The Hope family is mourning the loss of two former long-time professors and coaches who have had an enduring, positive impact on Hope and students for generations.
Gordon M. Brewer and William R. Vanderbilt each did their undergraduate work at the
college and subsequently spent decades teaching and coaching at Hope, including playing
leading roles in developing the Dow Health and Physical Education Center.
Brewer, a 1948 graduate who taught and coached at Hope from 1956 until retiring in 1988, died on Sunday, April 17, at age 92. Vanderbilt, a 1961 graduate who taught and coached at the college from 1967 until leaving Hope after more than two decades to become a founding partner and executive director of Freedom Village in Holland, died on Friday, April 15, at age 76. Vanderbilt’s son William C. Vanderbilt is vice president for admissions and retention at Hope.
For a 20-year period, from 1960 to 1980, Brewer was Hope’s athletic director, directing all facets of Hope sports. His leadership spanned the planning and construction of the Dow Health and Physical Education Center, which opened in 1978. He also chaired the Department of Kinesiology from 1980 to 1985.
Brewer coached the men’s track team throughout his years on the faculty, finishing in the top half of the MIAA in all but three seasons and winning the league championship six times. He was also assistant football and basketball coach at Hope.
He wrote two histories of Hope athletics: “...But How You Played the Game! A History of Intercollegiate Athletics at Hope College,” covering through 1955 and published in 1992; and “Journey of Hope: Names and Games Remembered, A History of Intercollegiate Athletics at Hope College—1955-1970,” published in 2002. His publication credits also included contributing to the 2008 book “Hope at the Crossroads: The War Years,” which examined the Hope of the 1940s.
He received the “Hope for Humanity Award” from the alumni H-Club in 2001 and a “Meritorious Service Award” from the Hope College Alumni Association in May of 1996, and Hope named its track and field facility in his honor in April of 1991. The H-Club had also honored him during its Homecoming luncheon in 1987. Along with the late Russ DeVette ’45, another kinesiology retiree, he organized a reunion of Hope student-athletes from the 1950s that was held during the college’s fall 1995 Homecoming celebration.
He was born on May 22, 1923, in Kalamazoo to Robert and Helen (Gordon) Brewer, grew up in Martin and graduated from Martin High School in 1941. He attended Hope for two years and then was with the U.S. Army Air Corps for three years, serving in the European Theatre of Operations during World War II. He re-enrolled at Hope after his time in the military and met the love of his life, Lorraine Bult.
Brewer majored in history at Hope, and held a master’s degree from the University of Michigan in secondary school administration. He taught in the Byron Center Public Schools and the Kelloggsville Public Schools before joining the Hope faculty.
He was a former elder and vice president of consistory at Third Reformed Church in Holland.
He was preceded in death by his parents; his wife of 67 years, Lorraine, on June 20, 2015; his sister, Margery Van Reenan; and his brother, Paul Frederick Brewer.
Survivors include his children, Robert James Brewer of Prospect Heights, Illinois, Lawrence Gordon Brewer of Cincinnati, Ohio, Daniel Richard Brewer (Donna) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Susan Harrier (Thomas) of Zeeland; and grandchildren, Kelsea Brewer, Jesse Lee Hayes and Joseph Monteith Hayes.
Visitation for Gord Brewer will be on Thursday, April 21, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Langeland-Sterenberg Funeral Home, located at 315 E. 16th St. in Holland. A service to honor his faith and life will be held on Friday, April 22, at 11 a.m. at Third Reformed Church, located at 111 E. 13th St. in Holland.
Vanderbilt chaired Hope’s Department of Kinesiology for 13 of his years on the college’s faculty. His tenure as chair included playing a leadership role in development of the Dow Health and Physical Education Center, dedicated in 1978. After leaving the full-time faculty, he continued as an adjunct professor at Hope through the 1995-96 school year.
The cross country teams that he coached won or shared 14 men’s and three women’s Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championships.
Hope’s season-opening cross country invitational is named in his honor. In addition, he received the “Hope for Humanity Award” from the college’s alumni H-Club in 1999.
Vanderbilt was named executive director of Freedom Village in 1988. In 1994, he became the executive director of the Community Foundation of Holland and then the Zeeland Community Foundation, which under his leadership merged into one stronger unit that grew in assets to more than $25 million.
He was a long-time and active member of Christ Memorial Church, where he sang in the choir and served on the consistory on several occasions.
He was born on July 15, 1939, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to William and Mabel (Knuth) Vanderbilt, and graduated from Oostburg High School in 1957. He graduated from Hope with a history major and minors in physical education and English. While a student at Hope he competed in baseball, basketball and track, serving as captain of the basketball team during his senior year.
He completed a master’s degree in physical education at the University of Michigan in 1963, and a doctorate in health and physical education, with an emphasis in sport sociology, at the University of Utah in 1971.
During the 1961-62 school year, he was a teacher and coach in Coopersville. From 1962 to 1967, he was a teacher and coach at new Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Illinois.
He was preceded in death by his parents and his first wife of 37 years, Patricia (Winchester) Vanderbilt.
Survivors include his wife of 12 years, Susan Borger Lantz Vanderbilt; children, Sandra and Christopher Bajema of Grandville (Jake, Tricia, Holly, Lydia and Blu), William and Abigail Vanderbilt of Saugatuck (Caleb, Noel, Joshua, Moses, Esther and Jennifer) and Susan Vanderbilt of Holland (Annalise and Lena), step-children, David and Candace Lantz of San Antonio (Colin, Kyle, Raegan and Emery), and Matthew and Heidi Baughman of Dublin, Ohio (Madelynne and Drew); sisters, Virginia (Howie Vande Guchte) and Mary (Roy Ackermann); in-laws; and nieces and nephews.
Visitation for William Vanderbilt will be on Friday, April 22, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mulder Chapel of Dykstra Funeral Homes, located at 188 W. 32nd St. in Holland. A celebration of life service will be on Saturday, April 23, at 11 a.m. at Christ Memorial Church, located at 595 Graafschap Rd. in Holland. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Bill Vanderbilt Fund at the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, 85 E. Eighth St. #110, Holland, MI 49423.