Beloved Graphic Design Professor’s Legacy Lives on Through the Jan G. Vonk Endowed Scholarship
You could say that Jan Vonk and Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) were destined for one another. In the fall of 1962, Vonk was full of creative potential and feeling unfulfilled after a brief stint at a liberal arts college when his mother dared him to find out what KCAD had to offer. He accepted her challenge, and after visiting the college, enrolled immediately.
Then, after earning an associates degree at KCAD and a bachelors degree from the University of Michigan (he would go on to earn a Masters degree from the University of Michigan in 1978), Vonk was seeking employment as a graphic designer when he was offered, and accepted, a teaching position at KCAD. The rest, as they say, is history.
From 1966 until his retirement in 2005, Vonk touched the college in profound and lasting ways. He developed the talents of thousands of students as a professor of Graphic Design, forged strong and lasting relationships with staff and fellow faculty members, spent time in leadership roles as dean of the faculty and head of the KCAD Faculty Association, and played a key role in both the design of the fourth floor of the 17 Fountain Street NW building – now home to the Graphic Design program – and the significant planning process that led to KCAD’s acquisition of what is now the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building.
(left to right): Graphic Design professor and current Interim Dean of the College Ron Riksen; current Graphic Design professor Gary Williams; former professor Don Williamson; Jan Vonk
On September 6, 2014, Vonk passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. Now, thanks to the generosity of his wife, Kathy, and children Charles, Kristen, David, and Kimberly, his personal legacy and love for KCAD will continue through the Jan G. Vonk Endowed Scholarship. This scholarship will be awarded annually to a full-time sophomore, junior, or senior in the Graphic Design program who demonstrates personal integrity, dedication to the program, and community service.
“With the exception of two years in North Carolina with a design studio, Jan’s entire professional life was spent with KCAD,” said Kathy. “He loved the college, and it was very good to and for him. Every year he would say that when it was no longer fun, he would leave and work for a business, and needless to say, it stayed fun. When Jan died, I started talking to our children and suggested establishing a scholarship at KCAD in remembrance of Jan, and they loved the idea.”
(above and below) Vonk was truly a family man, pictured here with his grandchildren
One need only talk to current KCAD faculty members who were colleagues and close friends of Vonk’s to know that his impact on the KCAD community can still be felt today. Ron Riksen, a professor of Graphic Design and current Interim Dean of the College who taught alongside Vonk for over 30 years, remembers a man who saw KCAD not as his place of employment, but as his home.
“Jan loved KCAD, and he often shared with me his desire to do something extra for ‘his’ college,” said Riksen. “I can’t think of a better way for him to have done that than this scholarship, which will help our students develop their talents and realize their potential for years to come, just as they did under Jan’s guidance. “
Vonk in his home away from home: the classroom
Sandra Ringlever, who has taught in the Illustration department since 1963, remembers Vonk as an exceptional student, a well-respected professor, a cherished friend, and an inspiring role model to students and faculty alike.
“Jan's career has been marked with commitment, with dedication, with caring, with abundant knowledge and with love,” she said. “All who have known him are richer and better because of it. Throughout his entire career, he has helped countless students realize their dreams.”
When Angela Dow first started teaching in the Graphic Design department 15 years ago, it was Vonk that took her under his wing, showing her not just how to teach, but to do so in a way that was genuine, devoted, and joyous.
“I knew that Jan loved being a teacher and was a true advocate for the pursuit of art and design,” said Dow. “He is one of the founding faculty who made our program what it is today, not just with regard to what we teach, but more importantly how we teach it—with his same passion, integrity, intuition, patience, and kindness.”
This spring, Graphic Design junior Brittany Parritt became the first recipient of the Jan G. Vonk Endowed Scholarship. In addition to excelling in the classroom, Parritt creates graphic design work for family, friends, and her church, and exhibits a deep understanding of the power of design to communicate and connect.
“I try my best to tell people who I am through my creative work because I believe that it helps get your name out there and come into contact with people that you otherwise may have never known,” she said. “I was taught to never expect anything to be given to me, but to always give thanks when I am given to. I believe that these are the characteristics that show through in my work, and I think they show how human connection is a wonderful outcome of design.”
If you’re interested in learning more about setting up an endowment or donating to support KCAD, contact Jill Schneider, Assistant to the President at [email protected] or visit kcad.edu/giving to give today.