History of Bethel College
Bethel College has a rich and diverse history. Mennonite Brethren in Christ (MBC) founder Daniel Brenneman first called for a training institute in 1893. Beginning in 1907, Dr. J. A. Huffman pressed the case for a Christian liberal arts college, even suggesting the name Bethel, meaning “house of God.” Formal church approval finally came in 1944, and land was purchased in Mishawaka, Ind., during 1946 under the leadership of Q. J. Everest, Seth Rohrer and Warren Manges. Twenty-seven-year-old Woodrow I. Goodman, D.D. Lit. D., (1947-1959) was appointed the first president, at that time the youngest in the United States.
Bethel College opened in the fall of 1947 with 94 students. During that same year, the MBC became the United Missionary Church. The Administration Building was completed in 1951, the first of many projects dependent upon sacrificial giving and volunteer labor.
Bethel established some 11 academic programs during its first decade, capped by the teacher education program in 1955. Intercollegiate athletic programs were approved in 1958, with the first intercollegiate basketball game played in 1959.
On March 31, 1971, President Ray P. Pannabecker, D.D. (1959-1974) and Dean Wayne J. Gerber welcomed North Central Association accreditation. Bethel College grew steadily until it reached an enrollment of about 500. The college flourished because of what President Steven R. Cramer, Ph.D., has called its “human endowment” - an extremely loyal, faithful and hard-working faculty, staff, administration and board of trustees.
Bethel College continued moving forward under the presidencies of Albert J. Beutler, Ph.D. (1974-1981), James A. Bennett, Ph.D. (1982-1988) and Walter L. Weldy (interim 1988-1989). Among the more notable additions and innovations were the adult programs, the division of nursing and the Otis Bowen Library which anchored a new architectural style. In 1986, the baseball team won the first of what are now over 30 team national championships.
Bethel experienced a remarkable renaissance under the presidency of Norman V. Bridges, Ph.D. (1989-2004). A dynamic team of administrators, repeated record enrollments, greatly expanded curricular offerings, the hiring of nationally known scholars, an aggressive, aesthetically attractive plan of campus development, and notable periods of spiritual renewal have helped make Bethel College a school of choice for many from the region.
In 2004, Dr. Steven R. Cramer, Ph.D., was inaugurated as the sixth president of Bethel College, and has made his mark as a strong, progressive leader. During President Cramer’s tenure, enrollment climbed to almost 2,000 students and budgets expanded to $40 million to accommodate growth. Despite this period of national economic uncertainty, the college completed several building projects, including a new campus entry. Equally important was the profound spiritual revival that touched the campus in February of 2011.
In 2010, Bethel’s academic structure was reorganized. Individual deans oversee the division of arts and humanities, the division of professional and graduate studies, the division of sciences and the school of nursing.
In addition to a thriving traditional student body, adult and graduate degree programs have helped fuel the growth of the college. With notable new majors in sign language interpreting, environmental biology, criminal justice, philosophy and Spanish complementing traditional strengths in music, theatre, religion, business, communication and the service professions, Bethel College increasingly reflects a national and international student body. The college also participates in a broad range of study abroad programs and annually sends out dozens of students on task force ministry teams around the world.
Many construction projects have been completed during the Bridges/Cramer era, including a $6.9 million addition to the Middleton Hall of Science and new nursing wing, Founders Village Apartments, an enlarged Dining Commons, the Everest-Rohrer Chapel/Fine Arts Center, Wiekamp Athletic Center, Shiloh Prayer Chapel, the campus ponds and waterfall, Morey Soccer Field, Taylor Memorial Chapel, Jenkins Stadium, Sailor Residential Center, Miller/Moore Academic Center and Sufficient Grounds Cafe and Campus Store. Several more projects are on the horizon, and a series of major purchases of land has secured space for Bethel’s future growth. The Elkhart campus and the nursing program at Grace College and Lakeland Community Hospital are three of several emerging extension centers for Bethel.
Bethel College stands on the threshold of a new era, but does so deeply rooted in a past sustained by faith. “Forward, with Christ at the Helm.”