Van Dyke’s time at Olivet comes to an end soon
By Autumn Keiss
He paces up and down his classroom, arms waving frantically. Sometimes he sits on his desk, sometimes he squats on it, and sometimes he stands on top of it.
He jumps, he pleads, het gets right in students faces and makes them forget there is a clock, forget about being late for their next class.
When Howie is teaching it is impossible to focus on anything else other than the fact that the dynamic professor will leave Olivet after this semester.
Adjunct professor Howard Van Dyke, affectionately known as Howie to his students, is finishing his last year at Olivet, where he teaches Christian Scriptures I and Hebrew classes.
“I’m going back home to Massachusetts,” Van Dyke said. “I can’t wait. I’m going to lie on the beach all summer and get a tan.”
Van Dyke, who graduated from Olivet before becoming a professor, always knew he would leave the school behind.
“I knew I would go at some point,” he said. “As an adjunct I’m hired per class. Olivet could hire me full time since I have my master’s degree, but that wouldn’t be a smart decision. Universities need PhDs.”
Van Dyke is leaving this semester, because his wife is finishing her master’s degree at Olivet.
“I am now free to go do postgraduate work. I didn’t get my PhD because my wife wanted to get her master’s.
“After she didn’t complain about all I put her through when I was working around the clock on my degree there was no way I was going to keep her from doing that.”
Van Dyke will do his postgraduate work at Brandeis University, a prestigious Jewish research institution.
“It has the top scholars in my field, and it’s wicked hard to get into and highly selective,” he said.
Van Dyke is excited to leave the Midwest, an area he complains about to his students.
“I’ll miss the Midwest, but I feel like I’m in exile here. There are no mountains, no beaches, no driving two hours and being in the woods of Maine. There is nothing here. It’s like a big cardboard box.”
Van Dyke said he will miss his students and friends but little else.
“The one thing I’ll miss about the Midwest is Burrito Loco. It’s the best Mexican food I’ve ever had,” he said.
He will also miss Olivet.
“I’ll miss Olivet but nothing in particular. I mean, what am I going to miss? The clock tower?”
There is one thing about Olivet Van Dyke will not miss: the shrubbery.
“No particular reason why I won’t miss it,” he said. “I just won’t.”
During his time here, Van Dyke believes he has made an impact on student’s lives.
“I feel like I’ve made a difference. I don’t know what, though it seems positive.
“I’ve built relationships with students other professors can’t. My situation is unique because I went to school here. I went to school with my students’ older brother and had their middle sister in class so I’m able to get inside their lives.
“On a normal Tuesday or Thursday when I don’t have classes I’ll have five or more students stop by with issues who need advice. In that area I’ve made quite a difference.”
Despite his long history at Olivet, Van Dyke does not believe he will return to the school.
“I probably won’t come back,” he said. “I’ll teach. I feel called to teach, but I don’t know. I may end up writing articles or doing archeology. I’ll do whatever God leads me to do.
“My time here has been a ministry and my season here is over. Maybe I’ll join the Peace Corps and pull babies out of the gutter. That would be just like me.”
Students and Faculty Will Miss Van Dyke
Adjunct professor Howard Van Dyke raises attendance of Capital Hill Gang debates by being on the panel. He has inspired students to audit a general education course, just so they can listen to him speak.
Both the students and faculty of Olivet will miss him when he leaves at the end of the semester.
Some of their lives have been changed by Van Dyke. Sophomore Ashely Desrochers met Van Dyke at her childhood camp in Vermont.
“Howie has had a positive influence on me,” she said. “He is often a comic relief and a comforter in times when I have shared worries or burdens.
“He is a big brother figure to me and a lovely friend.”
Van Dyke helped freshman Aimee Fish feel more comfortable at Olivet.
“I’ve known Howie since I was eleven and he worked at my church,” Fish said. “He definitely made the transition to Olivet a lot easier.
“Having someone I am comfortable around made college a lot less stressful. Plus Howie has just been so helpful and willing to help me if I ever need anything. He even gave me my first tour of Olivet.”
Other students have begun viewing Christianity differently after taking Van Dyke’s Christian Scriptures I class.
“Howie has utterly and completely convinced me that God is screaming at us to do no more and no less than love,” freshman Hannah Miller said.
“Since he first put me in his class, I have never once left it without being challenged to rearrange my priorities and make time to be there to help people who need it, simply because I am called to and can.”
Van Dyke has also changed the views of freshman Logan Long.
“Howie taught me that I really don’t know anything when it comes to the scriptures,” Long said. “Because of what he taught me I’m eventually going to continue my studies on a masters level, studying the Old Testament specifically”
Students and colleagues describe Van Dyke as passionate, crazy, energetic, odd and loving. Both groups will miss Van Dyke, but are excited to see what God has planned for his life.
“I have mixed feelings about his departure,” said Mark Frisius, assistant professor of theology. “I am sad to lose a colleague and friend. However, I am also happy for this new stage in his life, and wish him God’s deepest blessings.”
Van Dyke has been accepted to Brandeis , a prestigious Jewish research institution, where he plans to do postgraduate work. His acceptance has impressed some colleagues and they believe receiving his doctorate will help make Van Dyke a better teacher.
“I’m thrilled that he has been accepted at Brandeis. This is a strong program and it will prepare him – and position him – for a successful future,” said Carl Leth, dean of the school of theology and Christian ministry. “He will be a great teacher and scholar – and make contributions in both roles wherever he goes.”
Like his colleagues, students will miss Van Dyke, but believe his change of venue is for the best.
“I think it stinks that Howie is leaving Olivet, but I feel like he was always meant to be in Boston,” Fish said. “He has done a lot of great things here at Olivet and touched a lot of people’s lives along the way.
“This campus and its faculty and staff love Howard Van Dyke. But Boston really is the best place on earth, and he would agree with me on that. ”