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Roger William Heyns (1918-1995) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: Roger William Heyns (1918-1995)

Historical Note:

Roger William Heyns, who passed away in September of 1995, was the son of Dr. Garrett and Rose Heyns.

While his father became nationally known as a penologist, Roger attained national honor in his field of educational psychology and academic administration.  Notably, Calvin College awarded father and son Distinguished Alumni Awards.  Roger's grandfather was the late William Heyns, who for twenty-four years served as a Calvin Seminary professor.

Heyns graduated from Holland Christian High School in 1935.  That summer he was stricken with polio, which delayed his entrance to Calvin a year.  After graduating in 1940, he entered the University of Michigan where he received his Master's Degree in 1942, followed by a PhD in psychology two years later, having been awarded a special fellowship by the Rackham School of Graduate Studies.  He also spent a year as a teaching fellow at Harvard University.

After serving in the Armed Forces Psychological Services, he returned to Ann Arbor to teach psychology for which he was granted an Outstanding Teacher Award.  In 1958, the Board of Regents named him Dean of Literature, Science, and Arts.  Four years later, he became Vice President for Academic Affairs, a position he held until 1965.  In that year, he accepted an appointment as Chancellor at the University of California at Berkeley.  This was four months after the Free Speech Movement there had effectively shattered the notion of the American University as a haven for quiet scholarship, beer busts, big games, and sorority girls!

He came to a campus deeply troubled, harshly politicized, and still bearing the wounds of the uprising; a campus whose previous chancellor, overcome by a movement foreign to the academic discipline, had been swept aside in a quit-or-be-fired situation.

Heyns had to deal with almost every problem facing higher education across the land: anti-Vietnam protestors, draft resistance, the outburst of protests over the US invasion of Cambodia, student alienation, and an increasingly political climate.

The Los Angeles Times put it this way: "At some cost to his health, he (Heyns) set his course and steered his school past unruly situations, a faculty both timorous and aggressive, chilly regents, a suspicious governor, a hostile legislature, and an indifferent citizenry."

After five long years of "trial by fire" in the face of physical attacks, the burning of buildings, the vulgarities and contempt of radical militants, a naive unawareness in faculty ivory towers, despite martial sieges and aerial gassing and hostility, the university, under his leadership, retained its distinction, upheld the quality of its work and degrees, and suffered no mass exit of faculty of high rank during these troublous times.

The job took its toll, however.  After recovering from a heart attack brought on by the increased pressure of the job, Heyns accepted an offer to return to teaching at the University of Michigan.  Health definitely was the principal factor in his return to a calmer academic climate.

However, his return was cut short by an invitation to preside over the America Council on Education in Washington, DC.  He accepted the position and enjoyed a six-year period of relatively quiet time physically.  In 1977, the West beckoned again.  He assumed the presidency of the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California, which was formed to support programs dealing with education, population, environment, and the performing arts.  In the ensuing years, Calvin College, incidentally, profited from Hewlett's generous grants.  In 1994, Heyns served as Chairman of the Board of the Public Policy Institute of California, a think tank created by the Foundation to study California's problems and issues.  He retired a year later.

Roger Heyns's career as an educator was long and varied.  He wore many hats!  In each of his positions he distinguished himself.  Frank H. T. Rhodes, President of Cornell University, said of him in 1994: "He's a reflective, and a thoughtful, and a wise and good man."  In a lengthy Lenten article written following an interview, the religious editor of a California newspaper titles his piece: "Chancellor trusts God."  In the article it was disclosed, that Heyns always turned his problems over to the Lord at bedtime.  Prayer was a very important part of his life."  The whole climate of prayer is thinking about God and His will.  It means trusting Him in every way," Heyns said.  He summarized what he believed as expressed in the Apostle's Creed, which he recited to his interviewer!

An example of Roger's intense interest in others was manifest already while he was a student at Calvin.  As editor of the Chimes way back in 1938, he took note of the announced retirement of Dean A. J. Rooks.  Roger pondered over the thirty-nine years that Rooks had served Calvin.  Rooks was universally loved and admired for his "stimulating personality and cultured manner and as a sympathetic counselor and friend" to the students.  In an editorial, Roger suggested that the College make some arrangement to extend Rooks' association with the College, beneficial to both him and the school.  Eventually, this was done and Rooks continued on for three more years!

Throughout his extended academic career, he enjoyed the loving support of his closely-knit family: his wife, the former Esther Gezon, whom he met at Calvin, and his three sons, Michael, John, and Daniel.

Calvin College suffered a great loss in the passing of Roger Heyns.  As a life-long friend of the school, Roger was Honorary Chairman of a financial drive that had just concluded with a total of over fifty-eight million dollars.  Despite his affiliation with two great universities, Roger generously left a substantial portion of his papers to Calvin's Archives.  They comprise a valuable source for research for students and all that are interested in them.  We hereby invite interested parties to visit Heritage Hall and examine our portion of the life's work of a Christian gentleman and friend, Roger William Heyns.

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