May 22, 2024 | Matt Kucinski

An image of Bette Bosma with

Bette Bosma always loved reading and she spent nearly a half century of her life in formal roles helping students of all ages grow in their appreciation of the craft.

“Her impact on the students she taught and the local education community will be long-felt and remembered,” said Arden Ruth Post, a former colleague of Bosma’s at Calvin University. “She shaped future teachers who imparted their own love of literacy learning to their students.”

Bosma, who died on May 5, 2024, at the age of 96, graduated with an education degree from Calvin in 1948. For a greater part of the next three decades, she’d split time between teaching in Christian and public schools. And, in 1976, upon completing a master’s degree from Michigan State University, she began a new venture. (Note: She’d earn her PhD from Michigan State in 1981.)

Teaching teachers

“Kathryn Blok [a Calvin education professor at the time] persuaded me to come and teach teachers because of the number of students I would be able to influence,” said Bosma in 2002. “She told me to think of the number of students you have contact with as a teacher and then multiply that number by the number of all of their future students.”

For the next 16 years until her retirement in 1992, Bosma would teach in the education department at her alma mater. During that time, Bosma estimates she directly taught thousands of current teachers.

“Bette was a most excellent colleague. She was both a scholar and fine teacher, unpretentious, generous with her time, caring with her students and peers,” said Thomas Hoeksema Sr., a former colleague of Bosma’s. “As a young faculty member and throughout our overlapping time at Calvin, she nurtured me. I remain thankful.”

Looking ahead

Even as she nurtured college students and her colleagues, she also continued to have an eye on the next generation. And, in 1976, Bosma and her colleague Kathryn Blok launched a Young Authors Festival at Calvin that for three decades would each year draw renowned authors and grade-school students to campus.

“Her legacy will forever be the Young Authors Festival,” said Yvonne Van Ee, a former colleague of Bosma’s. “And also training and encouraging elementary education students to be excellent teachers of reading.”

And Bosma’s investment in her students didn’t end when they graduated. She continued to big among their biggest supporters in the years to come. In fact, in 2002, ten years after she retired from Calvin, several of her former students successfully nominated her for the Calvin Alumni Association’s Faith and Learning Award, an award that honors excellence in teaching, spiritual impact, concern for students, and lasting influence.

Inspiring graduates

A shining and tangible example of the impact Bosma had on her former students can be seen at 810 Van Raalte Dr SW in Grand Rapids, Michigan—the site of The Potter’s House Christian School. The Christian school located in central Grand Rapids for children from families that could not otherwise afford private-school tuition, was a dream too big for many. But not for some of Bosma’s former students, nor Bosma herself.

“The Potter’s House did not exist when I started my master’s project,” wrote John Booy ’74, one of the school’s founders, back in 2002 in his nomination letter for Bosma receiving the Faith and Learning Award. “My colleagues and I were asked to start the school while we were doing the project. Most people thought that starting a new school in Grand Rapids was a foolish idea. This is where Bette really stuck her neck out … Bette assured us that we could do it and volunteered hundreds of hours helping as a consultant as we planned and evaluated our program. Bette willingly put her name on our advisory board and became a financial donor.”

Today, Potter’s House stands as part of Bosma’s ongoing legacy, providing a Christ-centered education to more than 600 students of all ethnic heritages and income levels, equipping them to serve God and society to their fullest potential.

Rooted in faith

Bosma’s continual encouragement of teachers and future learners was rooted in her Christian faith. In fact, in Christian Perspective on the Teaching of Reading, a co-authored work with Blok, Bosma states, “The Christian teacher will ask, ‘Is this how Jesus would prepare and teach if this were His classroom? Is my response to each individual shaped by a keen awareness that each is an image bearer of God regardless of level of achievement, personality traits, or classroom behavior?”

These words of advice are indeed what shaped Bosma’s time teaching at Calvin and beyond.

“Bette’s Christian faith was evident in interactions with colleagues and the broader community. She showed love and compassion to students, colleagues, and the community in which she lived and worked,” said Post.

“In my classroom and in my life, I feel strongly that you just live your faith,” said Bosma in 2002. “You don’t have to talk about it all the time. I believe that you cannot teach without revealing your faith.”

Bosma was preceded in death by her husband John and by seven of her siblings. She is survived by her four children, Susan (David) Hoekema, Tim (Kim) Bosma, Jane (Brian) VanderPloeg, and Paul (Alice) Bosma; 11 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and many beloved nephews and nieces.

Recent stories