Campus & Community

The Big Picture

3 min read

Belva Brown Jordan, Beetlemaniac

Belva Brown Jordan has a passion for Volkswagen Beetles. It all started about 15 years ago: “I was sitting on an airplane one day,” said Jordan, “and I opened up one of those airplane magazines where you can order stuff and there was this picture of a Franklin Mint Volkswagen Beetle, a classic Beetle, and I thought, ‘Wow, look at that, that’s really cool!’” She ordered the car and, when it arrived, she said it felt like Christmas or her birthday.

“After I ordered that first one, I ordered another one, and another one, and another one,” she said. “There’s something about seeing the car in a miniature form and the detail of it and the shape of the car that’s pretty exciting.”

Then the word got out to people that Jordan was collecting Beetles and the floodgates opened: “People send them to me from all over the world,” she said. “I have one from Cuba, I have them from Africa, I have one from the Caribbean, I have one from Germany.” Her collection now numbers nearly 200. In addition to actual models, people send her photographs and postcards of Beetles.

“They’re fun,” she said.

Among her favorite cars are that first one that she bought on an airplane (it’s a model of a yellow 1967 Beetle); the one from Germany, which winds up with a little key and has real rubber tires; a couple of battery-operated toys from the early 1960s; and a mint, in-the-box Beetle that her brother gave her two years ago.

In addition to the toy or model cars, Jordan has owned three full-sized Beetles during her life. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, she owned a red, classic Volkswagen. More recently, she owned a navy blue New Beetle. “There’s something about the ‘hippy-ness’ or earthiness of the car that’s very attractive,” she said.

Jordan prefers the classic Beetle: “There’s something about the shape and its style that has withstood time,” she said. “It took me a while to warm up to the New Beetles, but I did manage to do that. Enough so that I bought one!”

Jordan’s cars are present with her on her journeys through life. Jordan herself likes to be present with students at Harvard Divinity School, where she is the assistant dean for student life. She said she “likes being present with people as they are discerning whatever are their paths in life, and in a place where people have such interesting, rich, and diverse sets of paths.”

She describes her job as helping students interpret the institution so that they can take their most creative ideas and make them work within the institutional structure. To do so, she says, she must “be a student of the institution, knowing the ins and outs,” and also must have her “finger on the pulse of the community to figure out what kinds of things the students want and need while they’re here.”

Jordan likes her job. She likes the students and her colleagues, who she describes as having a “positive spirit.” She likes putting details together to make things work, as she did recently with the organizing, together with a student, of a Thanksgiving dinner for 47 students who stayed at Harvard during the holiday.

And she likes her Volkswagens.