Campus News

Friends and students reflect on Bob Ham

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Bob Ham TributeBob Ham, former chair of Bethel College’s music department and long-time director of the concert choir, passed away Friday morning, Feb. 12 after an almost 6-year battle with breast cancer. He was 61 years old. The passing of Bob Ham has many people reflecting on his life. The Beacon received testimonies from some of Bob's friends and students about the influence he had on their lives and how they remember him. “I've known Bob for 40 years now--we first met through our choir in college, the NMU Arts Chorale,” writes Erik Bergh, one of Ham’s former classmates at Northern Michigan University. “Bob invited me to share his apartment the year before he married Marilynn, and we had great times.  It's probably a miracle that Bob survived my cooking through that year and made it to their wedding!  Bob was committed to the Lord, and he lived his faith even then.  I remember how excited he was to be baptized--even though it was in the late fall in Lake Superior.  When I married my wife, Bob stood up with me, and gave me great advice.  He's always been a guy that I admired and wanted to emulate.” An open letter from a former student of the Hams at Barclay College (formerly Friends Bible College,) Sandy Bierbaum, opens with, “Bob & Marilynn, the memories I have from Barclay College have both of you entwined in each one of them.  How could I ever express the gratitude in my heart for the excellent music instruction I received from BOTH of you?  Marilynn, I treasure my growth as a pianist under your tutelage.  Bob, the fun, meaningful, wonderful choir tours where God's presence was so very evident through YOU are constantly with me.” Senior music major Kelli Bergeson writes, “I have been so blessed to have worked with Bob in my time at Bethel. He has enriched my life musically and spiritually, especially through his choir and his devotions. His servant leadership has challenged me to strive for those qualities in all areas of my life. It has been a privilege having him as a director for so many years. But other than being a wonderful director, he's become a second-father in my life. He's been a huge source of encouragement and love since the very beginning of my freshman year.” Melody Brandt, wife of assistant professor of youth ministry Robert Brandt, writes, “Bob Ham has made a profound impact on my family. He has always been so loving and supportive to all that he comes in contact with. My son, Jonathan, sang in Concert Choir with Bob. He once said that singing in Bob’s choir is one of his fondest memories from his time at Bethel College, and that he would carry those memories." Another open letter to Ham from a former student, Laura Hoefakker, begins with, “Did you know that every time you did devotions with us it made me want to know Jesus more than I did? The first time I heard your passion and heart for Jesus and His all-encompassing love, I wanted to burst into tears, because it reached into my very weary soul and revived old breath. You were never high and mighty, but you spoke with truth and authority, from a place of living in the deep, dark spots. Your words inspired and encouraged.” Bergh continues, “Our paths have carried us both to places that were difficult for us to see each other often, but we've kept in touch.  I've treasured the times that my wife and I have been able to spend a day with Bob and Marilynn--those two are like the big brother and big sister I never had.  We've had the honor of hearing the Bethel Choir on two or three occasions, and the ministry that that group has, through Bob (and Marilynn's) work and leadership has touched the world.  It's so exciting to read the stories and memories of the folks on the Facebook page.  It should be a lesson for us all of how Bob has touched literally thousands of lives, and those thousands will reach thousands more.  Each of us has the opportunity to follow Bob's example and multiplying our own impact on the world around us.  That's what Jesus hoped we would do.” Bierbaum recalls her time with the Hams in the Bethel choir, “The chances that both of you took on both Greg and myself; letting me accompany the choir and giving me valuable experience that helped pave the way for my own career as an accompanist and teacher.” She goes on to a personal story, “On a very personal note, Bob, you were there for me when I found myself a young unwed mother.  You prayed with me, talked with me, and gave me hope in a very dark and uncertain time.  Your counseling helped me focus and gave me the strength to take one day at a time.  Now, I have 3 beautiful grown children who bring me so much joy and happiness.” Hoefakker talks about her time on tour with the choir under Ham’s direction, “Choir was a favorite class and traveling with the choir was a treat. It superseded anything else--late nights, broken-down buses in Jersey and all. My life changed while on tour, when a dear friend reminded me that we were not to live in fear (2 Tm 1:7) I can't tell you how many internal life-changing moments were had while on that tour bus over the years.” She continues, “I remember one Christmas when you stood in front of us and told us that if anyone didn't think they were ready, to walk out. There was silence, but no one did. No way were we going to let a little concert beat us and let you down.” Brandt shares a story of her daughter Joanna’s first meeting with Ham, “Bob’s character and the way he treated his students with respect and love made an eternal difference in their lives. My daughter, Joanna, first met Bob when she sang the ending solo Happy Birthday Jesus in the Bethel College 66th Annual Christmas Concert. One of the things she remembers most is how encouraging Bob was when she was backstage with him before the show. ‘He told me I had a pretty singing voice and that I was the perfect person to sing my part,’ she remembers. The best memory she says is when in front of the whole choir Bob presented her with a silver, star necklace. ‘I wore it during the last concert and it made me feel so special. I just love him!’” Hoefakker comments on Ham’s unique sense of humor, “Your dry humor kept us on our toes. One day (the year of the basses--they were pretty amazing my first year) you held up one knuckle to a guy in the front row. ‘You know what that is? (You paused until he bumped.) A quarter-pounder!’ Oh, we rolled. You and your groan-worthy jokes. Or the time you told the Altos to sing like ‘Russian Women’!” Bergh finishes with, “None of us knows how many days we have left on this Earth--our lives are a vapor.  We need to use today to the fullest extent possible, because tomorrow is not a promise.  That's one lesson I'm learning from Bob's illness.  Another is despite his circumstances, Bob is focusing still on others and what they need.  He is a good and faithful servant!  I'm proud to call him a brother and a friend!” Bergeson writes, “I think the biggest lesson I've learned from Bob is to strive for excellence rather than perfection, but to never forget that ‘if excellence becomes your god, you will always fail.’ I am continuously reminded of Bob - his perseverance and his relentless love for the Lord and for others is an inspiration to me. Two years ago, I was honored to be part of his 25th anniversary concert, where members of his choir from previous years came together and sang under his leadership. He looked so happy, and so proud of all of his students. I will continue to carry Bob's legacy with me wherever I go, and I hope that one day, I can have the same impact on someone that he has had on my life.” Hoefakker concludes, “Your respect and care for each of your students was and IS genuine. I shall NEVER forget how you led, how you loved, how your explanation of music gave inspiration to sing deeply. Thank you, Bob. For being real. For expressing grace, for taking us to see the world, for teaching us to sing better, for loving. What an honor.” Bierbaum echoes this sentiment, “As I think of this world and the short time we have to make an impact, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I had the privilege to be a part of your lives.  I count that as a tremendous blessing. Words fail me as I try to express what I feel for both of you. Thank you.  I love you.  We WILL meet on that beautiful shore........in the sweet by and by. All my love, Sandy.”
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