James ’58 and Mary Jane ’62 Lamse loved the German language—and they spent over 30 years cultivating a love of German in Calvin students. Through their lives and gifts they made a profound impact at Calvin. Now, through a generous gift from their estate, that legacy will live on for years to come.

The Lamse estate has funded a new endowment for the German program. Annual earnings from the endowment will fund cultural exchanges, student travel, scholarships for majors and minors, faculty research, and more.

“This generous gift comes at a very timely moment, as international travel and study abroad will look radically different in coming years,” said Corey Roberts, head of the German program and former student of James Lamse. “As we look to create enhanced abroad opportunities for the future, this gift will also support new program development and help us in efforts to keep these kinds of experiences available and accessible to our students,” he said.

Sharing the love of German

The names of James and Mary Jane Lamse are synonymous with Calvin’s German language program. After both graduating from Calvin, James returned to Calvin’s campus as a faculty member in 1969. He spent the next 31 years educating and fostering the love of the German language and culture.

In addition to teaching the language itself, James spent decades building both the German interim abroad and a summer work exchange program, which offered robust cultural exchange experiences between Calvin students and students in Germany. He led numerous interim groups and managed the details of nearly 300 exchanges, ensuring that things went smoothly in both countries. In recognition of James’ efforts to promote German American cross-cultural understanding, the German government awarded him the German Merit Cross.

James’ work was not done in isolation. Mary Jane, also a PhD in Germanic languages and literature, was a trusted partner and provided behind-the-scenes support to the exchange program. Mary Jane also led interim and taught German classes at Calvin, as well as worked as a translator, writer, and editor for the Amway Corp.

The Lamses were married for 55 years and have three surviving children: Elizabeth, Paul, and David. James died in 2014 and Mary Jane passed in September 2019.

Funding the endowment

Prior to their passing, the Lamses thoughtfully created an estate plan that provided gifts to ensure future Calvin students and faculty could continue to learn and explore the German culture. Within the past year, the Lamse German Studies Endowment was established and funded by their estate to fulfil the Lamses’ legacy wishes. Roberts, his colleagues in the German program, the academic dean, and Calvin’s development office worked in conjunction to craft the specifics of the new endowment.

Like many Calvin supporters, the Lamses recognized the opportunity to leave a legacy in their estate plan. After making provisions for loved ones, they allocated a portion of their final estate as a cash gift to support the continuation of their life’s work. When James passed in 2014, Mary Jane made the decision to also include Calvin as one of the beneficiaries on an IRA to support their legacy wishes.