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Lagerwey, Walter (1918-2005) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: Lagerwey, Walter (1918-2005)

Historical Note:

Walter Lagerwey was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on June 11, 1918. When Lagerwey was 14, he and his family spent four years in the Netherlands. The young Lagerwey fell in love with the country, embracing its language and culture. With the break out of World War II, Lagerwey served the United States Foreign Broadcast and Intelligence Service as a monitor and translator of Dutch radio broadcasts. He also served on a team of Dutch language specialists on the United States Army Signal Corps. Once WWII ended Lagerwey enrolled at Calvin College where he majored in history and minored in English, German, and philosophy. He graduated in 1949 and then spent two years at Columbia for his master's in Germanic languages, then then did graduate work at the University of Michigan and the Free University Amsterdam. He eventually earned his Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Literatures from University of Michigan in 1958.

In 1953 Lagerwey accepted a faculty position at Calvin College and essentially ran a one-man Dutch department. The same year of his hire, Lagerwey was appointed to the Queen Juliana Chair of Language and Culture of the Netherlands. While at Calvin, Lagerwey experienced difficulties finding textbooks on the Dutch language, so he wrote his own textbook entitled, Speak Dutch in 1968. This textbook was not only used by Calvin students, but eventually became a valuable resource for colleges across the country. For a time Lagerwey served as the president of the Netherlandic section of the Modern Language Association of America. Due to his many years of promoting the Dutch language, literature and culture, Lagerwey was named an Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau, a prestigious honor given to him by the Dutch government in 1978.

After 30 years of service to Calvin College, Lagerwey retired in 1983. On June 6, 2005 Walter Lagerwey passed away after a short illness. He was survived by his wife of 62 years, Wilhelmina Ditmar, and their children.

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