TWU student one-in-a-million: One million dollars given to religious studies department

Langley, B.C.—At the end of a rigorous four-year undergraduate degree, while most students are celebrating their victorious accomplishments and planning for their next stage of life, one student is focused on giving back to her university. On March 9, 2004 Trinity Western University unveiled the newly refurbished Seal-Kap House, a project made possible by an astounding one million dollar donation by the Vandekerkhove family, and by the passion of Sylvie Vandekerkhove, a mature, fifth year religious studies student graduating this April.

Martin Abegg, PhD, Sylvie’s advisor and first-year religious studies professor, compares the events to a fairy tale. “We have all these library, research and building needs,” he says, still shocked by Sylvie’s generosity. “Externally, we announce it, knock on doors and many times, it seems they go unanswered. And yet, we have this student, Sylvie, who has enjoyed her stay, experiencing first hand what it means to be a TWU religious studies student. She’s caught the vision and wants to help out. The whole thing is astounding.”

As designated by Sylvie, the gift was broken down into two components: $273,400 for the Seal-Kap renovations, and $726,600 for an annual influx of religious studies library books. The newly renamed Sylvie Vandekerkhove Seal-Kap Centre, which houses the offices of the religious studies professors, was long overdue for repair and renovations. The heritage building—TWU’s oldest campus facility—has now been transformed both aesthetically and practically into a well-functioning centre of innovation.

The library will receive its portion of the donation over the next five years. “It’s really a wonderful gift,” says Ted Goshulak, University Librarian, M.L.S . He explains that religious studies books are extremely costly. “With this gift, we’ll be able to purchase not only new works, but older ones that are now out of print. It will give us a depth and a breadth we’ve never had before in the Religious Studies section. It was a good collection, but now it will be great.”

But Sylvie’s generosity was not only prompted by the felt needs of her department of study, but also by gratitude. “I came to Trinity a broken and fragmented human being, just recovering from alcoholism,” says Sylvie. “I craved learning and craved it badly, but I was barely a year sober and had no confidence in myself whatsoever. I was constantly reassured by faculty, ‘it’s ok, you’re going to do just fine.’ Their faith in me gave me confidence, and with time and repetitive encouragement, I started to believe in my own abilities. I grew emotionally and academically stronger and I was, and still am, challenged by all of them to reach beyond my comfort zone, to look beyond the obvious and to opening my mind to new ideas and concepts.”

Now a vibrant and confident person, Sylvie reflects on her transformation. “I was not ‘molded’ by the professors,” she explains, “but aided, supported and encouraged—always in a positive manner,” she says. “I was re-discovering my abilities and was slowly re-birthing into the person I was designed to be.”

And from that person emerged passion and generosity. “As far as I’m concerned, there is no life without passion,” says Sylvie, who, with the Vandekerkhove family is involved with Langley Memorial Hospital, Mercy Canada, Union gospel mission and sponsors 100 children with World Vision. “The need for financial help in this world is huge, let alone on campus, so deciding where and how to give can actually be burdensome. I’ve discovered that we need to give to what excites us—if we cannot give out of our passion, what are we living for?”

It was Paul Weme, TWU’s Director of Development that enabled Sylvie’s gift to stay true to its original vision—to help the religious studies department. “The most exciting thing about my job is discovering a donor’s passion and watching their eyes light up as together we work toward the goal,” he says.

Inevitably, TWU’s academic sector was equally moved. In his building dedication speech, Jim Scott, Professor of Religious Studies, expressed deep gratitude on behalf of the faculty. “Education is not cheap,” he said. “It takes personnel, deep commitment, long hours, facilities, and resources to make it all happen. The Vandekerkhoves saw some major needs on our campus, and they did something about them….We faculty are thankful for the generous support for the vision of Trinity Western University that this gift represents.”

Scott explained that the gift meets more than just physical needs. “Indeed, with this donation we have turned a corner in the history of the institution, for this is the first time that the academic sector of the University has been advanced in such a major way.” Turning to the Vandekerkhove family, he reiterated the heartfelt attitude of the entire university. “Thank you for sharing our vision. Thank you for supporting our work. And, most of all, thank you for loving Trinity Western University.”

Last Updated: 2015-07-20
Author: Keela Keeping