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Remembering Bette Bosma

May 29, 2024
Bette Bosma

Bette Bosma always loved reading, and she spent nearly a half-century of her life in formal roles helping students of all ages grow in their appreciation of the craft.

“Her impact on the students she taught and the local education community will be long-felt and -remembered,” said Arden Ruth Post, a former colleague of Bosma’s at Calvin University. “She shaped future teachers who imparted their own love of literacy learning to their students.”

Bosma, who died on May 5, 2024, at age 96, graduated with an education degree from Calvin in 1948. For the greater part of the next three decades, she split time between teaching in Christian schools and public schools. And in 1976, upon completing a master’s degree from Michigan State University, she began a new venture teaching at Calvin University. (Note: She earned a Ph.D. from Michigan State in 1981.)

“Kathryn Blok [a Calvin education professor at the time] persuaded me to come and teach teachers because of the number of students I would be able to influence,” said Bosma during an interview in 2002. “She told me to think of the number of students you have contact with as a teacher and then to multiply that number by the number of all of their future students.”

For the next 16 years until her retirement in 1992, Bosma would teach in the education department at Calvin University. During that time, Bosma estimated, she directly taught thousands of current teachers.

“Bette was a most excellent colleague. She was both a scholar and a fine teacher, unpretentious, generous with her time, caring with her students and peers,” said Thomas Hoeksema, Sr., a former colleague of Bosma’s. “As a young faculty member and throughout our overlapping time at Calvin, she nurtured me. I remain thankful.”

Even as she nurtured college students and her colleagues, Bosma maintained an eye on the next generation. And in 1976 she and Blok launched a Young Authors Festival at Calvin that, for three decades, would draw renowned authors and grade-school students to campus each year.

“Her legacy will forever be the Young Authors Festival,” said Yvonne Van Ee, a former colleague of Bosma’s, “and also training and encouraging elementary education students to be excellent teachers of reading.”

Bosma’s investment in her students didn’t end when they graduated. She continued to be among their biggest supporters as they began their careers. In fact, in 2002, 10 years after she retired from Calvin, several of Bosma’s former students successfully nominated her for the Calvin Alumni Association’s Faith and Learning Award, an award that honors excellence in teaching, spiritual impact, concern for students, and lasting influence.

A shining and tangible example of the impact Bosma had on her former students can be seen at 810 Van Raalte Drive SW in Grand Rapids, Mich.—the site of the Potter’s House Christian School. The school is located in central Grand Rapids and is designed for children from families that cannot otherwise afford private-school tuition. It was a dream too big for many, but not for some of Bosma’s former students, nor for Bosma herself.

“The Potter’s House did not exist when I started my master’s project,” wrote John Booy (’74), one of the school’s founders, in 2002 in his nomination letter for Bosma toward the Faith and Learning Award. “My colleagues and I were asked to start the school while we were doing the project. Most people thought that starting a new school in Grand Rapids was a foolish idea. This is where Bette really stuck her neck out.  . . . Bette assured us that we could do it and volunteered hundreds of hours helping as a consultant as we planned and evaluated our program. Bette willingly put her name on our advisory board and became a financial donor.”

Today the Potter’s House stands as part of Bosma’s ongoing legacy, providing a Christ-centered education to more than 600 students of all ethnic heritages and income levels, equipping them to serve God and society to their fullest potential.

Bosma’s continual encouragement of teachers and future learners grew from her Christian faith. In fact, in the monograph A Christian Perspective on the Teaching of Reading, a coauthored work with Blok, Bosma states, “The Christian teacher will ask, ‘Is this how Jesus would prepare and teach if this were his classroom? Is my response to each individual shaped by a keen awareness that each is an imagebearer of God regardless of level of achievement, personality traits, or classroom behavior?”

These words of advice aptly describe Bosma’s time teaching at Calvin and beyond.

“Bette’s Christian faith was evident in interactions with colleagues and the broader community. She showed love and compassion to students, colleagues, and the community in which she lived and worked,” said Post.

“In my classroom and in my life, I feel strongly that you just live your faith,” said Bosma in 2002. “You don’t have to talk about it all the time. I believe that you cannot teach without revealing your faith.”

Bosma was preceded in death by her husband, John, and by seven of her siblings. She is survived by her four children, Susan (David) Hoekema, Tim (Kim) Bosma, Jane (Brian) VanderPloeg, and Paul (Alice) Bosma; 11 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and many beloved nephews and nieces.