Hope College is mourning the loss of a member of the Hope alumni family who spent decades serving West Michigan in elected office. Former U.S. Congressman Guy Vander Jagt, who was a 1953 graduate of the college, died on Friday, June 22, at age 75 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
"The Hope College community is saddened by the passing of Guy Vander Jagt," said Hope College President Dr. James Bultman. "We are proud to claim him as an alumnus of the college and admire his career achievements as a distinguished Representative in the United States Congress."
"He was an enthusiastic ambassador for the college and active in alumni events. The Guy Vander Jagt chair in communication at Hope which was established by his friends is indicative of our esteem for him," Bultman said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time."
Plans are being made for a funeral service commemorating Vander Jagt's life to be held at Hope on Thursday, June 28, at 2 p.m. in Dimnent Memorial Chapel. The family will greet friends at a reception in Grand Rapids, in the Pantlind Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel beginning at 4:30 p.m., immediately following the service.
Vander Jagt was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966, serving the Ninth District of Michigan until 1993.
His congressional papers are housed at the Joint Archives of Holland, located in the Henri and Eleonore Theil Research Center at Hope. During a luncheon held on campus in conjunction with the opening of the collection on Nov. 16, 2000, he reflected on the impact of his college experience and his decision to have his collection housed at Hope.
"Hope College is very, very special to me, for four of the greatest years of my life were on the Hope campus," he said. "I was impacted spiritually and intellectually in ways that shaped all the rest of my life, and so I thought it appropriate that the harvest of an entire career go back to where it all began."
While a student at Hope, Vander Jagt was debate champion for the state of Michigan for three consecutive years, and captured the National Oratorical Championship during his senior year. He was also student body president during his senior year. He served as a disc jockey at WHTC radio in Holland while working his way through school.
The Hope College Alumni Association presented him with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1973. Hope presented him with an honorary degree in October 1983, and the Student Congress named him the organization's lifetime chair in November 1983. The Guy Vander Jagt Endowed Professorship at Hope, designed for a professor whose interests include oratory or the interface between politics and communication, was also established in his honor in the early 1980s.
In addition to his degree from Hope, he held a B.D. from Yale Divinity School, completed in 1955, and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, completed in 1960.
In 1956 he received a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to spend a year in Germany at Bonn University. He returned to Cadillac to serve as news director at WWTV. Prior to his election to the U.S. Congress he had also practiced law at Warner Norcross & Judd in Grand Rapids, and served in Michigan's state senate.
During his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, Vander Jagt rose to the second-ranking Republican seat on the House Ways and Means Committee and to the ranking Republican seats on the Trade Subcommittee, the Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee, and the Health and Human Resources Subcommittee. He was also a member of the Joint Taxation Committee, among other committee appointments.
As chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), he was a member of the Republican leadership, consulting on a regular basis with Presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush and their Cabinets. He was the keynote speaker of the Republican National Convention in 1980.
Vander Jagt wrote the congressional resolution to establish Dutch-American Heritage Day, recognizing the Netherlands' status as the first nation to recognize the young United States of America as a nation some 200 years before. He was granted a Knighthood in the House of Orange by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and in 1991 was named the Outstanding Dutch-American of the Year by the Netherlands Amity Trust Association.
After leaving Congress, he practiced in the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm of Baker Hostetler. He concentrated his practice in the areas of governmental affairs representation.
Survivors include his wife, Carol, of Luther, Mich., and Great Falls, Va.; and daughter, Virginia (Ginny) of Arlington, Va.