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It’s the end of an era at Trinity Christian College; Dr. Timmermans departs to head Reformed Church in North America

 

          By his own account posted online, Steve Timmermans “came to Trinity Christian College in 2003 with a deep commitment to Christ, an unwavering embrace of Reformed perspectives on faith, learning, and living, and extensive experiences in rehabilitation, teaching, and administration.”

            Eleven years later, as the psychologist and educator packs up his modest office on campus in Palos Heights and prepares to move forward to the next phase of his life, the Trinity president leaves pleased with the college’s progress under his leadership.

            “When I arrived 11 years ago, the college had just built the science building and the Ozinga Chapel, so it was starting to gain momentum, and these 11 years have seen a continued gain of that momentum, with new buildings, new programs and the like,” he told The Regional News in a conversation late last week. “It was beginning to take off, and it has continued to take off.”

            The most obvious measure is enrollment. Timmermans inherited an institution of 1,068 students. Those numbers have risen steadily to 1,380 this school year. The student body is also more diverse. Among American students, minority enrollments stands at 24.3 percent, up from 13.1 percent in 2003.

            “I hope what those numbers tell us is that we’ve been faithful to our mission while extending our reach to more students, to communities, to families that otherwise would not have considered us or even known about us,” he reflected.

            “Trinity had been a small college for so long—I mean, a typical enrollment was 700 students,” Timmermans added. “Everyone here needed to learn that no longer was Trinity the small, challenging college. They had grown up or at least taken a giant step forward. So we got to grow even further together.”

            One surprise Timmermans encountered early on was that the “city of Palos Heights and the college didn’t get along that well together. There were issues, neighbors, mistrust—there just wasn’t a good feeling, and there was a certain level of animosity,” he recalled.

            That mistrust, he added, appeared rooted in the college’s previous attempt to purchase the old Dunlap’s restaurant property.

“In ’03, the college was going to buy it, but was not clear with its intentions,” he remembered. “For example, one architect had drawn up plans that included a three-story parking garage. That’s a killer. The neighbors were furious, and they kind of blocked it. I arrived here, saw the situation and said, ‘What’s this?’ and I said to my board, ‘We’re not going to pursue this. There’s something wrong here.’”

Trinity withdrew from the controversy, and then another restaurant operated there for a time. “Then it was sold to a developer who was going to put in condos,” Timmermans recalled. “Then, I think it was [Mayor] Bob Straz who came to me and said, ‘Maybe this would be a good thing. Let’s re-open this discussion,’ and I went door-to-door in the neighborhood, knocking on doors, asking people about their concerns and their views on what they wanted to see that property used for.

“So we bought the property and then had a planning charrette and invited neighbors and students and professors and aldermen,” he continued. “We worked together in groups and kind of drew what this thing might become. It’s right on the border between neighborhood and college, so it’s a natural meeting place where we can gather in a nice hospitable environment.”

The end result is the Bootsma Bookstore Café at Navajo Creek, 6513 W. 123rd St., a relaxing meeting pace that welcomes both college and community.

One good thing that came out of all that, he added, is the Palos Area Community Advisory Board (PACAB), which functions to the present day and which he describes as a good vehicle for communication between the college and community.

            Timmermans also credits the late president of the Navajo Hills Homeowners Association and PACAB leader Joe McGee, “my across-the-street neighbor, who said ‘Join Rotary and get to know people,’ and that was a good step,” the president continued.

            Also under his leadership, Trinity lent its environmental sciences professor to the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens in about 2004 for two semesters to help them through a transition.

The efforts paid off. More than a decade later, the mistrust has turned to trust, and the president describes working with city government as “wonderful” and a delight. “They have a good vision of how a college and a community can work together so that the college can be an asset,” he noted.

Also on his watch, the college engaged the community by founding and growing the Seasoned Adult Learners at Trinity (SALT) program, which offers a range of non-credit courses on everything from backyard gardening to global affairs. It started about nine years ago with a handful of learners, and in 2014 has grown to 365 people taking, many taking more than one class—a total of 591 registrations.

Other efforts include establishment of a business network connected with the college, a Monday-night lecture series, a van pool that assists students and Palos Heights residents alike, and more.

 

Faith and future

Timmermans predicts a bright future for Trinity, saying that the graduate side of the school should continue to grow and make it a “more comprehensive institution.”

He sees the college’s commitment to ensuring that its students not graduate without a significant external experience—some as close as Palos Heights, others as far away as Africa—as a thing of great value.

“The Reformed vision of this institution is fairly unique among the America religious landscape,” he said. “We’re not just about what some would call ‘the personal walk,’ but we’re very much about societal transformation. There’s this sense that God created this world, it got messed up, and we can get used by the Spirit to be a part of reclaiming what God intended.

“It’s a wonderful philosophy for a Christian higher education mission,” the president continued. “The faith thing and the educational philosophy marry each other quite well, and that’s me, that’s how I see things, how I believe things.”

Timmermans, along with his wife, Barbara, an associate professor of nursing at Trinity, will move some of their seven-child family to Grand Rapids, Mich., starting tomorrow for the next chapter of his life as the next executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, a 130-year-old denomination with ministries around the world.

He will be the first non-ordained person to hold the position after an imminent church synod inJune votes to confirm his nomination to the post.

“I think ministers are great,” he observed. “I’ll say, a little tongue in cheek, that when you take any church, the ratio of ministers to congregants is pretty lopsided. There’s a whole lot more of me than them.

“I think it’s OK to have a pew sitter [in charge] once in a while,” he added with a smile.

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Submitted photo

The Timmermans family, an engaging and international blend, reflects their worldview of a shared path, an interconnectedness under a loving God.

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Submitted photo

During his tenure at Trinity Christian College, Dr. Timmermans established a reputation as a good listener interested in building bridges with his neighbors.

 

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