Westmont Magazine A Poetic Ending

VanderMey Leaves on a Creative High Note

Vandermey photograph

Randall VanderMey, who retires after teaching English at Westmont for 32 years, has embodied a life of curiosity and inquiry, inspiring those around him with his creativity.

“Randy is never satisfied in familiar waters,” says Eileen McQuade, associate dean of faculty. “He seems to continually choose the unexplored coves or the spaces beyond the boundaries of his map.”

Since 2016, he’s been exploring iPhone photography and sharing his photos and accompanying poems daily on Instagram (@rvandermey).

Vandermey photograph

“I’ve become deeply immersed in the habit of taking iPhone photographs wherever I am,” he says. “I post one every single morning, most of the time with a poem I write to accompany it. I’ve been in the most creative, productive period of my life. Even though I’m not regularly publishing — or even striving to publish — I’m becoming connected with artists instead.”

At a Westmont Downtown lecture, “Photography and Poetry: Against My Will,” Randy examined his reluctance to delve into photography and how this creative outlet has opened numerous opportunities. While showing his photographs and illustrating his journey and techniques, he read complementary poems that sometimes offered a surprising or humorous spin on the images. He also shared a short film of his photography and poetry that he created in collaboration with Jon Skidanov '17.

Vandermey photograph

“Randy is the type of teacher who could turn a refrigerator repair manual into your muse and somehow connect it to something useful for your job,” Skidanov says. “The time and attention he gave to each and every student was only possible because of his sheer passion forteaching,andIhaveyettomeetaperson who didn’t have their lives enriched in some visceral way as a result of spending time with him.”

Randy’s iPhone photography and accompanying poems have appeared in numerous one-person shows and competitions, including a national traveling show, “Again + Again,” sponsored by Christians in the Visual Arts. He has created half a dozen limited edition books of his photography and poetry to accompany exhibitions of his work.

“My attitude toward photography has radically changed, but so has my attitude toward poetry, my Christian faith and ecology,” he says.

This transformation leads him to think more about how people relate to the natural order of the whole created world. “There’s a vast gap in Christian thinking about that, a lack of awareness and care,” he says. “I was never an environmentalist kind of a person, but now I’m definitely feeling more like developing my eco-poetic consciousness and reading more from people who feed that.”

Vandermey photograph

“Stewards of Eden,” a book by Sandra Richter, Robert H. Gundry professor of biblical studies at Westmont, is one of numerous books that have shaped his teaching about environmental themes to his literature and writing students.

Through the decades, Randy has continually sought to collaborate with other professors. “This is partly because he comes with a humble spirit to learn, but also because he recognizes the creative synergy that happens when two or more people strive toward a common goal together,” McQuade says.

At the President’s Breakfast with author Michael Lewis (see page 6), Daniel Gee ’13, director of the Westmont College Choir, surprised Randy — and brought him to tears — when the choir performed “Table Grace.” Randy wrote the lyrics, and Daniel composed the music.

“When the choir goes on tour, we’re often welcomed into the homes of the people we’re singing for, and we love to not just say grace, but to sing grace as a thanks to them and to God,” Daniel said at the breakfast. He reached out to his colleagues for suggestions about words he could compose music for, and Randy immediately responded. “He said he would write one for me,” Daniel says. “And he wrote a beautiful prayer that reflects our gratitude to God for his faithfulness and provision and our joy of being back together.”

Gee and Vandermey

Thank you, Lord, for the blessings of this day.
Preside, O Lord, over all we do and say.
Lift us, Lord, from our station in the mire.
Lend, O Lord, your music to our choir.
You are righteous and holy, deserving all praise.
Of your bounty the first fruits we gratefully raise.

Randy also frequently contributes poems about retiring faculty and staff members.

He has co-led Westmont’s Europe Semester three times with Lisa DeBoer (2003) and Ken Kihlstrom (2008, 2015) and directed England Semester in 1998.

Randy has collaborated several times with the Westmont Festival Theatre, even acting as Leonato in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in 2012, directed by Mitchell Thomas, professor of theater arts.

In 1993, the theater department produced his first play, “Nightcall,” about an obsessive, late-night, obscene caller. “Around the turn of the millennium, I started thinking about cell phones and how they alter our perceptions of personal space, social habits and our sense of community” he says.

The result was a one-act play, “Cell Division.” In the course of the next decade, he crafted the dramatic script for “Platinum Circle,” which includes a three-play sequence, “Cell Division,” “Fleas” and “Bluetooth Paternoster,” which probe the spiritual underside of our obsession with cell phones.

In summer 2012, John Blondell, professor of theater arts, staged “Platinum Circle,” first at a surprise 60th birthday party at the Granada Theatre, then later for several showings on campus during the spring of 2013. “That was the first time I had ever heard the words spoken by actors or heard an audience react,” VanderMey says about the surprise staging. “I was thrilled and overwhelmed.”

Joyelle Ball ’11 directed his one-act play “Square Hole” as part of the 2015 Fringe Festival in Black Box Theatre.

He seeks to stage his latest play, “WattRLoo,” based on “Race, Religion, and Law in Colonial India,” a book by Chandra Mallampalli, Fletcher Jones professor of social sciences and professor of history at Westmont. “I found it fascinating, and it struck a chord with me,” Randy says of the book. “I said, there’s a drama here.”

The play occurs entirely in the present but with the spirits of ancestors on the stage at all times. The title refers to an entrepreneurial nonprofit devised by a young Indian American woman that captures methane from the privies in rural India to power cell phones. The angel investor she turns to is several generations removed from the judge who decided the case of her untouchable Dalit family.

Randy has also worked with the music department, writing the lyrics to “Kenosis: A Song Cycle” (24 poems), which Steve Butler, professor of music, set to music for four voices, piano and percussion. Ensembles have performed it several times since 2000.

VanderMey acting
Randy as Leonato in "Much Ado About Nothing" (dir. Mitchell Thomas), 2012

Randy graduated from Calvin College, earned a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania, a Master of Fine Arts in fiction from Iowa Writers Workshop and a doctorate from the University of Iowa. He taught at Dordt College and Iowa State for a decade before visiting Westmont even though there were no available positions in the English department. The day he arrived, he learned a professor was taking maternity leave and unable to teach in the fall.

Randy, the lead author on “The College Writer: A Guide to Thinking, Writing, and Researching,” accepted a half-time offer from Westmont while working full-time for the Write Source Publishing House. He joined the college as a full-time, tenure- track professor in 1991.

“The College Writer,” a prominent textbook, is now in its seventh edition. Randy has authored other books, including “God Talk: Triteness and Truth in Christian
Clichés” and “Charm School: Five Women of the Odyssey.”

He serves as poetry editor for Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal. His poems and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Christianity and Literature, Mars Hill Review, Ruminate, Books and Culture, Rock & Sling and Poor Yorick.

Randy has been actively involved as an elder and member of the executive leadership team at Hope Community Church, where he met and later married his wife, Dana, in 1993. The two have a blended family of four children: Jason Clark, Julia Clark Cirincione ’01, Gabrielle VanderMey Silk ’02, and Mike Sakkers ‘98.

In retirement, Randy hopes to be more available to his family, travel and “read bigger, fatter, older books.”