A Story of Multitudes

The forthcoming history In Pursuit of Excellence by Tom Renner ’67 provides a comprehensive, carefully researched chronicle of Hope College sport from 1970 to 2020, a story built by hundreds of student-athletes and coaches across generations.

How do you plan to spend your retirement years? Relaxing in a hammock between two giant shade trees? Traveling across the country or seeing the world? Brushing up on your golf or tennis skills?

Well, that may come later for former Hope College associate vice president for public and community relations Tom Renner ’67. (Probably not.) Before he retired with that florid title in 2013, Renner was best known for generations as Hope’s campus photographer, sports information director, and face of the college to the public and the media.

And for his first eight years of retirement, Renner has labored mightily to finally complete a project he began four years before turning in his papers: the massive, extraordinary two-volume anthology, In Pursuit of Excellence: Be Strong – Be True: A History of Intercollegiate Athletics at Hope College, 1970-2020.

Perhaps he was motivated by the fact that, while he credits more than 120 colleagues, stat keepers, photographers and others in the books’ acknowledgments, virtually no other living person could have compiled this all-encompassing history of sports at Hope. For 47 years — even before then, when he was an undergraduate at Hope known as “Telephoto Tom” — whenever there was an event of any significance on campus it seemed Renner and his camera were there, especially when it came to athletics.

On the sidelines. Near the huddle. At the finish line. For the winning score. And now Hope’s living legend has sifted through nearly 600,000 images and selected the best photos to accompany his comprehensive two-volume set, to be published simultaneously.

In Pursuit of Excellenceis expected to be released by Van Raalte Press in mid-March. Consider placing an IOU under your Hope alum’s tree. For anyone who attended the college between 1970 and 2020, especially those who played one or more sports, these books are a holy grail.

“When the college originally gave me permission to do this project it was only going to go up to 2017. But then around 2015 it became apparent that I couldn’t get it done by then. It’s incredibly detailed. It just evolved.”

Tom Renner ’67

They include the Top 100 (actually 107) Moments in Hope Athletics over the half-century, the development of women’s athletics before and after Title IX, the Hope-Calvin rivalry in all sports, the national champions, a listing of all coaches, a year-by-year chronology of every sport, photo galleries and much more. Renner says his personal favorite section may be “Beyond the Game,” featuring anecdotal stories that wouldn’t fit anywhere else, like the origin of the tiger cape worn by a women’s volleyball player or volunteer manager every match.

And while finishing these books has been an intense 12-year journey, one could make the argument that Tom Renner has been working on this project since joining the Hope staff in 1967.

“Sports information has always been my passion,” Renner admits, having just taken the annual all-athletes “GO HOPE!” group photo inside DeVos Fieldhouse this fall. (Are we certain he’s retired?) He established Hope’s sports information program in 1967 and served as league publicist for the MIAA from 1967-2008. “I carried the load right up until Alan Babbitt was hired full-time in 2013. But it didn’t really feel like a load. I loved doing it, and had administrations and an athletic department that always supported me.”

That support became especially priceless around 2011 when the college allowed Renner the technology and student workers to digitally scan the images he had collected and meticulously cataloged over the decades. Of the hundreds of thousands of photos from which he could choose, more than 1,000 made it into the books, so the editing process was immense.

“When the college originally gave me permission to do this project it was only going to go up to 2017,” Renner says. “But then around 2015 it became apparent that I couldn’t get it done by then. It’s incredibly detailed. It just evolved into a much, much bigger challenge, and the biggest aspect of it was the photo collection. So we pushed it out to 2020.”

Say hello to Lynne Powe ’86, photography and digital asset manager, and Renner’s colleague for 21 of her 29 years at the college, Powe took on the monumental task of assisting him with image selection for the books and then cleaning up the photos that had been scanned from Renner’s negatives.

“When you’re scanning negatives, dust and little fibers can get on there, and you’re scanning them at a higher resolution. We wanted the photos to be the best quality, so some needed some work,” Powe says. “This project coincided with COVID and stay-at-home orders, so the timing was perfect. Since I didn’t have as many on-campus projects we had time to work on this. Tom has an amazing memory and organized his negatives from the beginning by academic year, so that made it relatively easy.”

In a sense, In Pursuit of Excellenceis a tribute to another Hope College legend: the late Gordon Brewer ’48, track coach for 32 seasons and former director of athletics. Renner’s works pick up where the two books Brewer produced left off, tracing the history of sports at Hope from the beginning: …But How You Played the Game! A History of Intercollegiate Athletics at Hope College, 1862-1955, published in 1992, and its 2002 companion Journey of Hope: Names and Games Remembered: A History of Intercollegiate Athletics at Hope College, 1955-1970.

“I collaborated with Gord Brewer on those two volumes,” Renner says. “He was the editor and did all the writing, and I did the photo selection and layouts. Gord stimulated my interest in doing this, and getting it right. When we did track meets and he was coach, he would tell me, ‘Be sure to get the first names on the result sheets, not just the last, so people will know for certain who competed.’ He shaped my thinking.”

Dr. Donald Luidens ’69, retired Hope College sociology professor and director of the Van Raalte Institute, and Eva Dean Folkert ’83, interim director of public affairs and marketing and former co-director of athletics, each contribute a chapter to “Pioneer Players: A HerStory of Hope’s Women Athletics,” saluting such trailblazers as Anne Irwin, Sandra Parker and Cynthia Bean. The evolution of athletic training is highlighted in a chapter by Dr. R. Richard Ray, professor of kinesiology and former provost and dean. Detroit Free Press sports columnist Jeff Seidel, who has no connection to Hope beyond once covering its teams for his previous employer The Grand Rapids Press, wrote the foreword.

“I miss Hope,” Seidel writes. “Everything about Hope.”

With the book now at the printer, “My sleepless nights are down to only losing an hour or two,” Renner says, laughing. “This will mean so much to so many alumni, and the thing you dread is making an error or omission. And I woke up many, many nights until I made that 2020 decision. I was agonizing over it until finally I said, ‘No one else is going to care if it stops at 2017 or 2020.’

“I honestly don’t remember why I picked 2017 to start with,” he concedes. “Fifty years makes so much more sense than 47. This will make it easier for the next writer who can pick it up from 2020.”

However, Renner acknowledges, “The saddest thing for me in waiting till now is that people who I would have loved to give personal copies to are gone. Gord, of course. And Russ DeVette. Karen Page, Ek (Ekdal) Buys, Gordon Van Wylen. People I grew to dearly love. So this just needs to be in their memory.”

In Pursuit of Excellence: Be Strong – Be True: A History of Intercollegiate Athletics at Hope College, 1970-2020. is available through the Hope College bookstore for $50. Reserve your copy today.

In addition, a limited number of sets of the two books by Gord Brewer ’48 chronicling Hope athletics from 1862 up to 1970 may be purchased from the bookstore for $25.