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Review of Cal VanderWerf: Anchor of Hope from Mike Doyle

Former Hope faculty member and current Distinguished University Chair in Medicinal Chemistry at The University of Texas at San Antonio Mike Doyle reviewed Cal VanderWerf: Anchor of Hope. Here's what he had to say:

"As a person who lived through the times described in this book, and from 1968 to 1984 at Hope College, I was delighted to read the history and interpretation of the era by Doug Neckers.  The central theme is the life and times of a highly influential, and often forgotten, chemical scientist, insightful administrator, and strong proponent of liberal arts colleges, Cal VanderWerf.   However, this is not a traditional biography. It presents background and history, mainly of post-WWII science, education, and academic experiences seen through the eyes of the author.  For those who were at Hope before and during the VanderWerf years, this book is a 'must read.'  This book will resonate with those who were engaged in science during the 1950s and 60s.  And there will be interest in this book for all Hope faculty, students, and administrators. 

I can recall several experiences with Cal that follow from observations made by Doug Neckers in this book.  One was from a request that I made to see him in my first year at Hope.  I was starting a research project that used organic azides, and there were some comments in the literature that some of these compounds could explode.  Cal was a recognized expert in this field from his research in the 1950’s at Kansas, so I asked him what I should watch out for.  His answer was not very detailed.  Go forward, he said, with normal care; explosions were very rare.  I never had an explosion with these azides.

Cal VanderWerf took chances.  I did not realize at the time, but I was the first practicing Roman Catholic hired by Hope College.  Several years after Cal had left Hope, I asked him how my hire was approved.  He told me that he received the strong recommendation from the Department of Chemistry, and asked the Board of Trustees.  Their response, he told me, was neither for nor against, but if that hiring was in any way an embarrassment to Hope College, the fault would be his."