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Byker, Gary (1920-1997) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: Byker, Gary (1920-1997)

Historical Note:

Gary Byker was born on November 27, 1920 in Alvord, Iowa.  Growing up during the Great Depression, Byker had to quit grade school to work. He joined the U.S. army in World War II, and was stationed in North Africa and Italy. He was wounded in combat 3 times, and became a decorated war veteran.  After serving in the army for 5 years, he decided that he wanted to become a Christian school teacher. Despite only having a seventh grade education, Calvin College accepted Byker due to the government noting that war veteran use general equivalency diplomas to enter college. He entered Calvin College at the age of 30. After he graduated from Calvin College, Byker taught for a short time, and then went into the real estate and land development business in western Michigan. He founded Byker Realty Company in 1956.

Byker became involved in local politics. He campaigned to the villagers of Hudsonville in his car to encourage them to vote "yes" in becoming a city. With the help of Byker's efforts, Hudsonville officially became a city in 1957. Byker served as a member of the Ottawa County Board of Supervisors, Hudsonville Chamber of Commerce, City Planning Commission, and Zoning Board of Appeals. When Senator Harold Volkema died, Byker ran to become the new Senator. Byker won the candidacy. He served as a Republican State Senator from 1968 to 1978. Although conservative on economic issues, he was very passionate about education and women issues which made him popular with all constituent groups.

On a personal level, Gary Byker married Henrietta Blankespoor in 1944. Together they had six children. His son, Gaylen Byker was Calvin College's president from 1995 to 2012. They were members of the Hillcrest Christian Reformed Church. On November 14, 1997, Gary Byker passed away due to congestive heart failure. Because of his impact on both a state and local level, Hudsonville named their city's library after him, The Gary Byker Memorial Library.

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