Dr. Gordon J. Van Wylen

  • Born: February 6, 1920
  • Died: November 5, 2020
  • Location: Holland, Michigan

Langeland-Sterenberg Funeral Home

315 E 16th St
Holland, MI 49423

Tel. (616) 392-2306

Tribute & Message From The Family

Dr. Gordon J. Van Wylen of Holland died on Thursday, November 5, 2020, having reached the century mark on February 6, 2020, when he turned 100 years-old. As a devoted and doting husband, a dedicated, loving, and playful father, a person of deep and abiding faith, a respected and appreciated Hope College president, and an impactful community contributor, his earthly life will be sorely missed.

Gordon's Christian faith was his defining dimension. It shaped his family, work, and community life. He drew upon it as his personal foundation and motivation, and in turn this was a catalyst and inspiration for many others. In all things, he saw his ultimate purpose to be an avenue for God's love and to realize, both individually and in community, the grace known through Jesus Christ.

Born in Grant Township, Van Wylen grew up in Grand Rapids and graduated from Ottawa Hills High School. He attended Calvin University on the 3-2 engineering program with the University of Michigan, graduating in 1942 with joint degrees from both institutions.

After graduation, Gordon enlisted in the US Navy, receiving a commission as Ensign in 1943. He joined the Submarine Service and was assigned to the USS Hardhead, upon which he served for two years, completing six war patrols in the Pacific during WWII. In honor of his military service, he received on-court recognition through the University of Michigan's Toyota Hero of the Game program during the university's basketball game versus UCLA in December 2018.

In 1988, Gordon learned that a Japanese naval officer from a Japanese light cruiser that the Hardhead had sunk on its first patrol had written a book in Japanese that told the story of how some 190 survivors rowed 300 miles in lifeboats, under very difficult circumstances, to safely reach the Philippines. Believing that this story would be of interest to American readers, Gordon, in conjunction with Japanese colleagues, translated and rewrote the story by merging it with the Hardhead's experience. This book, with two Japanese co-authors, was published in 1994 under the title, Encounter at Sea.

After the war, Gordon completed a master's degree in engineering at the University of Michigan in 1947 and his doctorate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951. Subsequently, he joined the faculty in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Michigan. After moving through the academic ranks to be a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Department Chair, he served as Dean of the College of Engineering from 1965-72. In 1959 he published a textbook, Thermodynamics, which was widely used in the United States and translated into a number of foreign languages, remaining in print, eventually by co-authors, for 60+ years.

In 1972, Gordon was appointed the ninth president of Hope College; he served in this role until 1987. During his tenure, there was an increase in enrollment, growth of the endowment, several campus buildings were built/renovated, 12th Street was closed with the resulting expansion of the Pine Grove, and an emphasis on academic excellence in the context of the Christian faith built Hope's national reputation. In recognition of the many contributions to Hope College by Gordon and his wife Margaret, the library that was completed shortly after his retirement was named the Gordon and Margaret Van Wylen Library.

Gordon's commitment to excellence certainly did not end with his retirement from Hope College. Upon retirement at the age of 67, few would have guessed that he was just beginning the longest "job" of his career, as for the next 30 years he worked with Holland city officials and community leaders to revitalize downtown Holland and the surrounding central city. Snowmelt, a hallmark of downtown Holland, was installed through the ingenuity and determination of Gordon and others who built an impressive public/private partnership for this and many other projects that are foundational to Holland's currently thriving downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Homecor was started by Gordon, providing urban renewal and affordable housing to the central city. Along with wife Margaret, Gordon was the grand marshal for Holland's Tulip Time Volksparade in May 2005. To recognize Gordon's contributions to the community, the Gordon Van Wylen Green at Chamber Pointe was established in 2019.

Over the years, Gordon served as a member, and sometimes as chairperson, of the Boards of a number of organizations including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Holland Community Foundation, Words of Hope, Bethany Christian Services, Homecor, Pine Rest Christian Hospital, and Van Andel Education Institute.

