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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Echo
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The little things: a look at life with the Verhagen family

Diana, Koert Verhagen describe life in Olson

Sometimes, it’s the little things in life that are most beautiful.

It’s a simple phrase — but for the Verhagen family, it carries a huge impact, especially as a now-family of five living in the Olson Hall apartment.

“I think a lot of people kind of hear you move from your house to a small apartment [and think] that must be hard,” Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion Koert Verhagen said. 

But having come from smaller homes while living abroad, the Verhagens don’t seem to mind. 

Living in Ireland and Scotland for a brief time, the Verhagens became accustomed early on to the more minimalistic style many Europeans practice. 

And as a Taylor professor with a doctorate in philosophy, Koert in particular has learned to see the bigger picture even in small spaces. 

“One of the things we really enjoy is [how] the small space keeps us in close proximity to each other,” Koert said. “And so sometimes it's tough but I think in general, we really kind of enjoy that closeness.”

His wife, Olson Hall Director Diana Verhagen, added on to his sentiment with an emphasis on family. 

For her, despite the individual challenges of sharing a home — and, just as importantly, a laundry room — with some 300 students, there’s an opportunity for connection she’s learned to truly value.

“I think that's one thing that we really like hope for [our kids] is that yeah, yes, of course, we're a family but like family is bigger than just us,” Diana said. And, like, that's what we're called to as Christians is to, like, embrace a bigger view of what family is.”

It’s something the Verhagens already try to model for their children. As working parents deeply involved in the Taylor community, Diana and Koert both cited community as a major highlight of their respective work.

For Diana, that means the chance to finally work face-to-face with students, something she missed in her previous job as part of a public university’s administration. Yet even as she has allowed her community to expand beyond the immediate walls of her apartment, the family has simultaneously created space for Koert to bring students into his life and home. 

“When I was a student at Taylor, one of the things I loved about going to a small school was that professors and like, hall directors, like they were more three dimensional,” Koert said. “Maybe sometimes I'm more three dimensional than I want to be when like, you know, if you walk along the sidewalk at 6 a.m., you would see me and all my just-rolled-out-of-bed-with-my-kids glory.”

Yet the Verhagens still choose to live life as openly and authentically as possible, always embracing even the smallest things —- like eating a family dinner at the Dining Commons or meeting staff at the Student Center. 

And it’s already having an impact on their children.

Duncan, the couple’s middle son at 3 years old, has become more comfortable with talking to others since coming to campus — growing just like many students across Taylor as he’s opened up. As for Everett, 5, Taylor is already a place for adventure: couch cushions becoming forts and the Olson lobby becoming a place to make new friends. 

“Life is messy with kids,” Diana said. “Before you have kids, it can be really easy to sort of like, I don't know, idealize.”

Still, she hopes that by living openly with the women of Olson and the rest of campus, her family will give students a chance to see that even a life that isn’t perfect can still be well-lived and graceful; simple, small and full of light.

In a world filled with societal pressures, busy schedules and an emphasis on perfection, sometimes simple seems lesser-than. Small means settling. But for the Verhagen family, it’s the small things that matter most: close-knit homes, close-knit community and the small ripples of impact that create influences felt for a lifetime.

And as for the influence the Verhagens hope to leave behind?

“I guess I would say forgive us for all the times our children are causing uproar,” Diana said. “My hope for [students] leaving Taylor is that they like, see the wider community as they go out into the world.”

It’s a point she cares about deeply as a mother of three young children. But it’s something she recognizes for students as well, as those who tend to be more introverted often struggle with the reality of isolation and insulation in their friend groups.

As for her husband, however, Koert’s advice was a little more unique. 

“You can be creative when it comes to imagining what flourishing looks like for you and if you're doing life with someone else,” he said. 

As life has moved his family forward, the professor has learned life doesn’t always go the way you may imagine it.

But what better reason to learn to appreciate the smaller things of life? They really are what make life so beautiful.