You don’t have to look far in west Michigan to see Jim Bosscher’s fingerprints. In fact, you don’t even have to leave your driveway. After all, Bosscher helped pioneer curbside recycling in Kent County.
He also was a leader in the establishment of Camp Tall Turf, Safe Haven Ministries, the Christian Engineering Society, Hilltop University (renamed University of Mkar) in Nigeria, and Calvin’s four-year engineering program.
Bosscher died on Sunday, August 7, 2022. He was 97 years old.
“He was unafraid to jump in and get passionately involved in causes where he could make a difference. This led to his involvement in so many organizations,” said Robert Hoeksema, emeritus professor, who was a student of Bosscher’s in the 70’s and later a colleague of his for nearly a decade.
Bosscher attended Calvin as a student and served in the Army Air Force. He earned advanced degrees from Purdue University and the University of Michigan. He then began his teaching career at Calvin, retiring 33 years later.
Creating a premiere program
“At one of our first department meetings with a faculty made up of three professors he announced that his goal was to move the program from a three-year pre-engineering program to a degree-granting four-year program,” recalls Hoeksema of a meeting in 1978, his first year as a colleague of Bosscher’s.
In spring 1985, after some heavy lifting by his colleagues, that idea became reality.
Now, 37 years later, the engineering program at Calvin is among the best not only in Christian higher education, but in all of higher ed. In 2021, U.S. News & World Report placed Calvin amongst its top 50 “Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs” in the country.
“While success of the program should be attributed to the many individuals who have shepherded it over nearly 40 years, Jim should be recognized as the one who had the vision and courage to get it all started,” said Hoeksema.
Equipping value-driven engineers
Bosscher helped develop the engineering program in such a way as to create the greatest impact both on the students who were learning and the communities they would one day be serving.
“I sincerely hope that our firm embodies many of the ideals that Dr. Bosscher laid out for me and my fellow engineering students at Calvin way back in the 1980s,” said Tim Dekker, a 1990 graduate of Calvin who is now CEO of LimnoTech, an Ann Arbor-based water resources planning and consulting firm.
One of those ideals he both taught and modeled was faith being integral to all areas of life.
“It was the driving force for how he treated everyone,” said Matt Heun, a professor of engineering at Calvin University and a former student of Bosscher’s. “He embodied the Calvin professor’s goal of integration of faith and learning. In fact, it is impossible to separate Jim’s faith from his teaching, his service, and his mentoring.”
Calvin’s Alumni Board agreed with this assessment, and, in 2000, awarded Bosscher the Faith and Learning Award, which is based on excellence in teaching, spiritual impact, concern for students, and lasting influence.
“As students we often asked Jim for advice on the important social issues of the time,” said Richard DeJong, emeritus professor, who was a student and then colleague of Bosscher’s at Calvin. “He always started with the view that we needed to focus on doing what was best for the kingdom of God here on earth, and then he would help us work out what that meant in the specific case we were struggling with. We usually left these sessions thankful for the ‘perspective adjustment’ he gave us.”
Modeling a commitment to creation care
One particular area Bosscher was passionate about remains a core commitment of the university broadly and engineering department specifically to this day: creation care.
“As a practicing engineer for several decades, I’ve watched the rest of the world catch up to the ideas he advanced and made a part of the engineering curriculum: responsibility, stewardship, and caretaking of God’s world,” said Dekker. “He was a thoughtful, kind teacher with deep passion for his subject and a vision for transforming engineering practice into purpose-driven creation care.”
And his thinking was often ahead of his time, to be appreciated more fully later.
“One thing I remember Professor Bosscher saying was that someday we would be mining our dumps for materials since we throw so many valuable things away instead of recycling them,” said Mark Michmerhuizen, a student of Bosscher’s and now professor of engineering at Calvin. “I think the 19-year-old me rolled his eyes and chuckled at that one, but I never forgot it. And over the years I’ve come to believe that his prediction will eventually come true.”
“Jim was a giant. It is his shoulders on which the engineering department stands today,” said Heun.
“I will be eternally grateful to Jim for involving me in the wonderful task of serving God, his creation, and the people on earth through the engineering profession,” said DeJong.
Bosscher is survived by his wife of 74 years, Angie; children Jack and Joan (Sopjes) Bosscher, Beth and Bob Terborg, David and Mary (Slotman) Bosscher, Marcia (Vermaire) Bosscher, Barb and Steve Timmermans, and honorary son, Wayne Nguyen Hung; 17 grandchildren; and 26 great-grandchildren. Memorial contributions may be made to Tall Turf Ministries (tallturf.org or 2010 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, GR, MI 49507) or to the James and Angeline Bosscher Scholarship (connect.calvin.edu or 3201 Burton SE, GR, MI 49546).