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Remembering Don VanderJagt

By Ted Sundstrom

We recently learned that Don Vander Jagt passed away on March 10. For those of you who do not know, Don Vander Jagt was one of the founding members of the Department of Mathematics at GVSU, then Grand Valley State College. Don started at Grand Valley in the fall of 1964, the second academic year for Grand Valley and was one of the first two mathematicians hired at Grand Valley. I am not quite sure when Don became chair of the department, but I believe he was the chair for approximately 25 years.

Don had a lasting impact on Grand Valley and the Department of Mathematics. As chair for so many years, Don was one of the main advocates for the mathematics program at Grand Valley and helped lay the groundwork for the department that we have today. However, Don was also instrumental in the development of programs in mathematics education, statistics, and computer science. For example, when it became clear in the 1960s that there would be a School of Education at Grand Valley, Don was the driving force in integrating mathematics education into the mathematics department. The first important decision was to hire two faculty members in mathematics education in 1966 in the Department of Mathematics. The idea was that if Grand Valley was going to train prospective teachers, the Department of Mathematics should be the unit to determine the mathematics and mathematics education requirements for these students. For quite some time, there were only these two faculty members in mathematics education, but when the teaching emphases became more popular starting in the 1980s, the stage was set for hiring more mathematics educators.

In the 1970s, Don helped develop a computer science major at Grand Valley and was instrumental in having it housed in the Department of Mathematics. The same is true for the statistics program. By hiring statisticians in the 1970s, it was then possible to have the statistics courses at Grand Valley taught in the Department of Mathematics. Computer Science and Statistics are now separate departments.

I have missed having Don in the department these past few years and am deeply saddened by his passing, but I am also grateful for his friendship and the contributions he made to our department.