For the past 35 years, Mr. Dick Zylstra has been a steady man of genuine faith, Biblical wisdom, and leadership, in the classroom as a math teacher, coach and most recently, the Dean of Students. “Z,” as he was known by the students, has been an almost permanent fixture in the hallway during passing periods, lunchtime, and breaks. Firm, but kind, fair, but measured - the perfect balance for a Dean of Students.
“Z was extraordinary in the role,” Matt Davidson, Timothy Christian Schools superintendent said. “He has an unbelievable inner strength and he’s very wise.”
Mr. Zylstra started his career as a math teacher in Fulton, Illinois. Then, 35 years ago, he accepted a job as a math teacher at Timothy Christian High School. “The joy of math, not only personally, but also in terms of teaching, is the challenge of the problem,” Z explained. “And then the satisfaction when you're done and it has worked out well. Then, especially as a teacher, to see a student embrace that challenge and feel good about their effort and their result.”
Z had a way of connecting with the students, both as a cross country coach and a teacher. His love of running made him a perfect fit for the cross country team that has enjoyed numerous trips down State. In fact in 2001, under Z’s leadership, the Timothy Christian Cross Country team captured the State title.
But, as Z will tell you, while the trophies and capturing a State title is an extraordinary accomplishment, it’s the spiritual act of running that makes cross country such a special sport at Timothy. “The team did devotions every Monday,” Z said. “We prayed as a team. And I do pray while I run. I run through various Bible passages, I sing songs, and hymns.”
His student-athletes have learned to model this behavior that is steeped in faith. “You can run for the medals, yourself, glory, or fame, but ultimately you need to give it to God,” said Elise Terpstra, Class of 2020, who was on the State qualifying cross country team. “We didn’t do this by ourselves.”
Z’s deep faith and wisdom is exactly what made him the perfect candidate for the Dean of Students. Six years ago he transitioned out of the classroom and into the role of Dean of Students. It is a role that admittedly can be difficult. But Z had a way of dealing with disciplinary issues that was not only kind, but demonstrated grace. “We all make mistakes,” he said, “but when a student comes to me and says, ‘You know, I screwed up. I did it, I feel bad about it.’ What can I do to make it right?’ That just speaks so highly of their character and integrity. That is very gratifying to me.”
After 35 years at Timothy Christian Schools, Z is retiring. He hopes to spend more time with his family, golfing, painting, and, of course, running. “Z has great Biblical wisdom,” Davidson said. “He is a man of God, who has made an incredible impact on our school. He is going to be missed.”