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Posted on Sun, May 23, 2010 : 5:35 a.m.

Pioneer High School senior Tim VanRiper works to make the world a better place

By Janet Miller

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Tim VanRiper is active with Zion Lutheran Church, where he plays bass guitar in the Praise Band in one Sunday service and sings in the choir for another.

Angela J. Cesere |

Timothy VanRiper, 18, has taken his love for music to far corners of the world, from Tanzania to China and back to Ann Arbor.

While VanRiper is an accomplished musician - he plays six instruments and has had the lead in five Pioneer High School musicals (did we mention he is fluent in Chinese?) - it is his service and kind heart that make him stand out.

Young Citizen finalists

“I’ve never met a more well-rounded, mature person at 18 years old than Tim,” said Douglas Brown, one of two people who nominated VanRiper for Young Person of the Year. “He seems to do everything and he has such a social conscience.”

And he doesn't turn down a chance to help, said Crystal Gadegbeku, the other person who nominated VanRiper. A physician at the University of Michigan hospitals, she's enlisted VanRiper to perform for holiday programs at the medical center and at the child care center. "He's just really special kid. He stands alone," said Gadegbeku, who knows VanRiper from church. "He's got great motives, his head is in the right place and he's got talent that he puts to use in creative ways."

VanRiper traveled to Biloxi, Miss., to help rebuild houses destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He’s held benefit concerts to raise money for leukemia research and aid in China and Africa. He planned a benefit concern to raise money for earthquake victims in Haiti.

At 13, he traveled to Tanzania to help repair a rural medical clinic. He’s gone to a remote town in northeast China twice to help build a school and then teach English in the school. He’s been active with the nonprofit organization Free the Children, the largest children helping children organization in the world, he said.

“What struck me the most both times I was in China was students’ willingness to learn,” VanRiper said. “Kids would be looking in at the school, pressing their noses against the window, because they wanted to go to school but had to work to support their families…. It’s a cliché about doing things to make a difference when really, it’s our lives that get changed.”

Along the way, VanRiper brings his music.

But it’s just as important, he said, to serve in his backyard. He accompanies other students in Solo and Ensemble competitions. VanRiper is active with Zion Lutheran Church, where he plays bass guitar in the Praise Band in one Sunday service and sings in the choir for another. “A big part of growing up for using my music for my church,” he said.

Tim VanRiper

  • Age: 18
  • Parents: Sharon VanRiper, John VanRiper
  • School: Pioneer High School
  • School activities: Pioneer High School musicals, theater guild, a cappella choir, marching band, symphony band, including back-up symphony conductor. Chosen by the faculty to conduct orientation presentations on the fine arts program at PHS. Serves as a peer mediator.
  • Community activities: Active with Zion Lutheran Church, playing guitar, drums and pipe organ and singing in choirs; traveled to Tanzania to help build a medical clinic and to China to help build a school and teach English; organizes performances to raise money for leukemia research and for projects in Africa and China; active with the non-profit Free the Children.
  • Nominated by: Crystal Gadegbeku and Douglas Brown.
  • College plans: Likely to attend the University of Michigan.
And he reaches out to his neighborhood, literally. The morning after the PHS prom in early May, a 13-year-old boy from the neighborhood knocked on VanRiper’s door. “VanRiper had been up most of the night because of the prom, but this boy needed to talk,” Brown said. “Tim went outside with him to shoot some hoops so they could talk. I have never met anyone like him.” He is a role model: One middle school student VanRiper tutors even dressed up like him for Halloween.

VanRiper began taking piano lessons when he was 6 years old. At 10, he picked up the drums. Then guitar. And trumpet. By sixth grade, he landed a part in his middle school’s musical, “The King and I.” It was the first his mother, Sharon, knew her son could sing. When he arrived at PHS, he joined the choir and musical theater, appearing in eight musicals. He learned pipe organ for his church and this year decided to give tuba a try so he could be part of the PHS marching band his senior year.

Music, VanRiper said, “is a universal language. Joy can always be found in music. Any emotion, any mood, there’s always a song for it. You can use music to spread a message and be of service to people.”

VanRiper thinks big He said he wants to continue his music and humanitarian work with an eye toward studying international relations or political science when he goes to college in the fall, probably at the University of Michigan. “I’d like to get governments working together,” VanRiper said. “We’re suffering and I’d like to get the world going in the right direction.”

VanRiper did one more good deed, as far as Brown is concerned. A number of years ago, Brown, a family physician with a practice south of Cleveland, attended Zion Lutheran when he and his wife were in Ann Arbor visiting their adult son. He met the VanRipers, and Brown’s son became something of a big brother to the boys. Brown’s wife died three years ago and through VanRiper, his mother and Brown were re-connected. Now, they are engaged.



Mon, May 24, 2010 : 8:48 a.m.

Good choice- WTG Tim!

Carl Johnson

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 11:28 p.m.

Wow Brent! You worked with both of these people? Too bad that you weren't nominated too. It sounds like a real travesty of justice... Oh wait, what did Jesus say about practicing our piety before men? Hmmmm, I am Lutheran, but don't know either you, Anshul Mehta, or Tim... Congrats Tim! May we all be inspired by your example.

Roger LeLievre

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 9:12 p.m.

I have enjoyed watching you on stage, but I didn't know the rest of the story. You are an amazing example to us all. Thank you and good luck in the future.

Brent Lofgren

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 11:51 a.m.

After reading farther, I wanted to add another comment. The fact that Anshul Mehta is on the list of nominees but not on the list of finalists is testimony to the stiff competition to get this award. I've done things with Anshul such as construction in the playground at Perry Nursery School. Congratulations to all those who were nominated and keep on serving your community.

Brent Lofgren

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 10:55 a.m.

I was on that trip to Tanzania that was mentioned in the story along with Tim, and have sung alongside him in the Zion choir. He is deserving of every good word about him in this article. Congratulations to Tim and to his parents, Sharon and John.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 8:42 a.m.

This story only covers the tip of the gold mine about Tim's accomplishments. I know that he was chosen to be trained by Oakland County's Peer Mediation program so he could help start a program at his high school. He's the type of person who never appears to be striving in the negative sense; if he works hard toward his goals, it is from an inner certainty that doesn't involve being better than anyone else, that is what makes him seem amazing. People can't help but like him.

susan hurwitz

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 8:21 a.m.

Wow! I thought I knew Tim well, having worked with him through Pioneer Theatre Guild for the past four years, and I knew that he was constantly offering assistance to others, but I didn't know the extent of Tim's generosity, even though I see him nearly every day. So add "humble" to the list of adjectives describing him. As one of our directors asked recently, as Tim ran between the piano and stage----rehearsing his part AND accompanying the rest of the cast at the same time---"What CAN'T Tim do?" To paraphrase a lyric from WICKED, Tim's "future is unlimited!"It is a privilege to know him!


Sun, May 23, 2010 : 5:34 a.m.

WAY TO GO TIM and the other finalists! Keep making the world a better place! What a great example you set for other young adults. Thank you for all you do! To all the kids who do the right thing,you know who you are, keep up the good work. That equally goes for all the adults who have helped mold and shape them, give yourself a pat on the back too!