Tom Newhof ’s All-American basketball career began with a bit of simple carpentry. The son of a builder, he purchased a sheet of plywood as a teenager from a nearby lumber company to go with a basketball rim he had recently secured. Using a saw, hammer, and a bit of paint, he constructed a driveway basketball goal that he affixed on top of his family’s garage in southeast Grand Rapids.
Over the years, Newhof fired countless shots at his driveway goal. The hard work paid off, and the lanky 6’8” post player went on to score nearly 1400 career points as a Calvin Knight to go with nearly 1200 career rebounds. He continues to hold the Calvin single-season rebounding record with 378 caroms in 1956.
His patent scoring move was a sweeping left-handed hook shot that he would bank off the backboard. The genesis of the hook shot came from a basketball clinic he attended as a high school player at the old Welsh Civic Auditorium in downtown Grand Rapids. A featured clinic speaker was Minneapolis Lakers star center, George Mikan. Mikan demonstrated his own left-handed hook shot at the clinic, and Newhof took note.
“I figured if that shot was good enough for him, it was good enough for me,” chuckles Newhof. “I practiced that shot as often as I could from that point on.”
Newhof arrived at Calvin in the fall of 1954 after a promising high school career at Grand Rapids Christian High School. As a freshman and sophomore for the Knights, he was part of MIAA championship teams in 1955 and 1956. He was named First Team All-MIAA in 1956 and again as a senior in 1958, when he was also named a Small College Basket- ball All-American—the first All-American in Calvin athletics history.
While at Calvin, he prepared for a career in engineering, studying under legendary professor and future Hope College president Dr. Gordon VanWylen. As a senior in VanWylen’s engineering class, Newhof nearly gave up on the pursuit.
“I scored a 52 on an exam and I thought that was it for me with engineering. I went to the registrar’s office and dropped the class,” said Newhof. Later that day, he was called into President William Spoelhof ’s office where Spoelhof, VanWylen, and Newhof ’s own father, Tom—a good friend of Spoelhof—sat waiting. “Dr. VanWylen mentioned that he had heard I was dropping his class. When I told him it was because of my test score, he showed me the class average, which was 48. I realized it wasn’t all that bad and, after a conversation with President Spoelhof, Dr. VanWylen, and my father, I quickly re- enrolled in the class.”
Newhof went on to earn a graduate degree in engineering from the University of Michigan. Newly married, he began work as a civil en- gineer in Grand Rapids; after eight years, he decided to strike out on his own with partner Ed Prein, forming the civil engineering firm Prein&Newhof. At first, they worked out of their own homes, but the business quickly grew with a long list of clients. The firm now encompasses wide portions of the state of Michigan and is one of the most respected civil engineering firms in the Midwest. One of the most notable achievements of the firm in the Grand Rapids area was the continued expansion of the Gerald R. Ford Internation- al Airport that included the construction of a set of key runways.
Throughout his life and career, Newhof has held a deep love for Calvin. His company has employed numerous Calvin graduates as well as Calvin student interns. Tom and his wife, Greta, sent four of their five children to Calvin, with 10 of his 11 grandchildren and several of their spouses following the family footsteps as Calvin Knights.
“I’ll always be a Calvin Knight,” says Newhof. “It’s been a very special place for my entire family.”