she fails.

“We need to be always watching out for ways, for example, to show that abortion is wrong, but we need to think about how we can bring needed change.” Sometimes that is in small steps—steps that may even seem like compromise at the time.

“Christ calls us to be salt and light,” she says. She asks herself whether some of what she’s done over the years is too much of one or the other. She’ll keep working at being both.


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