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William Harry Jellema (1893-1982) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: William Harry Jellema (1893-1982)

Historical Note:

William Harry Jellema was born in Chicago, Illinois on March 10, 1893. Jellema attended Calvin College and graduated in 1914. He went on to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. In 1920, Jellema returned to Calvin, not as a student, but as a professor of philosophy. Jellema served Calvin until 1936 when he accepted a faculty position at Indiana University. While at Indiana University, Jellema served as head of the university’s philosophy department until 1947. Jellema returned once again to Calvin College to teach philosophy, and did so until his “first” retirement in 1963.

A former student of Jellema, Alvin Plantinga once said, “By far, he was the greatest teacher of philosophy I’ve ever encountered and probably the greatest teacher of anything I’ve ever encountered.” Inspired by Jellema, Plantinga also became a philosophy professor at Calvin.

Although “retired,” Jellema accepted an offer from Grand Valley State Colleges to set up the new state school’s philosophy department. Jellema served GVSC until his official retirement in 1975. At the age of 89, the philosophy professor of fifty-five years, William Harry Jellema, passed away at Butterworth Hospital on May 16, 1982. His wife, Frances, preceded him in death, but five of his children survived him: Dirk, Jon, Gay, Mary, and Trudy.

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