Kenneth Weller ’48

Kenneth Jay Weller, 96, was born November 22, 1925, in Holland, Michigan. He was the only child of Gertrude Verhey Weller and Arie Weller, an immigrant from Boskoop, South Holland, the Netherlands. Ken died in Pella, Iowa, on March 18, 2022, satisfied with what he called “a good life” spanning almost a century. A life devoted to love of family and service to others.

Ken left an enduring legacy in higher education, NCAA athletics, and both Central and Hope Colleges, but perhaps more importantly, he made a profound difference in the hearts of thousands of students over the years.

Ken graduated from Holland High School in 1943, serving as president of his class for several years. He attended the University of Michigan on an engineering scholarship, but after one year, joined the United States Navy. He trained as an electronics technician and served in Guam during World War II.

He returned to Michigan in 1946 and enrolled at Hope College, graduating in 1948. He met Shirely Jean Gess during his senior year, and they were married on August 19, 1950, in her hometown of Buchanan, Michigan.

In 1958, Ken joined the Hope faculty, while completing a master’s degree of business administration and a doctoral degree from the University of Michigan. He served as a professor of economics and assistant football coach at Hope from 1949-69. He also served as assistant to President Irwin Lubbers through 1964. He and Shirely were part of a small group that helped launch a new congregation of the Reformed Church in America, which became Christ Memorial Church in Holland, where they were active members.

In August of 1969, the Weller family moved to Pella, Iowa, where he began duties as Central College’s president. It was a turbulent era as the Vietnam War raged and bitter protests engulfed many American campuses. But as the unrest swirled the following spring at Central, Ken provided students a listening ear, and his empathetic leadership helped diffuse a tense situation. Over more than twenty years, Ken guided the college through a period of unprecedented growth, in learning spaces, in the endowment, in student enrollment, and in international studies.

Ken was an intercollegiate athletics leader as well and was active within the NCAA from 1975 through his retirement. He authored the original NCAA Division III philosophy which advocated that the focus of intercollegiate athletics should be on benefits for the participant rather than the spectator. He insisted that athletics are only a part, albeit an important part, of the student experience. As a key figure on a NCAA task force, Ken was instrumental in the incorporation of women into both the NCAA and the Iowa Conference in the early 1980s.

Ken’s contributions were not unnoticed. In 1987, Ken was named one of the top 100 college and university presidents in the U.S. In 2002, he was presented with the Order of Knighthood of Oranje Nassau, an honorary recognition by the queen of the Netherlands. He was inducted into the Central College Athletics Hall of Honor and the Iowa Track Officials Hall of Fame. Both Central and Hope Colleges presented Ken with honorary degrees. The Reformed Church in America authored a resolution of appreciation of his service to the church on both the local and national levels.

Following his retirement as Central’s president in 1990, Ken remained in Pella and was active in numerous charitable organizations. He helped create the Pella Community Foundation, and was a long-time member of Second Reformed Church. He and Shirely continued to enjoy tent camping, biking, and canoeing. For forty years, they spent time in Yucatan discovering places off the beaten trail, twice driving there from Pella in their Ford Explorer. Their vacations were always a mix of discovery and adventure: by car, by plane, and by boat. Ken and his family sailed islands of the Bahamas, motored the canals of Netherlands, and rafted the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. From scuba diving to cross-country skiing to windsurfing, Ken was up for the action.

He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Shirely Gess ’50 Weller; his sons and their spouses, Bill ’76 and Sally Brumels ’78 Weller of Crystal Lake, Illinois, and Matt and Molly of Green Bay, Wisconsin; his grandchildren: Kate, Ben, Claire Weller ’10, Allison, and Charlie; and his great-grandchildren: Alice, Reid, Aida, Van, and Cooper.

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