Calvin remembers freshman Olivia Haverkamp

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Photo courtesy of Megan Schenkel

“Determined,” “strong,” “resilient,” “passionate” and “lovely” come to Anna Sytsema, Olivia Haverkamp’s roommate, and high school friend Megan Schenkel’s minds when asked to describe who Haverkamp was. Others need to “know how strong of a person she was. She never gave up,” said Schenkel. Haverkamp’s strength and determination carried over into every aspect of her life, according to a Facebook post by Pastor Mary Hulst with a message from Haverkamp’s father, Brad Haverkamp. 

Olivia Haverkamp died the night of January 26, after battling a rare childhood cancer for three years. At 18 years old, Haverkamp was an inspiration to all those around her. In 2019, she began Calvin as a freshman studying biology and was an honors scholar, according to an email from President Michael LeRoy. Although her time at Calvin was short, she impacted many people as a student on campus. 

Her presence will be missed by all those who experienced her strong and loving personality, including Grand Rapids Christian, Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Cleveland Clinic, according to LeRoy’s email.

Haverkamp wanted to develop friendships and relationships with everyone she encountered. As Schenkel recollects, “One of the cool things about her is her ability to really relate to a lot of different types of people.” Schenkel discussed the difficulty of Haverkamp’s loss because she positively affected so many around her. “Olivia loved loving,” said Sytsema. According to her friends, she enjoyed the small things in life and lived life to the fullest. Reflecting on her memories with Haverkamp, Schenkel said, “She was somebody who was very capable of making you laugh about the randomest things… She was there to laugh, but also to support me and anything that was going on in my life.” 

According to her friends, Haverkamp’s fervor for life and learning was present in everything she did. In a Facebook post from Hulst, Brad Haverkamp said, “She refused to be defined by her disease and provided cancer no more shelf space than she thought it deserved (not much). During the almost three years that Olivia had cancer, she hiked to Machu Picchu, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, delivered speeches, attended dances, was part of homecoming court, earned a full-tuition college scholarship, and never stopped showing gratitude, appreciation, and kindness to others.” Sytsema and Schenkel echo Brad Haverkamp’s words. “The thing I will remember the most is how she really didn’t let cancer define who she was,” said Schenkel. “That was a big part of her life but she didn’t really let it be, and she let other things be more important than that.” Her outlook on life was inspiring and purposeful, and “even though she knew things weren’t looking good for her, she planned for the future,” said Sytsema. 

Not only did Haverkamp impact others with her love for life, but her faith radiated through her. According to Schenkel, “You could see the light of God in her as she did any interaction with anyone. She just truly lived out her faith of loving others and loving the Lord and that was just a really beautiful thing to see.” “She had hope until the very end, transitioning from hoping for miracles and a life on earth, to hoping and longing for eternal life with Jesus,” said Sytsema. According to Sytsema and Schenkel, Haverkamp had the assurance that she would be healed either on earth or in heaven. “She taught me how to have a strong, bold faith and how to share that with people,” says Schenkel. The strength of Haverkamp’s faith was a theme that ran throughout her life. Sytsema remembers, “Every morning when my alarm went off, I would look down and Olivia would be doing her devotions. Even in the midst of the chaos and the pain, she was devoted to the Lord and shined God’s light towards everyone who met her.”

Haverkamp’s memory and legacy will live well beyond her 18 years on earth, as Schenkel says, “Her drive and her passion was not ended because of cancer. And though cancer ended her life, I think it’s just important to remember that even though cancer was the reason that she died, that’s not what defines her at the end of her life… It’s great to see her passion for the Lord be played out — it’s not the way we wanted it to be played out obviously, but I think it’s good that we saw her faith through it all and that means her life didn’t end and it’s still going.”  

Emails from Le Roy and Vice President of Student Life Sarah Visser encouraged students to contact the Center for Counseling and Wellness (616-526-6123) and Campus Ministries (616-526-8861) if they are in need of support during this time of grief.