Ex-campus safety officer reflects on the job

Mostly hijinks at small, Christian liberal arts school

Brian McVicar

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — During his 10 years overseeing public safety at Cornerstone University, Richard Honholt did his best to follow one guiding principle — pursue the spirit rather than then letter of the law.

“I’ll be the first to tell you — we were open-minded,” said Honholt, who recently retired. “We understand we’re dealing with young adults.”

Such an approach, Honholt said, helped him navigate both the mischief and legitimate public safety risks he found on the campus of the small, Christian liberal arts college.

“The most serious crime we’ve had is an item may have grown legs and walked away,” he said. “Drugs and alcohol — we’ve had very little of that.”

There have been plenty of student hijinks, though.

One prank, Honholt recalled, involved students who snatched a bronze bust from the university’s library and placed it on the roof of a nearby building. Administrators grew so tired of the trick, they ended up gluing the bust — which depicted a man with a bible — into place.

Another time, a group of young men donned gorilla costumes for Halloween and staked out the university’s parking lot, sneaking up on unsuspecting students.

“We had one young lady who almost went into an asthma attack,” he recalled.

Students even occasionally pranked Honholt, once setting up a fake Twitter account under the name (at)RichardTheHon. On it, students jokingly portrayed Honholt as an aggressive authority figure out to teach students a lesson.

Honholt, 65, came to Cornerstone after spending 25 years at the Hudsonville Police Department. He served as chief for all but three of those years.

“When I retired (from Hudsonville), it was really a leap of faith. I had no idea what I was going to do,” said Honholt, a man of deep faith. “God works in mysterious ways, and I got a phone call from a friend telling me, ‘I have a job you should apply for.’”

For Honholt, Cornerstone was a good fit from the start.

He enjoyed being surrounded by students who were just as dedicated to deepening their spiritual life as furthering their academic knowledge. Cornerstone spends about $300,000 annually on public safety, maintaining a staff of three full-time employees and a slew of part-timers.

“We’re known as a very solid base of really good people here,” Honholt said. “We’re a group of believers and we’re here together to worship the lord.”

While crime is rare on Cornerstone’s campus, Honholt says his team had plenty to keep them busy.

A typical day on the job consisted of patrolling campus, tasks such as helping students get into cars they locked themselves out of, and working on longterm projects, including on an emergency response plan he developed a few years back.

Honholt never missed an opportunity to drive home his message on safety.

“Trust your gut,” he recalled telling students. “If it feels wrong, smells wrong, be prepared for option b, option c.”

Data from the U.S. Department of Education show no records of criminal offenses, hate crimes or arrests at Cornerstone between 2009-2011. There was one disciplinary action recorded in 2009 for a liquor law violation.

Honholt said the most serious crime under his watch happened in 2007.

A former student was ordered to repay $20,000 in restitution for electronics equipment he stole from the university. After stealing the equipment, the student tried to sell the equipment on eBay. But authorities, acting undercover, set up a time to buy the equipment and arrested the former student on the spot.

Marc Fowler, executive vice president and chief operations officer at Cornerstone, said Honholt will be remembered for his thoroughness.

He recalled the detailed, incident-style like reports he would receive from Honholt showing how he was preparing for events like board of trustees meetings or guest speakers.

“It was probably more than I needed to know,” he said. “But I was satisfied to know and understand the thoroughness he was trying to communicate.”

While much of Honholt’s time overseeing public safety was dedicated to administrative duties, he made it a point to get out of the office as often as possible. He enjoyed spending time at special events, attending chapel, and chatting with students.

“I don’t like desks,” Honholt said. “I always made it a point to spend several hours a day on campus.”

Friends and colleagues of Honholt’s say he will be missed.

“Richard has had a huge impact on students,” said Brandon Bishop, interim director of campus safety at Cornerstone who worked with Honholt for the past seven years. “You could tell in everything he did his heart was with the students.”

Bishop remembered one instance after just being hired at Cornerstone. As Honholt was showing Bishop around campus, Honholt stopped to speak with a student who was recovering from cancer.
“He knew her, knew her name, knew her story, he had prayed with her several times,” Bishop said. “That really impressed me.”


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