“After losing somebody,” Corrine Junga VanderSpek ’10 explained, “you pretty quickly figure out that you want to do anything to keep their memory alive and to keep their legacy going.”
That sentiment led the alumna to create a named scholarship to honor her husband, Danny, after he unexpectedly passed away in 2014 from complications related to a short battle with cancer. “It was really meaningful to have his name be a part of Calvin forever,” VanderSpek said. “We are able to help someone else and also connect our journey at Calvin with students who are there now.”
Though she could have memorialized her husband in countless ways, VanderSpek said funding a scholarship was the obvious choice for her. “Calvin was such a special place to us, and it was so crucial to forming us as people.”
The couple met in their dorm freshman year and built a friendship within a supportive community of peers. Though she was pursuing a degree in sociology and he was focused on engineering, the two took several core classes together and had the chance to explore different topics as they became acquainted. “It’s such a unique time,” VanderSpek reflected, “just being able to live and study with your friends. We were dealing with difficult questions and figuring out who we were—individually but also as a group.”
At some point, VanderSpek explained, something shifted in their relationship, and she and Danny started dating. They spent their final two years at Calvin learning and growing together and got married after graduation. All of this occurred amid a supportive community of friends, and it was that same community that rallied around her in 2014 after her husband’s sudden death.
Friends and family have been a driving force behind funding the Daniel VanderSpek Memorial Scholarship. While VanderSpek admits she had to step out of her comfort zone to ask for money, it was a little easier knowing it was to support the future of a Calvin student. “It was a way of turning something that is really awful and devastating into something that can help someone else,” she said. “It felt like channeling that sadness into hope and joy and good things for others.”
She started by selling T-shirts and magnets—items that were packed with meaning for anyone who knew and loved her husband. “It was a tangible way in the beginning that we could do something to remember him,” she said.
From the start, VanderSpek knew she wanted the award to be endowed. Endowed scholarships live in perpetuity because the interest goes to the annual recipient. That meant raising at least $60,000, but Vander-Spek never faltered in her resolve to meet that goal. “It’s been a community effort,” she said. “Calvin wasn’t something that just Danny and I shared, it was something we shared with a lot of the people, and this has been a way for us to connect.”
Leaving a legacy
Among those giving regularly to the scholarship are VanderSpek’s in-laws, Peter and Marianne. They have been intimately involved with honoring their son’s memory in this way and were grateful to have the first recipient receive the scholarship in 2020. The entire family is excited for the opportunity to meet with the student and learn more about his goals and what Calvin means to him.
One of VanderSpek’s hopes is that the individuals who receive this scholarship can have experiences like she did at Calvin, and she is eager for her daughter to hear their stories. While she is 6 now, she was only a few months old when her dad passed away. “This is a significant way for our daughter to have this as part of her life,” VanderSpek added. “Now, every year, there is going to be another person we get to share Danny’s life and legacy with.”
Named Scholarship Program
The Daniel VanderSpek Memorial Scholarship is one of more than 825 awards that are part of Calvin’s Named Scholarship Program. Each year approximately 20 new scholarships are added and, for the 2020-21 academic year, roughly $4.2 million was given to students through over 1,400 individual awards.
While many awards are in memoriam, others are gifts of gratitude for the role Calvin played in an individual or family’s life. Donors can indicate criteria for students, including financial need, program of interest, residency, high school attended, and diversity.
Visit calvin.edu/support/where-to-give/scholarships/ for more information.