Johanna Timmer Recognized as First President of Kuyper College

Former Acting School Head Johanna Timmer has been officially recognized as the first president of       
Kuyper College, following a  unanimous vote by Kuyper’s Board of Trustees this past spring.

Current Kuyper President Patricia Harris announced the landmark decision at Kuyper’s 2024 Spring Celebration Gala and shared her enthusiasm for the well-deserved acknowledgement.

 “Looking back 85 years, we think it’s important that we recognize her in this way for her great contribution to founding the college,” she said, to enthusiastic applause from those in attendance.

Born in Graafschap, Michigan in 1901, Timmer initially hoped to become a missionary overseas before chronic health issues made that impossible. She was first educated at a two-room country school before attending a high school that required a daily three-mile walk. 

After graduation, she taught at a Christian school in New Jersey before returning to West Michigan to become one of the first women to earn a degree from Calvin University. She then spent a year teaching.

In 1926, just six years after the United States ratified the 19th Amendment and gave women the right to vote, Timmer was hired on as Calvin’s first Dean of Women, making her their very first female faculty member.

In 1939, she left that position to become the leader and spokesperson of the fledgling Reformed Bible Institute, which would eventually be known as Kuyper College.

According to Harris, this was a position Timmer was more than qualified for.

“She was chosen to lead the College because she was the best person for the job,” Harris remarked. 

She added that though Timmer was given the title of Acting School Head, she fulfilled all the responsibilities of a college president. Timmer served in the role for four years, leading, recruiting, raising funds and teaching, before pivoting to become a much-loved and admired Bible teacher at RBI. 

“She did it with such grace,” said Harris. “She clearly recognized where God was leading her and valued following that calling more than a particular title.”

In a book of memories currently housed in the Kuyper archives, Katie Gunnink, later a beloved faculty member herself, reflected on her experience of being one of Timmer’s very first students and recalled her dedication to God’s word and the Reformed faith.

“She taught with such conviction and enthusiasm that the doctrines of the Bible became alive and precious,” said Gunnink. 

In 1951, Timmer left RBI to help establish Christian schools in Ripon, California, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she also served as principal. 

She died in 1978 at 77 in Holland, Michigan, having served God through Christian education for nearly 50 years.

“The things Timmer accomplished, especially as a woman in that time, are really quite remarkable,” said Harris. “No one had a reason to dispute her credentials, and her colleagues clearly respected her and held her in high esteem.”

And, she added, recognizing Timmer as Kuyper’s first president gives proper weight to both her professional accomplishments and the legacy she left behind for the College.

“She set the tone for Kuyper as a place that gives lay women and men a solid foundation of Biblical knowledge and equips them to serve and share the Gospel,” Harris emphasized, and Timmer’s parting words to Kuyper’s very first graduating class in 1942 are a perfect example of this.

“What has the Reformed Bible Institute sought to do to prepare students? We have fed you with the precious word of God… we have led you to grasp the centrality of the glory of God in all Christian activity and have impressed upon you the responsibility of faithful witness-bearing,” she said.

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You will graduate with professional and biblical skills to think critically, communicate effectively as a Christ-centered leader.


You will graduate with both an academic and a work transcript detailing your work experience for future employers.


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