Fred Reinders (1930-2023)
A life of structural and moral integrity.
Fred Reinders is a man whose work has blessed the lives of thousands of Christian Courier readers, and he did this by creating shelters for their study, work, worship and play. Philosopher Calvin Seerveld, who was born in the same year as Reinders, wrote that “God’s firm covenantal grip . . . has provided society with various shelters . . . societal hugs.” These habitats or “societal hostels” he says are “set up by God for us humans to walk into, live in, maybe even serve as host for!”
Seerveld inspired us with the cultural mandate, a Christian vision for marriage, media, museums, medical clinics and markets – a whole rainbow of institutional structures in which the bulk of our lives take place. While Seerveld wrote and spoke, Reinders dug a shovel in the ground and built.
Reinders passed away peacefully on January 25, 2023 in Burlington, Ontario, but only after he had 92 years of constructing both physical buildings and cultural institutions. One tag line from his company Maple Reinders is “Integrity in Building Excellence” and the double-entendre is apt: he has always valued both structural and moral integrity.
Reinders grew up in The Netherlands, trained as a marine engineer, and then immigrated to Canada in 1953. He married his lifelong companion Jane in 1955 and supplemented his training with a year of civil engineering at the University of Toronto in 1959. He started his own company in his basement in 1967, and, conscious of the bi-centennial of his new country, named the business Maple Reinders. In his lifetime he would help start over 30 different companies.
With now 400 employees across Canada and over 2,800 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 B.C. (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.
“Engineers love to create,” says A Christian Field Guide to Technology For Engineers and Designers (2022). “We have a creative muse that rarely stops singing, spinning new designs in our heads, new solutions for problems we encounter, new ideas for situations we notice.”
Reinders 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.
Reinders 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 announced 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.
Maple Reinders did not build the new TDCH complex, but they built numerous other Christian schools and churches, including King’s University, Edmonton, and Redeemer University, Ancaster. 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. 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 Reinders, chair of the Institute for Christian Studies board, announced the selling of the ICS building and its re-financing. Reinders constructed school buildings while also leading in their governance matters and strategic plans. He was consistently hopeful. Fellow board member Dr. Wendy Helleman recalls Reinders saying, “If ICS fails today, we will build something just like it tomorrow.”
Reinders led a high school board, a graduate school board, and most recently, the board of an organization focused on equipping Christian professors for cross-cultural service. In September 26, 2005 CC reports that Reinders has announced the hiring of Henk VanAndel as the new executive director of Christian Studies International (now Global Scholars Canada). 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.”
Justin Cooper, who worked with Reinders 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.”
A Life of Blessing
The funeral took place on February 10 at Clearview Christian Reformed Church, Oakville. “Dad lived the Abrahamic blessing,” said his son Phil Reinders in a eulogy, “that we are to be a blessing to all nations.”
Reinders’ life was overflowing with charity 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 earlier this year. He was over 92 years old, and still fairly sharp before his recent decline in health.
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 in the funeral sermon. 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 instant miracles are certainly a gift to celebrate, a long obedience that builds the incremental influence of institutions that have integrity and excellence, is certainly a testimony of God’s miraculous presence at work.
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?” Reinders, 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.”