A Life Shaped By Bethel
It’s a certainty that President Steven Cramer, Ph.D., (’75) has believed for a long time. Mainly because it’s a truth that has woven its way through his life, and it started with his family.
His mother’s uncle was the Rev. Warren Mangus, one of the founding fathers of Bethel College. His grandfather was one of the conference representatives who voted to institute the college. So family connections go back to the beginning.
The oldest of six children, Cramer was 17 when he came to Bethel in the late 60’s. He had been encouraged to attend college by former Bethel Basketball Coach Bob Long, who was coaching at his high school at the time.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Cramer of that time in his life.
When a high school guidance counselor suggested that he become a doctor because of his interest and success in science, Cramer decided that was what he would pursue. He now admits he wasn’t ready.
Mentored at Bethel
There would be other encouraging mentors along the way during his educational and professional journey; the first being Myron Tweed, Bethel’s choir director at that time. Cramer remembers the day he walked on the stage in Goodman Gymnasium. There was one light, a piano on the stage and a couple professors, including Tweed, sitting there. Then out of the dark, Cramer heard a deep voice.
“It sounded like the voice of God. ‘Steven, what have you prepared to sing?’ I had nothing,” says Cramer.
He would sing a few scales and a suggested hymn. To his surprise, he would become a member of the choir. But a year-and-a- half later, struggling with his premed studies, Cramer went to tell Tweed he was dropping out of college. Instead, after a short conversation with Tweed, Cramer would leave his office, changing his major to music education.
“He convinced me to stay in school,” says Cramer. “He really believed in me before I believed in myself.”
From that point on, music would become an integral part of Cramer’s life. The following fall he would meet his wife, Terri, in the choir. He’d eventually graduate with a degree in music education, and later work at two high schools serving as the choral music teacher and the concert choir director. He would make a couple other career stops in administration before ending up back at Bethel in 1987 as the vice president of institutional advancement.
In 2004, he’d fulfill a secret goal, singing at Carnegie Hall with Terri and the rest of the Bethel Concert Choir. Also in 2004, he would be inaugurated as Bethel’s sixth president. A tradition would begin where he and Terri would close out the Christmas chapel each year singing a Christmas carol during a candlelight service.
“Everything in my life changed because someone pulled me aside and made me believe in myself. That has driven me at Bethel to help provide the opportunity for such an experience for students who have not had that,” says Cramer.
Surviving Challenging Times
In 2008, the college, along with the rest of the nation, faced challenges of worldwide financial upheaval. While many college administrators believed it was a one-year anomaly, it proved to be a paradigm shift for the entire financial world. Cramer says God already gathered a board of trustees with specific skill sets to assist the administration through these changes.
“In those times, you realize that one person does not do it alone. Other people invest in us,” says Cramer.
Today the college has reduced its debt, added several million dollars to the endowment fund, and achieved balanced budgets while building additional cash reserves.
Cramer holds a deep satisfaction in knowing he has “maintained the mission, spiritual vitality, academic quality and a call to serve.” Some of this is evident by the tremendous spiritual revival that started in a chapel service in February of 2011.
Together as a couple, the Cramers sought to connect with students. They wanted to interact with students, and not be seen as figureheads.
“Some students come and don’t know what a Christian family looks like. We wanted them to be able to say they knew us and they got to experience in part a Christian family through us.”
From a structural standpoint, Cramer is proud of the recently added infrastructure of the new western entrance; new residence hall, The Lodge; Sufficient Grounds Cafe and Campus Store; and the completion of the lab addition to the Middleton Hall of Science where Bethel students have the unique opportunity to conduct cancer research and learn in a cadaver lab — something that is fairly unique on a campus Bethel’s size.
Reflections as President
Cramer views himself as someone who has stood in the gap. He explains that under Norman V. Bridges, Ph.D., the college’s fifth president, the school re-established itself, and he had the opportunity to build on that and help it continue to come of age. Cramer says there will soon be a changing of the guard and he will most likely be the last president who knew and served while at least two of the college’s founding fathers were still on the board of trustees.
“I feel like I was president of a transitional era, and part of my charge was to help set the stage for the college to launch even higher,” says Cramer. “Norman Bridges used to say this, and I still believe it’s true, ‘Bethel’s best days are still ahead.’”
The Cramers’ Next Chapter
While Cramer says he tries not to think about leaving, he knows it is the right time. He and Terri hope to travel, enjoy their family and rest for a bit before seeing what God has next for them.
“We want to keep active, and I’m going to learn to fish that lake.” Cramer’s referring to the lake in the backyard of his Michigan
But the Cramers won’t be far. “Terri and I will stay connected with the college. We’ll help the new president wherever needed, but first, we want to finish our tenure as strong as possible. Bethel means ‘House of God’ and we feel we have helped the college stay true to its name while moving ‘Forward, with Christ at the Helm.’”