Lineage chart showing: a third generation laker; 5 sibling alumni ; and a fourth family member to graduate from GVSU.

Laker Lineage

Laker pride is all in the family

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“L-A (clap, clap) K-E (clap, clap) Are You A Laker!”

The familiar cheer heard at basketball or football games rings true for more than 137,000 students and alumni who are Lakers. They represent all 50 states and 84 different countries; and for many, being a Laker is all in the family.

They say word-of-mouth is the most powerful marketing tool; perhaps it is especially true when the words come from family members.

In fact, among current undergraduates, more than 3,900 (18 percent) said at the time they applied they had a relative who had graduated from Grand Valley — a sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, parent and even a grandparent. 

"We find our students can sometimes be the best ambassadors and recruiters," said Jodi Chycinski, director of Admissions. "It isn't uncommon for us in Admissions to hear from our guests that the reason they are visiting campus and applying to Grand Valley is because of the positive experience shared by other family members."

Word-of-mouth was part of the reason all five Hoekzema siblings from Byron Center chose to become Lakers.

Four of the five siblings are working in health care; the youngest is working toward a degree in accounting. 

Headshots of 4 Hoekzema siblings. Sally '10; Bonny '15; Dennis '17; and Brian, a current student.


It could be said that Sally Hoekzema, '10, started it all — unknowingly recruiting her whole family to Grand Valley. Sally works as an orthopedic certified registered nurse and said the quality of the nursing program at Grand Valley stood out among the other colleges that were courting her.

"I picked Grand Valley because of the labs and advanced technology available," she said. "Other reasons were the value and close proximity to home."

Sally said her fondest memories of her college experience include caring faculty members. "I never felt like a number in the classroom," she said. "My professors were available no matter if I was in a lecture hall or in the smaller classes in my nursing cohort. Even my toughest professors were always available and knew my name." 

Sally's positive experience was part of the reason why her younger sister, Bonny Burkhart, '15, also chose Grand Valley's nursing program. Burkhart works as a cardiac progressive care nurse and said Grand Valley’s reputation for excellence, along with a good word from her older sister, sealed the deal.

"I already knew the feel of campus and that was important to me," said Burkhart. "The beauty of the campus drew me in. I like the small town campus feel, even though it’s a growing school." 

Like his sisters, Dennis Hoekzema, '17, works in health care; he is a rehabilitation technician in Grand Rapids. 

Dennis admits he was sold on Grand Valley before he applied. "I saw the success of my sisters after they graduated, so I knew the value of a Grand Valley degree," he said. 

But, he said there was more to it. Dennis had several interests after high school — exercise science, health fitness, conservation work and a love for ice hockey. Grand Valley had it all.

"I didn’t even go on any other college visits," he said. "Grand Valley offered good programs for all of my interests and offered me scholarships. Plus, while in high school, I was asked to practice with the Grand Valley hockey team."

Brian Hoekzema, a sophomore accounting major, said it comes as no surprise that he began showing his Laker pride while in elementary school. "I got Laker gear for birthday presents when I was young," he said. 

Brian remembers visiting Grand Valley while his siblings were students here. "I was groomed to know the value and quality of a Grand Valley education," he said. "I was already a Laker for a Lifetime long before getting here." 

Deanna DeWitt stands in her graduation cap and gown with three members of her family.
THIRD GENERATION LAKER // Deanna DeWitt, '17, second from left, is pictured at her 2017 Commencement with her mother and grandparents, who are all Lakers. From left: Peter DeWitt, '68; Deanne; Galene DeWitt, '67; and Chantil DeWitt, '00. At last count, at least 10 DeWitts have graduated from Grand Valley.
Dorian Harris, in his graduation cap and gown, stands with his father and brothers.
FOURTH TIME'S A CHARM // Dorian Harris, '15, third from left, is pictured with his father and brothers on commencement day. The Harris family holds up four fingers to indicate being a Laker is all in the family. From left: David Harris Sr., '83, '85; David Harris II, '07; Dorian; and Donte Harris, '11.

Laker Love

The Hoekzema siblings agreed that sharing experiences helped them choose Grand Valley, and the coursework and faculty members were among the reasons they wanted to stay.

Sally said her professors showed enthusiasm to teach and share their knowledge. Her favorite class outside her discipline was women's self defense. "I enjoyed my nursing courses but this class worked the other side of my brain. That was fun," she remembered.

Sally served as secretary of the Student Nurses Association for her graduating class and now serves as an adjunct faculty member for the Kirkhof College of Nursing.

Bonny said her academic advisor was instrumental in helping her navigate the nursing program and figuring out her future course as a nurse. "My advisor held my hand and helped me through the entire process," she said. "The faculty and advisors help you try to make it, not weed you out."

Bonny said she had many favorite spots on campus, including a couch on the top floor of the library, when it was located in what is now Zumberge Hall. "You could always find me on the window-seat couch," she said. "If I had homework, I would study there. If not, I would nap." 

As a student, Bonny was involved in Young Life and campus ministries, was a member of the Student Nurses Association and worked in the simulation center at the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences. 

Chele Titus stands with four members of her family.
PIONEER TO PRESENT // Chele Titus, '18, (far right) is the newest graduate in a family of Lakers, which includes her uncle, Tom Wienczkowski, (standing next to her) who was part of Grand Valley's first graduating class in 1967.

Dennis said a professor of movement science was instrumental in helping him understand sports psychology. 

"My professor advised me during my own mental training that I was delving into while playing hockey. His skill set applied directly to what I needed," said Dennis.

Zumberge Pond on the Allendale Campus stands out as a favorite spot for Dennis. "I had my favorite picnic table by the pond, which was a nice, quiet, beautiful place to study," he recalled. 

Brian said he loves the study spaces at the Allendale and Grand Rapids campuses, and his accounting professors make the material both interesting and understandable.

"I appreciate that professors are willing to share personal insights," he said. "As a sophomore, I've already received valuable career advice."

Brian said he is on course to finish in three-and-a-half years and then plans to earn a master's degree from Grand Valley. 

2 question marks

How many of your family members are Lakers?

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