May 06, 2016

Gretchen Toxopeus Pyles

Each year C Club, the Calvin College alumni athletic organization, recognizes a former Knight who has served God, church and community with the Christian character that was partly shaped by participation in the athletic program at Calvin College. Previous recipients of this award have been Anthony Diekema ’56 and Mark Veenstra ’76.

Being part of a team has always meant something to Gretchen Toxopeus Pyles ’91. As a member of Calvin’s women soccer team and track and field squad, she enjoyed the camaraderie and encouragement that team sports provides—and the emphasis on faith made that experience even more meaningful.

But during her senior year, the importance of spiritually aware teammates proved to be especially valuable.

“Both the soccer and track teams were like family to me,” she said. “During my senior year, my 16-year-old brother died in a car accident, and I couldn’t go on the annual spring break trip to Gulf Shores [Alabama]. I was all set to go, but just couldn’t.

“When I came back to school after break, the team gave me a cassette recording of ‘When Peace Like a River’ that team members had sung in a church in Gulf Shores. I can’t tell you how much that song and those teammates helped me.”

Pyles still has the recording and still listens to it.

Handling success and adversity

“The team aspect of sports is all-important. Being on a team helps you handle success and adversity well,” she said. “Everyone on a team has a gift, and together a team can express something that’s all for God’s glory. It’s something that transcends the athletic field.”

Pyles played soccer for Calvin from 1987-90 and was on the 1988-91 track teams. Women’s soccer became a varsity sport her sophomore year and an MIAA sport her junior year and she was an All-MIAA selection in 1989 and 1990. On the track in 1990, she was on a relay team that achieved All-American status.

After Calvin, Pyles went to West Virginia University for law school where she met her husband, Chris.

As a young attorney, she recalls working on workman’s compensation claims in the coal mining industry, an experience that was challenging emotionally as well as professionally. She also began coaching girls’ soccer in West Virginia—something she’s delighted to do wherever she has lived.

When Chris was relocated by work to Amherst, New Hampshire, the landscape for Pyles and her family changed dramatically, but the call to serve remained.

“I have always thought that you need to do what you can where you are,” she said. “Yes, some are called internationally, but most of us are called to do God’s work where he has placed us.”

Engaging in community

So to work she went. As she became the mother of three children, Pyles pulled back on her legal work and got engaged in the town of Amherst.

“Our town really is like a Norman Rockwell painting,” she said.

Pyles became involved in the town’s public library, volunteering, running the annual book sale, promoting the events and programs of the place. Recently, she was elected to the library’s board of trustees.

“I’ve always been passionate about libraries,” she said. “You can get just about everything you need from your public library.”

In addition, she has served on the town’s Fourth of July Committee, pre-school education board and recreation league. Oh, and she still coaches girls’ sports, too.

Sensing with others that her congregation, Amherst Congregational Church, needed a refreshed mission, Pyles has been working on a long-range planning team to refocus the church’s ministry.

“We’re rethinking how we should be speaking to the next generation of believers,” she said. “Thinking outside of the box is important.”

Finally, Pyles also serves as executive director of the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association, which seeks to promote women in the legal profession throughout the state. As she has personally experienced, it is very challenging for women to achieve a good work-life balance and to stay engaged in the profession after having children.

“Our organization also works on issues related to women serving in senior legal positions and on judicial appointments,” she said.

In all of her activities, building team chemistry has proved vital—and that’s a key lesson Pyles learned as a Calvin College Knight.

Pyles said: “I’ve simply considered doing what I understood any Calvin graduate would do.”




Gretchen Toxopeus Pyles '91

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