VanHekken is the new director of the Northwest Ottawa Recreation Authority. He replaces Jill VanderStel, who retired from the position in August 2018.
“What drew me to NORA was its recreational focus,” VanHekken said. “NORA is really about the health and development, building self-esteem and confidence, and developing programs that kids can come in and feel comfortable, even if this is the first time they’ve ever tried lacrosse, basketball or soccer.”
VanHekken previously worked at Lighthouse Insurance Group in Grand Haven. He recently completed his master’s degree in sports administration from Belhaven University, and currently coaches varsity baseball at Western Michigan Christian High School and is on the board of the Channel Cats Baseball Club.
“Mr. VanHekken will provide the solid experience, positive and imaginative attitude, and steady leadership that will carry NORA into the future,” said NORA Advisory Board Chairman Craig Bessinger.
An open house in VanHekken’s honor is scheduled for today (Wednesday, May 15) from 4:30-5:30 p.m. at the Educational Services Center, 1415 S. Beechtree St., Grand Haven.
NORA is in the midst of a transition period this year. Beginning July 1, it will be overseen by the City of Grand Haven. Previously, the organization fell under the umbrella of Grand Haven Area Public Schools.
“We’re going to be standing as our own entity,” VanHekken said.
As a result, NORA will no longer oversee all of the Grand Haven school district’s middle school sports leagues, according to VanHekken. It will instead focus on youth development programs and adult offerings.
“We want kids to have a great experience, and it’s all about teaching, developing confidence and self-esteem, and through that process, maybe the kids realize they like the sport, and they might play it in middle school or high school,” VanHekken said. “But, at the youth level, we want to develop fundamentally sound programs.
“From the adult aspect, we’re trying to address the needs of the adults — volleyball leagues, basketball leagues, softball leagues, and other programs and activities they’re interested in,” he added. “We do a lot of polling, trying to collect data, doing surveys, to get a feel in the community of what is available.”
VanHekken lives locally with his wife, Jennifer. They have two children: Kaitlyn, a junior at Alma College, and Carson, a freshman at Western Michigan Christian High School.