Archived Voice Articles
Alumni Profile: Arlo and Heidi bakker can't stay away
By Andrew De Young
Arlo and Heidi (Karges) Bakker
Arlo and Heidi (Karges) Bakker (’03, ’03) don’t have the most glamorous jobs at Dordt College. But they weren’t looking for glamour.
“We love Dordt,” says Heidi. Arlo and Heidi returned to campus after a year away, to run the Humble Bean, the campus coffee shop, and to maintain the alumni house, a kind of on-campus hotel for friends of the college. “It’s really about a shared vision that we’d like to be a part of. If it’s in big visible ways, fine, but if it’s in small ways, that’s great too, as long as we can help ensure the continuation of that vision.”
Arlo and Heidi were introduced to the vision during their four years at Dordt. Arlo, a graphic design major, and Heidi, an English major, met and began dating while working together on the Canon, a student-produced literary journal. After graduating in 2003, they stayed at Dordt to finish work on the Canon, then headed out to North Dakota, where Heidi’s family lived and farmed.
“There was a stonemasonry project going on at our house,” Heidi explains. Her parents had undertaken to put a stone wall on one side of their house, and the new college graduates were enlisted to help, in part because of Arlo’s artistic abilities. “Dad said to me, ‘I know Arlo has more creativity in his little finger than I have in my entire body.’”
So Arlo stayed on to help during the summer and into the next fall, while Heidi went to teach high school English in Fulton, Illinois. Still unmarried, they nevertheless found it hard to be apart. If you asked them, they would both call it a “growing year.”
Arlo calls that year in North Dakota his “hermitage.” After completing the stone wall for his future father-in-law, Arlo agreed to stay on for the rest of the year to help out on the farm. His social interactions, he says, were limited to Heidi’s family and the congregation at the church that he attended once a week. Although that year was anything but miserable, he still felt the pinch of isolation, and couldn’t help but think about the Dordt community he had just left.
Still, he enjoyed the work, due in part to an interest he had in organic farming, and a concern for the dwindling numbers of family farms in North America.
“But if not for my dad, would you be interested?” Heidi asks.
Arlo shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so. That was actually a significant factor in my agreeing to work there,” he explains. “Heidi’s father and I had been talking a lot about agriculture, wondering why so many families are leaving the farm. We decided that more people need to get farming experience, so I agreed to stay that year for a kind of internship that lasted a full year.”
Meanwhile, Heidi was facing her own challenges in her first full-time teaching position in Fulton, Illinois. She was the only high school English teacher and found the work and lifestyle hard to adjust to.
“I found out all sorts of things about myself,” she says. “How can you live alone? How can you teach these classes and plan all this without getting burned out?”
“Or,” adds Arlo, “how can you get burned out and then get re-lit?”
They both struggled that year, trying to create connections in their post-college lives, putting down roots in new places. By the end of that year, however, they both discovered that they were already much more “connected” than they had even thought. The other teachers in Fulton did much to support Heidi and make her transition as smooth as possible. For Arlo, there was Heidi’s family. And after the year was through and they were reunited back in North Dakota, both Arlo and Heidi discovered an invisible support network when friends and acquaintances came out of the woodwork to help them plan a summer wedding.
The community at Dordt College and their connections on campus also came into play. During their year apart, Arlo often visited Heidi in Fulton, and as he puts it, “Sioux Center was a convenient mid-point.” He often stopped in Sioux Center, staying for a night with a sister in town and coming to Dordt to visit with old professors and friends. Once, says Heidi, one of the people who ran the coffee shop asked if they might want to run it in the future.
“It was just a random comment, and we didn’t think much of it at the time,” she says. “But it was always in the back of our minds.”
Then, late in the winter of 2004, the call came for someone to take care of the alumni house. During one of his stops in Sioux Center, Arlo spoke to Judy Hagey, director of alumni and church relations, about the job, and he and Heidi interviewed for it in May. Their getting the job, combined with the need for someone to run the Humble Bean, sealed it: the Bakkers would return to Dordt come August.
Only a couple of months into the school year, Arlo and Heidi are already becoming familiar faces on campus. Keeping the Bean open from one in the afternoon until one in the morning, the Bakkers are getting to know students both old and new, and when they’re not at work in the coffee shop, they’re busy keeping the alumni house clean and greeting guests of the college. They’re busy, but they enjoy the work, and believe that, whether they’re serving coffee or washing bed sheets, they’re doing something important on campus.
“The Humble Bean plays a significant role in Dordt’s community,” says Arlo. “It broadens the settings in which students can have interaction. There’s such a mixture—people studying, being boisterous, or just coming for some quiet time.”
“In any campus, there will be groups,” Heidi adds. “But it’s interesting to see how those lines blur in the coffee shop.”
More than anything—more than simply brewing a good cup of coffee or blending a tasty smoothie—it’s clear that the Bakkers want to break down barriers in the coffee shop. They say that interacting with people from different walks of life, different age groups, and different backgrounds helps people to examine their own lives. They want the Humble Bean to foster interaction not just between students of different majors, but between students, faculty, and members of the larger Sioux Center community.
Compared to their work, then, in the Humble Bean, their job at the alumni house might seem unexciting. They maintain the ample space in the house, making sure things are nice when guests arrive and cleaning up after they leave. Ask the Bakkers, though, and they’ll tell you that there’s a little more to this job.
According to Heidi, “We need to be ready at any point—for alumni, or parents of students, or any guest—to be a presence for the college.”
And that’s a job they take very seriously. Sometimes they get to know guests; sometimes guests want to be left alone. But they always work hard, and after leaving, people almost always comment on how nice the house is, and how comfortable and welcome they felt there. Arlo and Heidi’s work at the alumni house is one more way they experience the Dordt community that they treasure so much, a community that extends well beyond the bounds of the campus on Sioux Center’s north side.
“It’s nice to have a community where you’re known a bit,” says Heidi. “Plus, Dordt is an institution that can use our support.”
“We both came away from Dordt with
an appreciation for the vision and goals of the college,” Arlo adds. “Of course that
will carry over into our work and purpose here.”