Armed with a bike and a lot of courage, Robert Vande Kappelle, Ph.D., traveled across the country raising funds to build houses for the poor. At that point, he did not know how much his life would change after his journey.
Born in Costa Rica, Vande Kappelle started riding bikes at a very young age-including to school. He lived in Costa Rica for 12 years because his parents were missionaries in Latin America, an experience that motivated him to write the book "Love Never Fails" as a biographical and a spiritual tribute to his mother and father.
Since then, Vande Kappelle has authored three more books, "Into Thin Places," a commentary on his travels in the Mediterranean and Middle East, "Blue Notes," a book on jazz biography that is in the publication phase, and "The Invisible Mountain," which describes his cross-country cycling trip as a "spiritual testing of epic proportions."
Whether engaging in music, riding his bike or sharing his faith, Vande Kappelle gives his all to every activity. It is this dedication that motivated him to take his cycling adventures to the next level. After biking 400 miles from Pennsylvania to New Jersey for a family vacation, he resolved to take another trip, only this time from Anacortes, Wash., to Washington, Pa., a 3,400-mile journey.
In the summer of 1989, the trip transformed from a recreational activity to a fundraiser to help support Habitat for Humanity. The $10,000 he raised during the trip funded the construction of the first Habitat house in Washington County. Twenty years later, with the goal to raise $34,000, Vande Kappelle is challenging citizens of Washington County and campus organizations at Washington & Jefferson College to get involved, in addition to donating money from the sales of his book.
W&J has played a major role in Vande Kappelle's life. Holding master's and doctorate degrees in Biblical studies, he came to the College in 1980 as chaplain and chair of the religious studies department. Commonly known by his students as "Dr. Van," he loves teaching religion because "the subject allows me to get involved in people's lives." A dedicated professor, he often can be found spending time with his students, even eating his meals with them at The Commons. "I go wherever they are," he said. Students also come to Vande Kappelle, including a former student who once biked from Washington, D.C., to W&J to seek his advice. "We talked for several hours, and the next day, he went back home," he said.
In the 30 years that have passed since Vande Kappelle joined the W&J faculty, the influence he has had on the lives of W&J students is immeasurable. "You never know the impact you have on your students," he said. "The most profound impressions, the most lasting ones, you don't find until later in your life."