The Huffman Legacy: Remembering a Man with a Vision
John A. Huffman, D.Min., remembers his grandfather as “meticulous.” He can picture him sitting in his old swivel arm chair at his roll-top desk studying. He described him as “A man of precision, a man of habit, a man of discipline.”
His grandfather was Jasper Abraham Huffman, D.D., better known as J.A. Huffman, the man for which the Bethel College administration building is named. He’s also credited as one of the founding fathers of Bethel and the person responsible for the college’s name.
Born in 1880 in Elkhart, Ind., J.A. would later become a scholar, publisher, educator, biblical archeologist and activist for higher education within his own church denomination, which was then the Mennonite Brethren in Christ and is now the Missionary Church.
In the early 1900s, J.A. envisioned a denominational institution for higher education. In the years that followed, he worked at several Christian colleges before Bethel opened its doors to 94 students in 1947. J.A. was asked to be the first president, but he declined, instead accepting positions as professor and dean of Bible.
Recently, administrators invited J.A.’s grandson, John, back to speak during the traditional commencement ceremony last spring. But it wasn’t just his relationship to his grandfather that caught their attention; John is the retired pastor of a mega-church in Newport, Calif., as well as a scholar like his father and grandfather.
“My grandfather would be thrilled to see this,” says John in reference to the campus growth, not only in student numbers, but in buildings. The last time John visited campus was in the 1950s. He remembers one residence hall, the administration building, the admission building and several small steel buildings. Today, facilities have quadrupled with the addition of buildings like the Wiekamp Athletic Center, Everest-Rohrer Chapel/Fine Arts Center, Bowen Library and Middleton Hall of Science, just to name a few. John says his evangelical grand-father would ask two questions if he were here: “Is it [Bethel] still Christ-centered and is it faithful to scripture?” His vision always was to build a Christian educational center for church members that would develop leaders. John believes his grandfather would be pleased with the current progress and spiritual vibrancy at Bethel College.
“Grandfather would be rejoicing,” he says.