May 22, 2009 | Myrna Anderson

Larry Louters will wear former Calvin president William Spoelhof's gown for Commencement.

Like his 319 colleagues on the Calvin faculty, chemistry professor Larry Louters will be dressing up in an academic gown and hood to attend this year’s Commencement. The gown and hood he will be wearing, however, are heirlooms that once belonged to Calvin’s former president Dr. William Spoelhof, Louters’ longtime friend.

"He had given me his robe about five or six years ago,” said Louters, displaying the garment. “This is the one he wore 90 percent of the time. It’s a really good quality one—tailored,” he added.

Louters is wearing the inherited regalia to honor Spoelhof, who served as Calvin’s president for 25 years and died on December 3, 2008. "He always made me feel like I was a better and stronger professor than I deserved,” he said. Louters became a Spoelhof colleague when he began teaching at Calvin in 1984.

Breakfast ritual

He became a Spoelhof friend 10 years after that. In 1994 following the death of Spoelhof’s wife, Ange, Louters and his wife Mary Jo began to have breakfast once a week with the former president. They always went to the same restaurant, The Gathering, said Louters, and they always had the same waitress: “She even came to the funeral.”

Louters chose a hood formerly belonging to Spoelhof from the many that are now part of the college archives in Heritage Hall. “I picked the only one with a white sash, and the reason I picked that one is that white is the color of the liberal arts—and there was no greater champion of the liberal arts than William Spoelhof,” said Louters, adding: “I think it’s actually the one he got from Hope.” Calvin archivist Richard Harms will wear another of Spoelhof’s hoods to Commencement.

Passing the torch

The former president did not consider himself iconic, Louters emphasized: “I don’t think he thought everything he did was so special that it should be revered. That’s why he passed the robe down to me. It’s the idea that the institution is bigger than a single person.”

Spoelhof attended Commencement ceremonies long after he retired in 1976. “It was such a special event for him,” Louters said. “He loved seeing the faculty at Commencement—all the colors.”

Wearing his friend’s cap and gown will be a bittersweet experience, Louters said. “It reminds me of him and his legacy, so there will be some joy in that regard … but there will be sadness. I miss him.”

Larry Louters displays William Spoelhof's academic robe.

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