Fred Reinders (1930-2023): A Life of Structural and Moral Integrity
by Dr. Peter Schuurman
“Most dreams fade away, but those shaped by the Spirit of God do not. This creative spirit is poured out on engineers who continue to see visions and dream dreams, prophetically pointing to a coming kingdom… Christian engineers need to equip themselves with more than technical competency; they need to cultivate an imagination for how things ought to be. That imagination must be shaped by faith in Jesus Christ, in and through whom and for whom all things exist.”
From: Ethan J. Brue, Derek C. Schuurman, Steven Vanderleest. A Christian Field Guide To Technology for Engineers and Designers (IVP, 2022:14).
Fred Reinders passed away peacefully on January 25th, 2023 in Burlington, Ontario. He is survived by his wife Jane, their five children, Mike (Colleen) Reinders, Karen (Robb) Powell, Hilda (Rob) Balamut, Phil (Betty) Reinders, Harold (Sharon) Reinders, plus 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, and predeceased by his grandson David Powell.
The funeral was held at Clearview Christian Reformed Church in Oakville, Ontario on February 10th, where Fred and Jane had been a member for many years. As Colleen Reinders and the music team (of grandchildren and a great grandchild) sang “Great is thy Faithfulness” I noted the backdrop of the stage displayed the words “Work and Worship”—referring to a Sunday series Rev. Phil Reinders was leading at Clearview. Yet as was noted, the words are definitely also appropriate for a reflection on Fred’s life. “Dad taught us that work is to be an expression of worship,” said Harold Reinders in the eulogy. “He taught us that the goal of life is to be a blessing. And dad was a blessing to many, many people.”
Born in 1930 Friesland, Fred Reinders was a dreamer, a visionary, and a leader, and he expressed that gift first of all through engineering design and construction. The Dutch have a proverb, roughly translated, that says “You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Well, Fred left the shores of his native Netherlands in 1953 to see what opportunities lie in Canada and it seems his life was a series of calculated risks from there on. He had training in marine engineering, which he supplemented with a University of Toronto civil engineering degree in 1959, and then began an engineering company in his basement in 1967. In his lifetime he would help start over 30 different companies.
Fred and Jane, 1990s
With his wife Jane at his side (since 1955), his engineering discipline was driven by an innovative and ambitious mind, but it was framed at heart by his Christian faith. “Our World Belongs to God” is an official Reformed theological testimony beloved by his church, but it was Fred’s personal vocational creed as well. One tag line from Maple Reinders is “Integrity in Building Excellence” and the double-entendre is apt: he has always valued both structural and moral integrity.
With now 400 employees across Canada and over 2800 projects to its name, Maple Reinders has garnered over 50 special awards in its 55-year history, including awards for environmental achievement, good management, and building excellence. Some key projects through the decades include the Wardair hangar in Toronto (which at the time was the largest freestanding structure in North America), Sechelt Water Resource Centre in BC (a greenhouse on top of the plant cleans the wastewater while also growing lush plants), and the Calgary Compost facility (using a P3 approach—a partnership of public/private agencies). Through the decades the company grew from $3 million to $30 million to now $500 million in annual revenue.
Fred moved from building docks to sewage and water pumping stations to also taking on large building projects. But he didn’t just work with brick, mortar and AutoCAD: his faith inspired him to cultivate communities, too. Together with his wife Jane and five children, they invested deeply in numerous charitable causes, which included giving away 10 percent of profits and starting a family foundation. Beneficiaries of the Reinders generosity include Habitat for Humanity, Hockey 4 SickKids, the Ride to Conquer Cancer, Relay for Life, Eden Food for Change, Good Shepherd, Kerr Street Mission, the Scott Mission, World Vision, and Run for Wells.
“Fred wanted the media to tell the stories of the poor,” said Lorna Dueck, a well-known Canadian Christian media leader who spoke at the funeral. “He also loved to see young people dedicating their lives to walking with the Lord.”
Fred was a thinker, though, and of special interest to him was institution-building in the sector of Christian education. I went into the Christian Courier archives, found on June 14, 1963 an ad that read “Toronto District Christian High School is in urgent need of a Principal to teach Math and Science Gr. 9 and 10. Send application to Fred Reinders, chair of board, 11 Pakenham Dr. Rexdale.” Then on Oct. 9, 1964, I read that as chair of TDCH board he announces a “Trowel Action” campaign, for which the school needs $100,000 “just to cover building costs only. We cannot afford a mortgage.” The site was to be in Woodbridge.
Making the Toronto Star, 1988…
Maple Reinders did not build this new building, but they built numerous other Christian schools and churches, including King’s University, Edmonton, and Redeemer University, Ancaster. Said Henk Van Andel, former president of King’s University, recalls:
He was a man of unquestioned integrity, enduring generosity, sharp business sense, and above all a person of great vision. While I was president of The King’s University from 1985 till 2005, he provided not only generous financial support to the institution, but also served it with much appreciated practical advice as it planned for a permanent campus. His company, Maple Reinders, served as project manager for this construction project. This involvement was a tremendous blessing to King’s. Most importantly, I experienced Fred Reinders as a trusted friend, always ready to help with an encouraging word and good advice. I will miss him.
I read in the July 22, 1998, issue of CC that Fred, chair of the Institute for Christian Studies board, announced the selling of the ICS building and its re-financing. Fred was building schools while also leading in their governance matters and strategic plans. He was consistently hopeful. Wendy Helleman recalls Fred saying, “If ICS fails today, we will build something just like it tomorrow.”
