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Dr. Donald Oppewal, PhD


Dr. Donald Oppewal, PhD, age 91 of Lowell, went to be with Jesus Saturday, May 19, 2018. Born to Teake and Gertrude Oppewal on October 8, 1926 in Mendon, Massachusetts, he was the fourth of seven children. By age 10 he was milking cows for neighboring farms part-time. Don also attended and graduated from the public school in Mendon, MA, in 1944. Six months later, he was inducted into the US Army, where he was a rifle man and machine gunner. During WWII, he served in the Philippines for two years, and then served in the Army occupation of Japan. Under the GI Bill, Don attended Calvin College; graduating with his Bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education teaching certification in 1950, after only 3.5 years. During his time at Calvin, he met and married the love of his life, Jessica Leestma. He then earned his Master’s degree in English and history from the University of Michigan.

His career began at Illiana Christian High School in Lansing, IL, as an English and civics teacher. After five years, Don left to pursue his doctorate degree in the philosophy of education at the University of Illinois in Champaign, IL. Graduating with his Ph.D. in 1960, he joined the faculty of Calvin College. Don taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in the Education Department at Calvin for 30 years, notably the Christian Perspectives on Learning course, until his retirement in 1991. He was passionate about interdisciplinary teaching, and was actively involved in offering a variety of courses to his students. Talented and dedicated, he was impatient with theories of teaching and learning that were not grounded in the real world of practice. He insisted that educators must get “off the bleachers and onto the field.”

During his time at Calvin, he also enjoyed publishing his own materials, as well as creating opportunities for others to do the same. He helped establish the Christian Educators Journal, and served as managing editor for 12 years. He began the Calvin Monograph Series in 1963, single-handedly, with his work, Roots of the Calvinistic Day School Movement. In the early 1970s, Don produced a reader for his own class use: Alternative Perspectives in Christian Education. Don was co-editor of a departmental reader, Christian Vision in Education: The Growing Edge (1980); editor of In Touch, the departmental newsletter since it began in 1983; assisted with editing the 1988 edition of readings for the Christian Perspectives on Learning course; and had essays published in the Reformed Journal, Educational Forum, Christian Legal Society Quarterly, and Christian Scholar’s Review. He was honored as a “Fellow” for the Calvin Center For Christian Scholarship 1978-79 study of public justice and educational equity. Don was skilled at detecting religious bias in public school textbooks, and his work was utilized by Paul Vitz of New York University in Vitz’s book on censorship. Don served as the curriculum policy consultant for Christian Schools International for ten years; was on Calvin’s Teacher Education Committee when the Master of Arts in Teaching program was conceived; served as Chairman of the Education Department; and chaired some of its integral sub-committees.

After retiring, Don offered his talents internationally. He taught at a newly founded university in Nigeria for a semester, as well as assisted numerous secondary schools there. In the Reformed Ecumenical Council FOCUS, he published an analysis of 50 years of mission work in Nigeria. Don volunteered as both a construction worker and educational consultant for schools in Belize, Dominican Republic and Honduras through Worldwide Christian Schools. He represented both Canadian and US Christian Schools at a Reformed Ecumenical Council conference in the Netherlands, where leaders encouraged the founding of Christian schools. In 1997, Don published Voices From The Past: Reformed Educators, a book containing chapters devoted to numerous Calvinist spokespersons for Christian education. He also enjoyed woodworking and gardening in his retirement.

Throughout his life, Don was committed to the church schools and consistories of Cascade and La Grave Avenue Christian Reformed Churches. He will be deeply missed by his wife of 69 years, Jessica; children, Gwen Beversluis, Jo Boersma, Dan and Mary Oppewal, Jim Oppewal, Donna Oppewal, Paul and Tammy Oppewal; brother Fred Oppewal; sister Trudy Kuiper; 15 grandchildren; 35 great-grandchildren; and 2 great-great-grandchildren. Don was preceded in death by his daughter-in-law, Peggy Ronnzo; and sons-in-law, Joel Beversluis and Tom Boersma. Private services will be held by the family. Contributions in Don’s memory may be made to Calvin College, 3201 Burton SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546, or online at The family would appreciate comments and remembrances of Don to be left below.

Make a Contribution

Contributions in Don’s memory may be made to

Calvin College, 3201 Burton SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546.


The family would appreciate comments and remembrances of Don to be left below.

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5 Responses

  1. My deepest sympathy goes to you, Jess, in the death of your husband, and to all family members. I pray that God will continue to uphold you during this time of grieving.

    I fondly remember times of talking with Don about education, and what I was doing in Haiti, helping educate nurses there.
    I will also always remember just being friends with Don and his family.

  2. I’m sorry to hear of Don’s passing.
    Many good memories of our past association and participation in joint projects surface at a time like this.
    I’m grateful for all of them. Our thinking meshed on many issues and challenges, and I admired Don’s dogged dedication to make a difference where it was needed.
    It’s good to read about his fascinating past in the obit, and I now regret that I didn’t get him to talk about that more on some long car rides we had together.
    My sincere condolences to Jess and the whole Oppewal family.

  3. Don was my English teacher at Illiana CHS during my senior year. Everyone who knew “Mr Oppewal” remembers a few things about this man who never quit. When I attended high school it was still normal dress for a male teacher to wear a coat and tie. Don had 2 sport coats; a dark green and a dark burgundy, both corduroy. He always backed up to the chalkboard while he taught and as a result erased his writing with the sportcoats. He was usually oblivious to what he wore even coming to school one day with one brown shoe and one black one. We told him during the last period. His reaction? “I never noticed.” Very early on in the year he said “If you are diligent in this course you will find I am teaching you many things your college teacher will teach.” He was correct. Grace Holton, my freshman college English teacher, was teaching us exactly what “Mr Oppewal” taught us. What a life Don has had.

  4. Dear family, learning of Don’s death set in motion a series of memories. Don was the host of the welcome to LaGrave event for my wife and me when we arrived on the scene in 1978. He served in council and on committees and at one time was the director of our youth education enterprise. He stood up for women serving in all church offices at a time when that was not the prevailing stance of many in the church. He was fearless in the defense of his principles including a conviction that “general revelation” should be taken more seriously than it typically is (a Banner article he wrote not very long ago). I think he gave some lectures on that at LaGrave. One memory stands out: when we honored WWII vets at LaGrave a few years ago, Don displayed a variety of memorabilia and delivered his personal remembrance holding a Japanese rifle. He went on a little too long but since he was the one with the rifle I didn’t think I should try to stop him.

  5. I’ll always remember Don’s help as he prepared us each day to teach Cristian Perspectives On Learning at Calvin College during my first year teaching an interim class (1989). These enlightening sessions held each morning did more then prepare us new faculty to face the students in our sections, they help new faculty developed a Reformed perspective on education and life.

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Make a Contribution

Contributions in Don’s memory may be made to

Calvin College, 3201 Burton SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546.


The family would appreciate comments and remembrances of Don to be left below.