Van began sharing his gifts with OCCC students, faculty and staff in 1987, the year the College was founded. He will be deeply missed.
In 1998, when he had already been teaching here for 11 years, Van was asked to submit an application for teaching. I expect this request was linked to some accreditation requirement, and I imagine Van rolling his eyes at this bureaucratic exercise. And yet, Van embraced the process, and provided an extended essay on how he came to teach, and what it meant to him. In that essay, this is how he spoke of the meaning and work of teaching:
“Our opportunity is to help students perceive their environment, to think about their experience, to articulate their feelings….We do this by reading and discussing writers who do perceive, and think, and feel. We do it by leading and steering in-class criticism of each other’s work. We do it by example. We do it by fashioning assignments that elicit that kind of activity. When our students are exercised in this way, they respond as if they had been doing aerobics or tai chi: they feel better, they want to go further, they are encouraged (i.e., they have been given courage).”
Thank you Van, for all of the courage you have given to countless OCCC students, and to your many colleagues and friends over the years.
Edward Arthur “Van” van Aelstyn passed away peacefully on May 23, 2018. He was at home and two of his children were by his side.
Van had a rich life as a professor of English and film, theater director and actor, editor and activist. His approach to theater was unique, as were his productions. Van was an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and discriminating appreciator and supporter of the visual arts, music, theater, and literature.
While earning his Doctor of Arts in English and American Literature and Linguistics from University of Oregon, Van served as the editor of the University’s Northwest Review. Van transformed the Northwest Review into a leading literary voice, publishing numerous noted poets, in particular those of the Beat Generation. In writing of Van’s term as editor, David Schneider wrote, “Possessed of an excellent academic record, van Aelstyn also displayed native curiosity, absorptive openness, and enviable spine.”
Van came to Newport in 1977 where he worked for the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts and formed the Red Octopus Theatre Company. During this time, Van supported his family by working the graveyard shift for many years, first as a janitor at the Hatfield Marine Science Center (where he rejoined old college buddies, forming a janitorial staff with a remarkable collection of degrees and publications) and later as the desk clerk at the Sylvia Beach Hotel (rather fitting, given the hotel’s devotion to literature).
Van and several friends also formed Teatro Mundo, which became renowned for bringing its shows to Oregon State penitentiaries. During his more than 41 years in Newport Van directed, acted in or inspired numerous shows and taught, mentored and inspired numerous students. Ten years after arriving in Newport, Van joined the faculty of Oregon Coast Community College when it opened its doors in 1987. He taught English and film there until shortly before his passing some thirty years later.
During his 31-year tenure at OCCC, Van shared his knowledge, passion, and remarkable personal character with countless students, colleagues, and friends, giving courage to everyone he encountered along the way.