Although he got his bachelor’s degree in 1971 and his father was a Calvin student when he was born, Gerard Venema wasn’t planning on coming back to Calvin to teach. After getting his PhD in mathematics at the University of Utah in 1975, he proceeded to take two postdoctoral positions, one at the University of Texas from 1975 to 1977, then at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, from 1977 to 1979. He thought he had made up his mind to pursue mathematical research at a research university, but instead, then-professor Paul Zwier suggested that he apply for a position at Calvin. He began teaching here in 1979.
A passion for mathematics can be traced back to Venema’s high school days. “It’s something I like and I’m good at. It was a natural thing,” he said. He and his family lived in Grand Rapids until he was five years old, then they moved to Iowa, New Zealand, back to Michigan, and then California before he came to Calvin for his undergraduate studies.
As a Calvin professor, Venema enjoyed interacting with students who were interested in going on in mathematics after Calvin. “For many years, I would teach a course in topology every other year. It was my specialty. Usually only the students who are really serious about understanding mathematics take that. I’ve [also] really enjoyed teaching the geometry course for future high school teachers,” he said.
For the last seven or eight years, Venema has worked for the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). He is responsible for the scientific program at their two annual meetings: a joint meeting in January, and “MathFest” in the summer. During his retirement from Calvin, he will continue working with MAA at least through 2019 and will be working on the third edition of his book, The Foundations of Geometry. He also looks forward to traveling with his wife, Patricia, and spending time with his three children and two grandchildren.
Although Venema’s career at Calvin was atypical, he is thankful for all the encouragement he received from the mathematics department over the years. “I did some things that were a little different than anyone in the mathematics department had done before I came, and they always supported me,” he said. “I just want to thank Calvin. Calvin has always supported the work that I’ve done.”