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Dr. Gordon J. Van Wylen

Obituary for Dr. Gordon J. Van Wylen

February 6, 1920 - November 5, 2020
Holland, Michigan | Age 100


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

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Langeland-Sterenberg Funeral Home

315 E 16th St
Holland, MI 49423
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