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Community remembers Russell Maatman

May 13, 2010

Russell Maatman

Dr. Russell Maatman passed away on March 26, 2010.

What follows is part of the eulogy given by Dr. Carl E. Zylstra.

As he himself never forgot, Russell Maatman was born in Chicago in 1923, just fifteen years after the last time the Chicago Cubs won a World Series.

Russ Maatman also remembered every presidential campaign during his lifetime—ever since that day in 1928 when, as a four-year-old, his father held him on his shoulders at a Chicago train depot to see Republican candidate Herbert Hoover during a whistle stop campaign appearance. He would have to wait another twenty-four years to finally see another Republican elected in 1952.    

More important, though, Russell Maatman arrived in Sioux Center, Iowa, in 1963, just eight years after Dordt College had been founded. His lifetime of dedication and service spanned eighty-five percent of the history of Dordt College.

That loyalty born of conviction and dedication to his Lord Jesus Christ marks the legacy we celebrate.

What led a thirty-four-year-old successful industrial researcher, teacher, and university professor at one of the South’s most prestigious educational institutions, Ole Miss, to pack up his young family and move to a fledgling college, literally in the cornfields of Northwest Iowa, to carry his National Science Foundation research to a college that had barely even begun a science program and did not yet even grant four-year degrees?

The answer was in the huffy retort he gave me when, as a young Ph.D. from Princeton Seminary, I asked him, “Tell me Russ,  if we believe that our calling as Reformed Christians is to make the greatest impact for the kingdom of Christ that we can, then shouldn’t we encourage our brightest youth to forgo education at places like Calvin and Dordt and head off to the elite schools like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Chicago, and Stanford where they will meet the movers and shakers of the next generation and be networked into the power structures that seem to run our society and our world?”

That was one of the few times I heard Russell Maatman sputter. Close to speechless, he replied simply, “It seems to me that if we believe that Christ-centered education is the only way to faithfully explore God’s world, discern its inner workings, and prepare for service in his kingdom, then we’d better just be faithful and trust that God will honor that faithfulness with the results and impact that he wants to bring.” 

That’s why Russell Maatman dedicated his life to ensuring that Dordt College was the best it could be as a Reformed Christian institution of higher education. Career and prestige notwithstanding, he and his family came to Iowa because this is where God asked him to work—and he trusted that God would honor that commitment.

And he has. An early generation of Dordt College pre-med students were mentored by Maatman.  Dordt alumni doctors and researchers dot our country because of their collaborations with Dr. Maatman. His colleagues were inspired by his example and administrative leadership, and thousands of Dordt College alumni have had their eyes opened to the wonders of God’s creation as seen not just through the eyes of their faith but, as Professor Maatman would insist, as viewed in the illuminating light of Sacred Scripture itself.

Russell Maatman was one of the first to sell me on the value and potential of Reformed Christian higher education as expressed at Dordt College, and he helped convince me to play a role at Dordt College. He quietly and behind the scenes served as mentor, advisor, and friend throughout my years of service at Dordt College even though he by then he was Professor Emeritus.

We’ll remember Russell Maaman for his annual conviction that this might be the year that the Cubs would finally win the pennant and for being one of the most thoughtfully diehard Republicans most of us are likely ever to have met. But more importantly, because of him, we better understand what he understood so clearly—that the Sovereign Lord of all creation is the Sovereign Savior of all he has made. We, as the beneficiaries of his saving grace, really have no choice but to faithfully explore his world in the light of his Word, diligently serve his coming kingdom in whatever position he has placed us and with whatever gifts he has given us, and then trust him to bring the results that will finally give all the honor to his name.

Russell Maatman now rests in the peace of his Savior. Ours is the task that remains. Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be all the Glory.

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