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Hope College's first women's athletic director dies after battle with cancer

Hope College Students Day of Service
Posted at 1:09 PM, Apr 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-09 13:09:19-04

HOLLAND, Mich. — Hope College’s first director of women’s athletics, Anne E. Irwin, has died at age 79 after a battle with cancer.

Irwin died April 3 at her home in Fennville.

It was her wish to be cremated and interred at the Fennville Cemetery without a memorial or funeral service, according to a news release Friday.

She arrived at Hope College in 1976, right when Title IX – the mandate that required equal treatment of men and women at federally funded educational institutions – had been passed in 1972.

She had previously been a professor and coach at Queens College in New York City, where she also headed up a Title IX Committee.

Hope College officials say Irwin immediately began enhancing the women’s athletics program when she arrived – which consisted of seven sports at the time – while keeping the men’s program strong.

“Anne was a pioneer for women at Hope,” said Tim Schoonveld, director of athletics. “We all owe her a debt of gratitude for what she accomplished. Her work helped put our entire program on a national playing field for reputation and excellence.”

During Irwin’s tenure, Hope’s women’s teams grew to 10 and its participants more than three-fold by the time she retired in 2003.

She also coached women’s basketball, softball and field hockey at various points in time.

Also during Irwin’s tenure, Hope College won the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Commissioner’s Cup 17 times over 23 years.

When the association instituted the Women’s All-Sports Award in 1998, Hope College would go on to win it five of the next six years before Irwin’s retirement.

Even after retiring, Irwin stayed involved in the college, teaching biomechanics and helping with the intramural program for one more year and serving as a bus driver in Hope’s transportation department until 2015.

In 2008, the college named the press box at the Wolters Softball Stadium in Irwin’s honor.