1960s A Time to Weep
The festive holiday mood ended suddenly for the Westmont community in December, 1959. Just two days before Christmas vacation, President Voskuyl’s daughter Nancy died in a car accident. While her death brought deep sorrow to the College, it gave the Voskuyls an opportunity to share their faith with the local community.
Nancy had gone out to lunch that day and was returning to campus for an afternoon class. The car in which she was riding slipped off the road, throwing her against a telephone pole just off the pavement on Sycamore Canyon Road. She died instantly.
Dr. Ed Bouslough, the dean of students at the time, heard about the accident and hurried to the site. “I arrived…to find out that the worst was true – we had lost Nancy. The poor young man who had been driving the car was distraught. Dr. Voskuyl was in Los Angeles, so we were unable to contact him immediately. It was my responsibility, I felt, to go over and talk to Mrs. Voskuyl, and to be with her.”
Nancy’s classmates had noticed her absence, and they learned the reason before the end of the hour. Soon everyone on campus knew about the accident. Students from that era still remember where they were when they heard about Nancy’s death. Bonnie Graf Hyra ’62 recalls, “Dr. Monroe broke the news to my New Testament class, and we all cried the remainder of the day. It was an awful way to move into the two-week Christmas vacation.”
Dr. Frank Hieronymus, who was the dean of the faculty, called the president. According to Dr. Voskuyl, “Frank told me that Nancy had been in an accident. I asked how bad it was, and he told me it was the worst. He offered to come pick me up, but I told him I could drive up by myself. We agreed to meet at the Conejo Grande…From there, we drove the rest of the way to my house. When we arrived, there were several family friends waiting. The young man who was driving the car with Nancy was also there. I took him aside, and we went into the bedroom and knelt and prayed together.”
Although they grieved for Nancy, Roger and Trudy Voskuyl opened their arms to this young man. Their response to him and their expression of faith in God touched the Santa Barbara community. The Lord used the tragedy to make Westmont more visible in the local area.
The Voskuyls held the funeral service two days later so Westmont students who lived out of town could attend before going home. Family and friends packed Grace Church. Dr. William Beasley, a member of the music faculty at the time, played the organ. “I remember one of the most moving parts of the service was when that grieving young man who had been in the car with Nancy knelt beside the casket.”
Within a few days, the idea of a prayer chapel in memory of Nancy took hold. Mrs. Ruth Kerr encouraged the project by contributing a substantial amount for the Nancy Voskuyl Prayer Chapel. The class of 1960 adopted the furnishings as their gift to the College. Dr. Bouslough donated the stained glass window as a memorial to both Nancy and his father who died shortly before the accident. The manager of the bookstore, Rev. Wesley Turner, gave the large Bible that still sits in the Chapel. A plaque in the foyer celebrates Nancy’s life.
Today a second plaque hangs in the foyer in memory of Lisa Bebout, Alan Voorman, and Garth Weedman, the students killed in the tragic car accident during Potter’s Clay in 1989. It recalls a more recent period of suffering and searching.
In an open letter appearing in the Westmont Courier in early 1960, Dr. Voskuyl shared some of his feelings. “Our life at home and the life of the College was different because she had been with us…Truly we can say with other parents and friends that there are many things worse than having a daughter, a classmate, a friend in heaven…for to be with Christ is far better.”
Thirty years later, Dr. Voskuyl believes that Nancy’s death led to a special time of personal and spiritual growth. “During that week, I spent hours reading about what it means for a Christian to die…[and], I did most of my grieving. I feel I was given special grace from God to face the burden…
“I fulfilled my duties as president as best I could. At times, I would be quite moved emotionally, and it became difficult to lead chapel, but I was able to continue somehow. Since that time, I haven’t felt grace quite like I felt it during that period.”