After arriving from Ghana, West Africa, Trinity Christian College student Ezekiel Odonkor was surprised to get a personal email and invitation for dinner from the college president. When Odonkor struggled to pay his tuition, he was even more surprised when the president searched for financial aid on his behalf.
That compassion is one of the things that the college community will miss most about Steve Timmermans, as he steps down from nearly a decade as president of the Palos Heights college.
"He is extremely humble," said Ezekiel, a senior psychology major, who has been accepted into the college's master's program in counseling psychology. "He shows it by being a servant leader.
"He doesn't look at people's pasts, he doesn't judge people. He is someone who is willing to give people more than a few chances," said Ezekiel, who teared up as he spoke about Timmermans, who is resigning, effective May 30, to become executive director of the Christian Reformed Church of North America, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Elizabeth Rudenga, provost of Trinity, will be interim president.
"One leaves and after you make the decision, you ask yourself, 'Why am I leaving this good place,'" said Timmermans, who has a doctorate in education and psychology.
"The position to which I've been nominated is an exciting position, a position of leadership and significance and I feel called to that. … It's a group of churches whose efforts, from mission to community development, really span the globe," he said.
Under Timmermans, enrollment increased from 1,135 to 1,380, and diversity increased from 12.4 percent to 24.3 percent. Master's degree programs and semesters in Ecuador and Kenya were added. Endowed- and externally-funded scholarships and Adult Studies program enrollment nearly doubled. The college also either started or completed a number of facilities, including the Bootsma Bookstore Café, Art and Communication Center, a recreation center and an athletics complex.
Timmermans also created the Palos Area Community Advisory Board for ongoing communication between the college and residents. When the college wanted to buy a popular long-time restaurant that was for sale several years ago and residents objected, Timmermans invited neighbors to offer suggestions for what is today the Bootsma Bookstore Café .
Boosting diversity has been important to Timmermans. He started the President's (Obama's) Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge in 2011. Trinity students and Muslim youth groups worked together to clear the nearby Cal-Sag Trail as part of the Challenge.
"I think it's a faithful way to shape a Christian college," said Timmermans. "People say they're not about keeping people out or homogeneity, but people's faith should be about inclusiveness and welcoming all. It's important during the college years (students) understand how to participate in a diverse arena, working with people unlike themselves."
Timmermans and his wife, Barbara, have four grown children and adopted two Ethiopian boys. Their older sister recently joined the family. Timmermans also co-leads a Bible study for men struggling with addiction at Restoration Ministries, Inc. in Harvey.
Faculty say Timmermans' contributions have been immeasurable, but his humanity stands out.
"He's kind-hearted, has a good sense of humor and doesn't have an out-of-control ego," said Helen Hoekema Van Wyck, professor of music and director of choral activities. "I think he sees himself as there to make the campus a better place and help us all find avenues of service."
Rick Hamilton, a business professor and long-time friend, said Timmermans regularly chats with students.
"I struggle to learn students' names; Steve knows almost all the students' names. He's engaged with the students and that's just an amazing gift," Hamilton said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun