August 26, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

Before Tom McWhertor came to Calvin in the early 1990’s, some of his future colleagues had already heard a lot about him.

“I knew ‘of’ him way before I knew him,” said Bob Crow, a former colleague of McWhertor’s at Calvin and now chief development officer at Multiply 222 Network. “He was a legend around my hometown and my alma mater (and his), Grove City College.”

Now, after 18 years of faithful service at Calvin, his former colleagues are experiencing the fruits of his labor. On Thursday, August 17, Tom McWhertor, 72, died following a struggle with cancer.

Taking action

“Tommy cared about Calvin deeply and wasn’t afraid to take risks to make Calvin better,” said Crow.

Joel Carpenter, who served as provost during McWhertor's time on the Calvin’s administration, said “Tom was entrepreneurial, but more the person to give ideas legs than to be the great visionary.”

One need look no further than the makeup of Calvin’s student body to see how his 18 years of diligent work and wise counsel as an enrollment and external relations administrator has helped a vision move toward reality.

“Tom led out in modernizing Calvin’s student recruitment and enrollment process, making it more data-driven than ever before, and more outreach-oriented in seeking students in every part of the United States and around the world,” said Carpenter, who now serves as senior research fellow at the Nagel Institute. “Under his leadership the college made early moves that over time have gained us the continued growth of U.S. minority and Global South student enrollments at Calvin.”

Acting justly

“He and I worked together closely on Calvin’s first anti-racism team in 1998-2004, and we were co-drafters, along with some others, of From Every Nation (2004), Calvin’s guide for its efforts to become more just in inter-racial and cross-cultural relationships and to become a genuinely intercultural community,” said Carpenter. “I did the first draft of the main text, citing issues and aims, and Tom drafted the actual policies we would pursue to move us toward those goals.”

Now, two decades later, that pursuit continues, and Calvin’s student body is part of McWhertor’s ongoing legacy.

“In my last conversation with Tom, I recounted for him the role of Calvin’s Anti-Racism Team (CART),” said Crow, who served with McWhertor on the team. “If I remember correctly, in 1998 we had 2.5% international students and 3.5% North American ethnic minority students. CART started sketching out plans that had a 20–30-year vision. It all seemed too big, so far away. But by the time I left in 2019, so 20 years later, Calvin had something like 12% international and 16% North American ethnic minority students, nearly a third of the student body!”

And those numbers have only increased over the past four years.

“While CART was a formidable team, particularly with Dr. Joel Carpenter and Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige, I credit the real MVP, who was the ‘behind the scenes’ champion of the entire project, with administrative detail skills that kept the big ship turning around to Tommy McWhertor,” said Crow.

Compelled by his faith

For McWhertor, the details were important, because people mattered to him, justice mattered to him, because they mattered to God. And his faith compelled him to diligently act.

“Tom was a principled person who acted on his beliefs in all circumstances, regardless of the cost. He was inclusive and non-judgmental,” said Shirley Hoogstra, who joined Calvin’s administration about halfway into McWhertor’s tenure and now serves as the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. “He was a great friend and mentor. There was no question that I had that was dumb or silly. He looked out for me to make sure that I had a good start. He was always a great conversation partner.”

“Tom was a firm believer in a Colossians 1 understanding of who our Lord Jesus is: creator and sustainer of all things, in whom all things hold together,” said Carpenter. “Tom lived and breathed the holistic vision of Christian witness and work and was especially keen to see the College and the Christian Reformed Church live out that witness, particularly in matters of public justice.”

A life of service

In total, McWhertor served many ministries for a half century, the Coalition for Christian Outreach, the Center for Public Justice, World Renew, and Church of the Servant, to name a few. He was also part of the founding group that started the Pittsburgh Urban Christian School and was a key administrator for the Williamsburg Charter Foundation, an effort to reaffirm the First Amendment Religious Liberty Clauses, and the CS Lewis Foundation.

“Tom will be remembered for loving people well, for the courage of his convictions, and for being passionate about the Calvin project,” said Hoogstra.

“He loved the Lord. He loved his family. He was a good friend to many. I’m honored to have been among them,” said Crow.

McWhertor is survived by his wife of 49 years, Janice, their children Kate and Justin Sybenga, Annie McWhertor, Christopher and Rebecca McWhertor, Colin McWhertor and Lerae Kroon, and ten grandchildren.

A celebration of Tom’s life is being held on Saturday, August 26, 2023, at 2 p.m. at Church of the Servant. (3835 Burton St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546)

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