This spring, the Calvin Alumni Association thanked special education professor Tom Hoeksema ’68 with the Faith and Learning Award.

This award is given annually to a former Calvin professor—retired or left for another institution—who has left a lasting impression on his/her students.

Hoeksema’s career as a pioneer of special education at Calvin was heralded. After graduating from Calvin in 1968 and receiving master’s and doctoral degrees in special education at Michigan State University, he came back to his alma mater in 1975 to establish a special education program at the college. He taught at Calvin until retirement in 2011.

“The name Tom Hoeksema is synonymous with special education at Calvin College,” said Carol Vanden Bosch Rottman ’60, who presented the award to Hoeksema. “He realized that education for students who learn uniquely or face barriers to learning because of physical disabilities needed a special kind of teacher. He modeled that type of teaching in his classes—always going the extra mile to encourage and inspire college students to use their talent to serve others. Hundreds of college students have been sent out ready to meet the challenges of disability and thousands of school children continue to learn from them. Tom used an experiential approach to teaching and learning.”

Not only did Hoeksema develop the proper philosophical framework and curriculum for the new program, he also knew that much had to be done to the physical environment for students with disabilities to live, learn and thrive.

“Tom did the right thing for the right reasons, in and out of the classroom. He became advisor to disabled students at Calvin,” noted Rottman.

“In the early 80s Calvin had two accessible dorm rooms both in women’s dorms,” she said. “When my son, Doug, decided to enroll at Calvin, Tom advocated for the creation of a dorm room to accommodate a quadriplegic in a motorized wheel chair who needed attendants to do the things he could not do. Tom contacted two students to work as attendants and made sure the room was ready by September. At that time, Calvin had no automatic doors and many classrooms not accessible (partly because they were was no elevator to that floor). Tom worked tirelessly to improve the campus from that time on, raising the consciousness of the community to understand the limitations of physical disability. The smooth walkways across the campus were a response to the issues Doug faced as the first wheelchair bound student living on campus.”

Rottman mentioned that Hoeksema could “feel the deep desires of persons with limitations that went far beyond just getting into places.”

“His life demonstrated inclusion—he respected and loved each of them. I can speak for only one family, but believe this kind of caring is Tom’s lasting spiritual legacy. God called Tom for such a time as this and he answered,” she said.