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Van Zyl, Henry (1883-1974) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: Van Zyl, Henry (1883-1974)

Historical Note:

Henry Van Zyl was born on October 28, 1883 in the province of Groningen in the Netherlands. Van Zyl studied at "De Kweekschool" to prepare for a career in education.  In 1905 he immigrated to the United States, and settled in Chicago, Illinois. Although he did not have all the requirements for teaching in America, he still taught a Christian grade school as he took correspondence and college courses. Once he was able to obtain a teacher's certificate, he moved on to become the principal of the Christian school in Hull, Iowa. Even with a teacher's certificate, Van Zyl knew he needed to pursue his bachelor's degree. He continued taking correspondence courses and summer school through the University of Chicago.

Van Zyl's reputation grew after he read a paper at the Christian School Alliance Meeting in Iowa in 1921. The president of Calvin College, Herbert Brinks, caught wind of Van Zyl's reputation, and invited him to become the head of Calvin's burgeoning education department. Van Zyl was hesitate to accept the offer because he still did not have his bachelor's degree. With the assistance from donors, Van Zyl was finally able to earn his bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago in 1923. Van Zyl's first class as professor of education had seven students, but by the end of his career he had 1500 students enrolled in the department of education. Van Zyl furthered his own education by receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1932.

Professor Van Zyl's teachings were rooted in his briefs that as Christian educators, they must seek in Biblical scripture the absolutes, much like the uncompromising law of gravity. After devoting over 30 years to the education field, professor Van Zyl retired in 1953. On September 25, 1974 Henry Van Zyl passed away. His wife, Jennie née Van Bruggen, preceded him in death. He was survived by his only son, Herman J. Van Zyl.

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