Always active in church life, Gordon was instrumental in establishing the Ann Arbor Christian Reformed Church in the 1950's and in the rejuvenation of Pillar Church as a joint Reformed Church of America/Christian Reformed Church congregation just a few years ago.

In 1951, Gordon married Margaret DeWitt, and the two remained life and faith partners for 66 years until Margaret's death in 2018.

Gordon is survived by his five children: Elizabeth (Jack) Rudenga, Steve (Kathy) Van Wylen; Ruth (Neil) Jasperse; Dave (Pat) Van Wylen, and Emily (Tim) Overway. In addition, Gordon leaves 16 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother, Wayne Van Wylen.

Gordon, Gordy, Dad, Grandpa, Great Grandpa, Professor, President - Thank you for enriching and inspiring us by your keen insights, your wise counsel, your thoughtful and profoundly personal faith, your aspiration for excellence, your enduring legacy, and for gracing this earth for 100 years with kindness and accomplishment.

Due to COVID, the family will have a private celebration of Gordon's life.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be designated for the "Gordon J. and Margaret Van Wylen Scholarship Fund" for deserving students with financial need at Hope College; to donate, please go to hope.edu/vanwylenscholarship.

Condolence & Memory Journal

Dr. Gordon Van Wylen was the department chair and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where my father, Allan I-lin Chow was a Ph.D. graduate student from 1961-1962. In addition to being a mentor, he had a formative influence on my father's Christian faith. In addition, he, Margaret and family were good family friends of ours. In the summer of 1971, I (Martin) had the privilege of spending part of a summer with the Van Wylens. It was at this time that I experienced firsthand, everyday life in a large and loving family. I recall the time when Gordon, a junior high Sunday school teacher, asked me to read and give a presentation of C.S. Lewis' children's story, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in class, to which I agreed and did. This was a milestone event in the spiritual life of a 14-year old young Christian. In recent years, Gordon maintained contact with us through our ministry newsletters, and blessed us with his encouraging words, giving, prayers and friendship. He is a legendary member of 20th Century America's "Greatest Generation," as exemplified by a full life of love, devotion and service to God, country, education, community, church, publishing houses, family and friends. I will miss him dearly. My heartfelt condolences go to Liz, Steve, Ruth, Dave & Emily and families!

Posted by Martin Chow - Fontana, CA - Family Friend   December 21, 2020

I fortuitously found that Prof. Van Wylen died at the beginning of November 2020. I want to say some words in his honor. He was a person, who I had not the possibility to meet personally but through his technical written work, it is recognized the compromise among love, dedication, inspiration, knowledge and truth that always he had present, characteristics considered and cultivated by an outstanding person. I am a mechanical engineer graduated many years ago from the National University of Mexico. Nowadays, I give some classes on Thermodynamics and I always have to go irremediably to one of his text books on Thermodynamics, where I practiced a lot in my students years, in spite of that there are many attractive new books on this topic. From a technical point of view, his work will be an inspiration to follow, because of its formality and compromise with the truth. My condolences to his family, that will accept soon his departure to the eternity.

Posted by Jorge Hernandez - Temixco, Morelos, Mexico - Significant Other   November 30, 2020

to the brother of Gordon( Wayne Van Wylen ) I Just would like you to know that I'm thinking about you and your family on the passing of your brother. After reading his obituary it sounds like he was a very wonderful person and he did many good things while he was here on earth. I miss not working at the bank and waiting on you but I just wanted you to know that you are in my prayers Your teller friend Maria

Posted by maria lindenthal - Friend   November 16, 2020

Dr. Gordon J. Van Wylen will be sorely missed by all who knew him. He was a man who loved his family and trusted God, had great integrity and absolute personal and professional honesty. Gordon was my friend and trusted advisor for more than 70 years from the time we first met as graduate students at MIT. Gordon was successful in whatever he undertook including Science and Technology, Academic Administration and productive involvement in the Christian Life. He authored many publications including the most widely used textbook in American Universities and throughout the World, "Introduction to Thermodynamics".

Posted by John A.Clark Clark - Bloomington, MN - Coworker   November 16, 2020

May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.

