Bernard “Pek” Pekelder served the college for 23 years.
The Rev. Bernard “Pek” Pekelder, the first chaplain hired by Calvin College, passed away on Friday, September 21, at the age of 89. Pekelder served the college as chaplain from 1962-1985; in 1972, he added the title and responsibilities of vice president for student affairs to his work.
“At the time Reverend Pekelder was nominated by the faculty to the newly-created office of chaplain, the position was yet ill-defined,” notes a Spark magazine story written for Pekelder’s retirement in 1985. “The introduction of that new office was complicated by the ecclesiastical question of the place of student worship and pastoral services in a college-church setting.”
Pekelder’s foundational work in this ministry was lauded.
“My heart swells with gratitude to God for how the Lord used this wise Christian gentleman to shape Calvin College and to guide so many within its ranks toward Christian growth and maturity,” wrote Dale Cooper, who followed Pekelder as Calvin’s chaplain.
“I belong to that multitude of persons whom he influenced,” Cooper stated. “Both during my student days and also, some years later, when I became his colleague—his pupil, really—he was my gentle and caring teacher, my wise friend. Whatever I knew about chaplaincy, I learned from Pek.”
Many Calvin students remember Pekelder’s chapel talks—he spoke in chapel almost every week and conducted over 200 Sunday worship services—and he used a regular character, “Fog” (so-named for “Feet On Ground”), who became his prototype for the Calvin student of the day. Over the years, “Fog” observed and commented on issues as varied as The Beatles, the Vietnam War and the first moon landing.
In 1999, the Calvin Alumni Association published a collection of 60 of these talks under the title Fog Goes to Chapel.
In one of these chapel addresses, “On Being Christian,” Pekelder asserted: “Our words will make no difference if we are not persons of honesty, kindness, purity, forgiveness and graciousness in our life with others. Such virtues are not just topics of conversation; they must be the stuff out of which our lives are made.”
Prior to his work at Calvin, Pekelder served as a pastor of Christian Reformed churches in Jamestown and Grand Rapids, Mich., and Midland Park, N.J. After his retirement from the Calvin administration, he often preached and led Bible studies in Bradenton, Fla.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 51 years, Jane (VanderGriend). He is survived by his children, Anne (Michael) Bruinooge, Ben (Pam) Pekelder, Mary (Tom) Hoeksema, Jane (Daniel) Ward and Ruth Pekelder (Rick Huizinga); 20 grandchildren; and 30 great-grandchildren.
Memorial gifts may be given to the Pekelder Special Education Scholarship of Calvin College or the Pekelder Preaching Scholarship of Calvin Theological Seminary.