Harold Van Heuvelen ’40
Harold Van Heuvelen ’40 known as “Van” to his friends, was a musician, acclaimed music educator, retired U.S. Army Colonel and World War II veteran, and lay preacher. He passed away on April 26, 2017 in Kalamazoo, MI, at the age of 98.
Van was born in Yakima, WA, on March 30, 1919, to Rev. Bernard (Ben) Van Heuvelen and Carrie Catherine De Feyter, who came from families of Dutch emigres and homesteaders. They soon settled in Huron, SD, where Ben, a preacher, became a classical missionary for the Reformed Church in America. Carrie was a talented painter and art teacher who inspired her children to appreciate the arts.
Van’s life-long love of music began at the age of 7, when he started piano lessons. At 10, he took up the violin. Discovering that he had a natural talent for the instrument, he played in the orchestra at Huron High School and continued making music at Hope College, in Holland, MI, earning a Bachelor of Music degree.
In July 1939 he met Frances Irvine, of Park River, ND, while working a summer job at the Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone National Park. Van would later recall those days by singing a song titled “Rotten Logging,” which colorfully describes a favorite pastime of young couples in Yellowstone who find themselves sitting on a log together under the moonlight. Fran and Van married on Feb. 20, 1943.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Van entered the U.S. Army, where he served as an instructor in the Officer Candidate School at New Orleans Army Airbase. In the spring of 1945, during a period of uncertain calm — after Germany surrendered, as soldiers were awaiting a potential deployment to Japan — Van filled his idle time by composing a symphony.
For a time, he pursued a career as a professional musician. After the war, he returned to his studies at the University of Michigan, where he earned a Master of Arts in Solo Violin Performance in 1948. In 1952, he spent the summer at the Berkshire Music Festival, studying conducting and musical composition under Leonard Bernstein.
Ultimately, he and Fran settled in Bismarck, ND, where Van became Chairman of the Music and Fine Arts Department of the Bismarck Public Schools. In his 40-year career as an educator, Van brought music instruction to the elementary, middle and high school levels in Bismarck, teaching thousands of students of all ages to play and appreciate music. Van conducted the Bismarck High School Symphony Orchestra, and was also involved with the Bismarck Symphony and the Bismarck Messiah Orchestra. He and Fran raised two sons, John and Bob.
In 1970, Van became a Lay Preacher with the First Presbyterian Church. He would later characterize his religious service as “the most valuable of all my undertakings.” He also served 33 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, reaching the rank of Colonel.
Upon his retirement from teaching, Van and Fran moved to Red Lodge, MT, on the edge of Yellowstone Park.
After Fran’s death, in 2003, Van rekindled a relationship with Alma Viswat (née Weeldreyer), who had played the piano as his accompanist during their undergraduate studies together at Hope College. They were married on Nov. 18, 2007 — 70 years after they had first met — settling together in Alma’s hometown of Kalamazoo, MI. They made music for friends, family, and fellow churchgoers, and performed at the weddings of two of Van’s grandchildren.
On Nov. 4, 2012, Van’s Symphony No. 1, which he had begun composing 67 years earlier, was premiered by the U.S. Army Band at Fort Myer, Virginia. Van said the symphony was inspired by an era of war, telling a story that begins with “wandering and searching” and escalates into struggle and conflict. The final movement evokes a “glorious peace.”
“I have a lot of beautiful music in that movement,” Van said. “It’s my favorite part.”
To honor his memory, Van’s family invites his friends and well-wishers to make a donation to the Harold J. Van Heuvelen Fund at Hope College, a.k.a. “Van’s Fund,” which will support the studies of aspiring string instrument students from the prairie