Posted by Amir - Student   November 14, 2020

Rest in peace

Posted by Amir - Student   November 14, 2020

Sending our condolences for the loss of Uncle Gordy. Our love, thoughts, and prayers to all of you.

Stu and Karen DeWitt

Posted by Stuart DeWitt - Greenville, MI   November 14, 2020

As a Mechanical Engineer who studied thermodynamics in a far away land, based on Professor Van Wylen's seminal book, I was saddened to hear of his passing. The legacy he lives is rich, and inspirational. May he Rest In Peace.

Posted by Ehsan S. - Australia   November 12, 2020

Gordon Van Wylen was one of the finest Christian men, and most accomplished Christian leaders, I have ever known. He was highly intelligent, thoroughly honest, deeply insightful and discerning. I'll never forget him. Neal Plantinga

Posted by Neal Plantinga - Ada, MI - Friend   November 11, 2020

Dear Van Wylen Family,

Our sincere sympathy to all of you in the loss of Dr. Van Wylen, a man revered by us and many others.


Posted by Roger & Beverly Mulder - Friend   November 10, 2020

"Dr. Gordon van Wylen was an exceptional Hope President, servant leader, and human being under whose administration I was honored to serve as faculty. I especially valued the many dinners he and Margaret hosted for faculty, staff, and students throughout their years at Hope. They would always make time for these despite their incredibly busy schedules. The discussions were always stimulating and thought provoking. With deep gratitude for their work and abiding example to all." Anne Larsen, Faculty, Friend, Holland, MI, Nov 09, 2020

Posted by Anne Larsen - Holland, MI - Friend   November 09, 2020

My sincerest condolences to the VanWylen family, especially Emily and Dave and their families whom I knew a bit. My memories of Gordon and Margaret go back more than 30 years to my student days at Hope, and in subsequent years, they were my care elders at my church, and special friends. He leaves a great legacy for Hope College, Holland, and beyond.

Posted by Lannette Zylman - Holland, MI - Friend   November 09, 2020

My thoughts are with tour family. He led a prolific and exemplary life as well as a lasting legacy.
Elizabeth Wallenius

Posted by Elizabeth Wallenius - Tinley Park, IL - Acquaintance   November 09, 2020


What an amazing legacy and inspiration he leaves behind. Many wonderful memories to celebrate. Thoughts and prayers from New Life Kids at New Life Church.

Posted by Melinda Green - IL - Friend   November 08, 2020

May the promises of life eternal with our Savior give the family comfort & peace during this time.
Sincerely, James & Linda Schippers Holland Michigan

Posted by JAMES & LINDA Schippers - Holland, MI - Neighbor   November 08, 2020

I was a student of Prof. Van Wylen at the U if M in the 50s. Our class used a looseleaf copy of his new "Thernodynamics" textbook. Remember him fondly.

Posted by Garrett Hanson - Grand Rapids, MI - Student   November 08, 2020

Posted by Graham Duryee - Friend   November 08, 2020

It is a privilege to have had Dr. Van Wylen as a part of my book of life.

Posted by Rob Zaagman - Acquaintance   November 08, 2020

I appreciate all that Dr. Van Wylen did for Hope College and the Holland community. I am particularly grateful for his role in my life, as a role model and encourager. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Posted by Thomas Folkert - Kalamazoo, MI - Friend   November 08, 2020

A proud legacy left to a proud family. This man really lived life fully and is now fully alive with Christ!

Posted by Barbara Campbell - New Lenox, IL - Friend   November 07, 2020

Sailor, rest your oar. We have the watch. He is now on Eternal Patrol.

United Submarine Veterans Assoc., Escolar Base, Michigan

Posted by Larry Morin - Acquaintance   November 07, 2020

We are very sorry for the loss of Gordon. May he rest in peace.

Blaine, Cindy, Parker, & Chloe.

Posted by Blaine Bugaski - IN - Family Friend   November 06, 2020

A true life well lived.

Posted by Andrew Carey and Family - Alto, MI - Acquaintance   November 06, 2020

Jim and Lynne Bekkering

Posted by Lynne Bekkering - Beulah, FL - Friend   November 06, 2020

Family Album