2 Timothy 4: 6-8 – For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Gerald “Jerry” Bakker, 89, died peacefully in the early morning of Monday, November 7, 2022 at American House of Holland. His smile, laughter and love for his family and those caring for him was a part of who he was until the end, even though his memory had faded and he could no longer speak the words.
Born on May 16, 1933 to Simon and Mary Bakker in Cicero, IL, Jerry attended Chicago Christian High School and Calvin College, where he met his wife Barbara (Verbridge) Bakker when she asked him out during counter-courting week. Six months later, they were engaged, and after graduating from Calvin in 1955, he headed to University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana to get his Ph.D. in Chemistry while Barb finished at Calvin. They were married on June 8, 1957 in Kalamazoo, MI and began their life together that would span 65 years, beginning with Jerry’s postdoctoral work at the University of Kansas in 1958.
Jerry then landed his first teaching job as an Assistant Professor in the Chemistry Department at Earlham College, Richmond, IN in 1959. They had only planned to stay in Richmond for a year or two, but instead stayed at Earlham until his retirement after 36 years in 1995. While at Earlham he taught Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, a religion and science class and a course he taught with his dear friend, Len Clark, every year from 1968-1995, Philosophy of Natural Science. He and Len co-authored a textbook of the curriculum in 1988.
Jerry created a teaching consultant position in 1975 and became the first to hold the two-year job which provided faculty members with the opportunity to seek advice and evaluation. In 1986 Jerry focused his attention on building Earlham’s Ford Knight grants. The grants were designed to encourage professor research with the focus on involving students in the process. He was Associate Academic Dean, Acting Provost and led foreign study trips to Scandinavia in 1966 and 1971, and did a 50-year reunion trip to Scandinavia in 2016, and in 1995 led the Japanese SICE foreign study trip before retiring. He was a life-long educator, and taught not only at Earlham, but University of Illinois, Hope College, Calvin University and Grand Valley State University. He was loved by his students for the thoughtful and intentional ways he involved them not only in learning, but in life. He and Barb would take students on weekend ski trips to Michigan and host his advisees for spaghetti dinners with his homemade French bread at the house that they designed and built in Centerville, IN. He had a wonderful sense of humor and quick wit, and loved to laugh and smile. He was recognized by one of his Earlham students, who made a donation in his honor to name the renovated Chemistry floor after him in 2013. The dedication reads Jerry Bakker was a dedicated and inspiring professor, enriching student’s lives through his teaching and mentoring. For chemistry majors fortunate enough to have had him in class, he instilled the wonder and joy associated with practicing chemistry as well as an understanding of the rich opportunities chemistry provides for improving our world.
After his retirement from Earlham, he and Barb retired to Grand Haven, MI where they had a house in the Wilderness Association with access to the beach on Lake Michigan where he often swam, dug in the sand with his grandkids and great grandkids, paddled his kayak, and flew his many kites. He and Barb took many bike trips including internationally. They loved to travel together which they did often. He was a wonderful singer, and sang throughout his life, and in retirement was a part of the Holland Chorale, Calvin Alumni Choir and LaGrave Church Choir. He cared deeply about social justice and environmental issues and had many articles published and research cited. As one final gift to science and research, a whole-body donation was made through MedCure.
Jerry was a husband and partner to Barbara, father to Anne Bakker (Tom Davelaar), Holland, MI and Mark Bakker of Grand Haven, MI; Grandfather to Andrew Ko Gras (Julia Fleming) Colorado Springs, CO and Lauren Anne Wandell (Brandon Wandell) Perrysburg, OH; Great Grandfather to Evan, Theo and Owen Wandell; Brother to Marion Nordhof, Wharton, TX, Bob Bakker (Eloise) Orlando, Florida; Brother In-law to Jim Verbridge (Becki) Akron, OH; Uncle to Donna Molegraaf (John), Spring, TX, Richard Feyen (Peggy) Alaska, WI, Audrey Watson, Seattle, WA, Michael Feyen (Deanna) Wharton, TX, Mary Brown (Jim), Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dirk Bakker (Rebecca), Grand Haven, MI, Mary Vandenbosch, Grand Haven, MI, Doug Bakker (Kristen) Cedar Lake, IN, Pam Sellers, Muskegon, MI, Steve Verbridge (Michelle), Marquette, MI, Suzanne Adel (Brian), Pasadena, CA and many great nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Simon and Mary Bakker and brother Richard Bakker. A special thank you to Pastor Chad Boorsma, the staff at American House of Holland (Lighthouse and Bay Pointe), Holland Hospital and Hospice of Holland for their wonderful care during the past six weeks, and for sharing their meaningful and touching stories about their time with Jerry.
There will be a celebration of Jerry’s life at LaGrave Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI on Monday Nov. 14, 2022 at 11:00 a.m. with visitation prior to the service at 10:15 a.m. and at a luncheon following. Gifts can be made in memory of Jerry to the Gerald Bakker Collaborative Research Fund at Earlham College 801 National Rd. West, Richmond, IN 47374.