Listening to God’s Call


With eight years’ experience as a classis president, the Rev. Dr. Tom Smith is serving as 2012–13 president of the Reformed Church in America’s General Synod.

Tom Smith ’75 was all set to be a history teacher and basketball coach when NWC sociology professor Paul Hudson pulled him aside and told him he had gifts for the ministry.

Smith, a pastor’s son, considered the professor’s comments and changed his major to religion. After graduating from Western Theological Seminary, he has been a Reformed Church in America (RCA) pastor for 32 years in four states.

The co-pastor at Faith Reformed Church in Rock Valley, Iowa, since 2003, Smith is spending this year serving as president of the RCA’s General Synod. He says his main goal for the year is to be a good listener—to parishioners and to God—as he takes the pulse of the 900-church denomination.

“There’s a lot of breadth to this denomination. I’m totally optimistic about what God is doing in and through the RCA,” he says.

One of the biggest tasks facing Smith and other RCA leaders is developing a new goal to replace Our Call, which expires next year after setting the denomination’s direction for 10 years. The RCA is in the process of seeking to discern where God is leading it, with a goal of presenting a recommendation at the 2013 General Synod.

Dog Days


Service dog Zephyr has been by Heather Northrop’s side since greeting her with a kiss three years ago.

Heather (Harrison `87) Northrop maintains a stubborn streak of independence despite having a degenerative joint disorder that means she often uses a wheelchair.

Northrop, of New Britain, Conn., works as an advocate for young people with disabilities. But it took years of urging by her husband, Eric, before she agreed to get a certified service dog to help her. She and Zephyr, an 81-pound retriever/lab cross, have been partners for three years now. He performs more than 50 tasks, including pushing buttons to open automatic doors, picking things up off the floor, and moving clothes from the washer to the dryer.

“But he doesn’t fold!” Northrop says, laughing.

In February, Zephyr traveled with her to Northwestern, where she led workshops on disabilities for the college’s annual Day of Learning in Community.

“Because he’s certified, Zephyr is expected to go with me to the doctor, church, restaurants,” she says. “Pet dogs can’t do that, so they don’t develop the same bond with their master.”

Zephyr is so tuned to Northrop that when she cries, he whines and nuzzles her.

If they’ve been out, the mood relaxes when they get home and she removes his service-dog vest and collar. “I play with him every day,” she says. “But he looks to Eric for the wrestling and rough-housing.”

He is a dog, after all.

All in the Family Business


Kurt Erickson serves as president of Erickson Machine Tools in Story City, Iowa, the company his grandfather founded in 1960.

Living in the town where he grew up and running the family business, Kurt Erickson ’92 knows a lot of eyes are on him. That’s OK; he finds it a comfort and a challenge.

Erickson has known nearly everyone in Story City, Iowa, his whole life, so he has a lot of mentors. And his kids have many of the same teachers he did, “so if there’s an issue, I’ll hear about it.”

The challenge is to make his own mark. His grandfather, who founded Erickson Machine Tools 52 years ago, is gone now, but his dad is still CEO. As president, Erickson’s influence has included introducing new technology and taking the company through an intense, two-year evaluation process.

He feels the pressure (“That’s my name on the door,” he says), but he loves the heritage. “It’s rare to meet someone who uses machine tools in Iowa who hasn’t heard of Erickson,” he says.

While he’s still learning from his mentors, Erickson is also mentoring the next generation. For six years, he’s led a weekly Bible study for a couple dozen teen boys. “It keeps me grounded in the Word and holds me accountable: I can’t be a hypocrite,” Erickson says. He’s seeing the fruit of those relationships: This summer one of the kids from the early years—now a college student—is interning with him.

Building Blocks


As executive director of Extreme Community Makeover, Angela Bomgaars works with volunteers and residents to improve Denver one block at a time.

Knock, knock.  After 10 years of living next door to each other, the knock of an Extreme Community Makeover volunteer in search of a tool finally helped two Denver neighbors meet. 

Knock, knock. After 60 years of living in the same house, one man got his first knock on the door ever—an Extreme Community Makeover volunteer hoping to help.

Knock, knock. After six years of searching for her niche, opportunity knocked for Angela Bomgaars ’02. 

“I had an idea of what I wanted to do,” Bomgaars says, “but it didn’t really exist.” Then in 2008 her pastor had an idea and invited Bomgaars to join a team to develop it. That’s where Extreme Community Makeover (ECM)—and Bomgaars’ passion—were born. 

ECM uses an adopt-a-block model and groups of volunteers to work with residents in Denver neighborhoods, completing outdoor projects of all kinds on Saturdays from April through October. More than 11,000 volunteers have been involved, working with nearly 1,100 families. As executive director, Bomgaars has had a front-row seat to this explosion of community-building. 

“Growing up in a small Iowa town really places that community value in you, she says. “I have the opportunity to show it’s possible to have that community elsewhere. We want people to see this doesn’t have to be a one-day thing—that we’ll all be in a better place if we help each other out.”

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