University of Michigan
News for faculty, staff and retirees

December 15, 2018

Obituary: Bernard Van’t Hul

September 2, 2016

Obituary: Bernard Van’t Hul

Topic: Obituaries

Bernard Van’t Hul, professor emeritus in the English department at the University of Michigan, died in Needham, Massachusetts, on Aug. 21 after a long decline.

Bernard Van't Hul

Van’t Hul was born to Gerritt and Grace Pater Van’t Hul on Oct. 23, 1931. Memories of his boyhood in Rock Valley, Iowa, where he was admired for his conviviality, wit and propensity for tweaking authority, as well as for his prowess on the baseball field, gave him pleasure throughout his life.

During the Korean War, Van’t Hul served in the U.S. Army, stationed in West Germany. He graduated from Calvin College, where he enjoyed many hours as a baseball catcher and a thespian, and where he met his wife, Nelvia Geels, among other lifelong friends of rare intelligence.

He earned a Ph.D. in English literature from Northwestern University before returning to Michigan to join the faculty of Calvin College and later of U-M in Ann Arbor, where he lived for 45 years.

He also worked as a lexicographer at the Middle English Dictionary. Over the years, he gave much of his energy to teaching, editing, writing, drawing, woodcarving and conversing — always inimitably and well.

Van’t Hul was predeceased by his son Jon, and by numerous beloved friends. He is survived by his wife, Nelvia of West Newton, Massachusetts; children, Marya (Josh Gahm) of Newtonville, Massachusetts, Garth (Maureen Cunningham) of Dakar, Senegal, and Sarah of Brooklyn, New York; grandchildren Kaija, Ethan, Issaka and Azara; siblings Gary and Carolyne; and many dear friends and relatives.

He would have liked to imagine each of them reading a good poem and drinking a beer on the front porch in his memory.

An event with family and friends to celebrate Van’t Hul's life is being planned in the fall. For more information or to be informed when the gathering will take place, contact Judy Malcolm at

— Submitted by the Van't Hul family