Fred led a high school board, a graduate school board, and most recently, the board of an organization focused on Christian professors. In September 26, 2005 CC reports that Fred has announced the hiring of Henk VanAndel as the new executive director of Christian Studies International. He is “very pleased to make this appointment” because VanAndel “brings a wealth of experience” and “will expand programs” and “increase overseas academic staff.”
Recalling the moment, Van Andel says: “His visionary support allowed this organization to flourish.”
Global Scholars Canada
Fred was singularly instrumental in the launch of Christian Studies International in 1995 (now Global Scholars Canada). Wendy Helleman had worked with him as a fellow board member at the Institute for Christian Studies just at the time she and her husband Adrian were looking for a way to get to Moscow State University to teach. The International Institute for Christian Studies was sending Christian professors around the world, but they were an American organization. They couldn’t issue Canadian tax receipts for donations.
Wendy recalls when she first approached him to help incorporate a Canadian partner for IICS—what they decided to call Christian Studies International at the time. “Fred was encouraging from the start,” she said. “And he knew how to get an organization going,” she added. “He knew how to structure and run a board, and he became our first board chair.”
A few of the educational institutions and charities that the Reinders Foundation has supported through the decades.
Fred’s ingenuity, tireless support, and faith-filled vision—and his generous financial gifts—gave CSI its wings. Board meetings would be hosted by his office in Brampton, and he helped convince Bob Vander Vennen from ICS to be the first part-time executive director (while still serving at ICS!). Fred and Jane would often fly to Kansas City in the summer to represent CSI at the IICS “vision conferences” there. He connected well with the US leader there—Daryl McCarthy, as they shared a common passion for Christian worldview and education.
Wendy summarized Fred’s leadership this way: “His ability to organize, and for us, his sticking with it, even though the organization remained small. When Fred gave his word, he was not easily put off by obstacles or adversity. We regard him as one of the giants of our time for the Christian community as we know it.”
Justin Cooper, who worked with Fred as the President of Redeemer University and then met up with him again on the board of Global Scholars Canada, said, “It was through him that I learned the reality and beauty of what it means to be a national supporter of Christian higher education—through a company with a national presence!” Cooper was executive director of CHEC at the time (Christian Higher Education Canada). Then with GSC, he said, “I saw a whole other side of Fred again–the global, international visionary.”
Hilda Reinders-Balamut talking about her father’s hands at the funeral. She let the audience in on a family secret: Fred was not handy around the house. Mom (Jane) was the handyman at home.
I met with Fred a few times myself, as he continued to be a faithful supporter of GSC through the decades. The first time we met he took me aside and showed me a brightly coloured brochure that showcased some of his most innovative and celebrated engineering and construction projects. When I learned a little of the innovative designs, the European technology, and the environmental consciousness that went into his work, it struck me as a great example of what Christian schools and professors teach when they are at their best: bringing the faith, creativity, and hope we have as Christians to the cultural sector in which we have been called to serve, in order to be a blessing to all nations.
I like to think that Fred’s long-term involvement with educational institutions offered him a wisdom that fed back into his business, creating a culture of leadership development. While I’m told Mike Reinders also played a key role in this, there is another GSC in Fred’s biography: Gold Seal Certified. This is a program that employees can enter in order to further their education in the field. They also promote LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and a program called ‘The President’s Crew,’ which includes specific training for leadership. The Maple Reinders Centre of Learning is the umbrella department for these initiatives, which includes 100 different programs that range from safety to superintendent training. In fact, the company is now almost 20-percent employee-owned.
Fred’s life was overflowing with leadership and accomplishment. He loved philosophy and was granted an honourary doctorate of philosophy by the Institute for Christian Studies. He marked 68 years of marriage to Jane this year. He was over 92 years old, and still fairly sharp before his recent decline in health. Hundreds of us are the beneficiaries of his generosity, vision, hard work, encouraging spirit and innovative style. “Dad lived the Abrahamic blessing,” said Phil Reinders at the funeral, “that we are to be a blessing to all nations.”
Fred Reinders was not a sinless saint of the church. None of us saints are. “He was an amazing and complicated man,” said Pastor Peter Roebbelen at the funeral. Until those final weeks, Fred had a hard time separating family and business. I was told it was difficult for him to transition from leading his family to following the leadership of his adult children. “He was a rough and tumble entrepreneur elbowing his way into the Canadian engineering landscape,” said Pastor Peter, “controlling to a fault, always speaking his mind, and he did not take fools lightly.” To be sure, there are other weaknesses that could be named as we look back on the dozens of institutions in which he played a key role through nine decades. Nevertheless, it is good and right to give thanks for his life, and the creative, entrepreneurial, and faith-filled vision that he brought to many businesses and charities. We can only hope that another generation can be inspired to see that while miracles are certainly a gift to celebrate, a long obedience that helps the incremental influence of institutions of integrity grow, is certainly a hint of God’s presence at work.
A few mementos at the visitation at Clearview Christian Reformed Church in Oakville. Note the sign, which I’m told was on Fred’s desk at one point: “Be a realist. Demand the impossible.”
Notably, Psalm 27 was read at the start of the funeral, which reads: “The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?” Fred, whose spent his life building structures for others, had his own life sheltered by God. Now he lives even closer to God, as the next text from John 14 testified: “I go and prepare a place for you.” As Hilda Reinders-Balamut said in her eulogy, “Dad’s guiding hand pointed me… to something that won’t decay, crumble, leak, or get torn down, go out of fashion, burn up or rot: the life-transforming power of God in Jesus Christ.”
Rest In Peace, Fred.