Longtime religion professor and international director dies

Dr. Lyle Vander Werff, a member of Northwestern's religion faculty from 1967 until he retired in 1998, died on Monday morning, April 23, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

A memorial service will be held on Thursday, April 26, at 11 a.m. at American Reformed Church in Orange City. Interment will be prior to the service at West Lawn Cemetery. Visitation will be after 2 p.m. on Wednesday, with the family present from 6 to 7:30 p.m., at
Oolman Funeral Home.

Among his survivors are his wife of 48 years, Phyllis; a son, David '82; two daughters, Kathryn Gabel '89 and Kristyn Howe '90; his mother, Mabel; three brothers; and three sisters.

Vander Werff, 72, graduated from Northwestern Junior College in 1954. He also earned a bachelor's degree from Hope College, a Master of Divinity degree from Western Seminary, a Master of Theology from Princeton Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh. He served three years as a missionary in Kuwait, organizing and pastoring an English-speaking international congregation.

"Breaking bread with Christians from 25 or more countries demonstrated for me the reconciling power of Jesus Christ," he told the Classic in 1998.

Vander Werff's passion to see the gospel spread throughout the world and for others to catch a global vision deeply influenced his time on Northwestern's faculty. He established Northwestern's first sister school relationship with an international college in 1980, and in 1985, he began the college's Summer Institute for International Students. F
or 15 years, he served as the director of international programs.

In 1996, then-president James Bultman described Vander Werff as "the heart and spirit" of a decade-long effort at Northwestern to increase global understanding and foster mutual education efforts with colleges around the world. "He spent countless hours in correspondence and took many international trips in an effort to nurture the oftentimes fragile relationships that exist across many miles," said Bultman. "Northwestern's efforts in international education wouldn't have existed without his energy and enthusiasm."

Named the recipient of the Northwestern Teaching Excellence Award in 1985, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Japan’s Keiwa College in 1996 and received the Alumni Association's Distinguished Service to Northwestern Award in 2004. In 1999, Vander Werff received the highest honor given by the Schools for Christ Foundation in Hong Kong, the Christian Education Award, for making significant contributions to Christian education in Hong Kong.

Those interested in honoring Vander Werff with a memorial gift may send checks to Northwestern's advancement office for the Vander Werff International Mission Scholarship.

Read tributes to Vander Werff and share your own memories.