Distinguished Alumni of the Year: Dr. Robert Swierenga
Rev. Peter Semeyn

Dr. Robert Swierenga (PhD) has been named Timothy Christian Schools 2023 Distinguished Alumni of the Year. Dr. Swierenga graduated from Timothy in 1949, then located in Cicero when the school only had grades K-8. At that time, to continue a Christian school education, Dr. Swierenga had to attend Chicago Christian High School, which was in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood. Dr. Swierenga attended Calvin College, received his Master’s Degree in History from Northwestern University in Evanston, and his PhD in History from the University of Iowa.

Dr. Swierenga has had a long and storied career in academia, beginning with teaching high school in Pella, Iowa and later professorships at Calvin College and Kent State University. He continues to be active as the A.C. Van Raalte Research Professor of History at the A.C. Van Raalte Institute at Hope College.

A prolific author, Dr. Swierenga has authored 10 books and edited 19 books. Most have dealt with Dutch heritage in the United States and include Dutch Chicago: A History of Hollanders in the Windy City and His Faithfulness Continues: A History of Timothy Christian Schools in Chicagoland.

The Christian value of service was emphasized in his family, at his church, and reinforced in his Timothy education.

Timothy Christian Schools had a profound impact on Dr. Swierenga, sparking his academic interests, deepening his faith, and fostering community. He has always had a deep love for music, which he learned in his years at Timothy, where singing was a regular part of student life. The close-knit Timothy community allowed Dr. Swierenga to establish close friendships, many of which continue to today. 

The Christian value of service was emphasized in his family, at his church, and reinforced in his Timothy education. That value was the impetus to move from Calvin to Kent State University, a decidedly secular institution. Dr. Swierenga discerned that he was called to be a witness to Christ at a secular university and to serve in the local community. He immediately found fellowship with other Christian faculty at Kent State and became the faculty advisor for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship on campus.

“While teaching at Kent State, the tragic shooting of students protesting the Vietnam War took place. In the aftermath, Christian faculty and graduate students responded with clarion calls to the campus community to turn to Christianity as the solution to the turmoil. After the shootings, as the university cast about to right itself, Christian faculty were allowed to teach faith-based courses in a newly-created Experimental College. For nearly ten years I taught classes on Christian social and political ethics. As a result, the 1970s was the most stimulating decade of my life, and my faith deepened as never before or since.” (from Dr. Swierenga’s biography). Dr. Swierenga realized his goal of being a witness at a secular university in a profound way.

Dr. Swierenga also served the local Christian Reformed Church in Akron, Ohio. His leadership gifts, desire to serve, and experience were sorely needed, and he helped the congregation thrive.

Over the years, others have recognized Dr. Swierenga’s contributions to academia and the greater Christian community. He was Knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in the Order of the Netherlands Lion. He has been a Fulbright Research Scholar, at the University of Leiden, The Netherlands. He also was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus by Calvin College in 2003.

A long career in academia, a prolific author, a respected scholar and an engaging teacher: Dr. Robert Swierenga has left quite a legacy. That legacy had its roots in Christian education at Timothy Christian Schools.

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