History

Old picture of water fountain

For more thanĀ 70 years, Bethel College has been educating students with the same mission. Though many things have changed since the college first opened in 1947, the Christ-centered, academically challenging focus has remained steadfast.

Institutional Profile

Currently composed of 1,500 traditional and adult and graduate students from 35 states and 10 countries, and 250 full-time employees, Bethel is in a city of 250,000 residents (Mishawaka), five colleges (including, nearby, the University of Notre Dame, IUSB, Ivy Tech, Holy Cross, Saint Mary's), the second largest shopping district in the state of Indiana, 15,000 businesses, 50 parks, and Mishawaka's own renovated, three-mile Riverwalk development. Resort venues on Lake Michigan are 45 minutes away. Read our full profile.

Our Founders

The roots of Bethel College run deep.  Mennonite Brethren in Christ (MBC) founder Daniel Brenneman first called for a training institute in 1893. Then, for many years, 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, Indiana during 1946 under the leadership of Q. J. Everest, Seth Rohrer, and Warren Manges. Twenty-seven-year-old Woodrow I. Goodman (1947-1959) was appointed the first president, at that time the youngest in the United States.

Events Through the Decades

1940s

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.

1950s

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.

1970s - 1980s

On March 31, 1971, President Ray P. Pannabecker (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 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 (1974-1981), James A. Bennett (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 33 team national championships.

1989-2004

Bethel experienced a remarkable renaissance under the presidency of Norman V. Bridges (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 addition to a burgeoning 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, 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.

Dr. Steven R. Cramer was inaugurated in 2004 as the sixth president of Bethel College, and his tenure extended the pattern of strong, progressive leadership. During his presidency, the music department received NASM accreditation and the campus became more intentional in its multi-ethnic programming. Senior administrators worked to secure the long-term financial future of Bethel during a period of national economic crisis. Dr. Dennis D. Engbrecht continued as Senior Vice President.

A $6.9 million addition to the Middleton Hall of Science is just one in a long string of major construction and landscaping projects since the early 1990s, including Founders Village Apartments, the Middleton wing for Nursing, 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, Campus Store, and a new west campus entrance and a renovated Helm. A series of land acquisitions have shattered the myth that the main campus is landlocked.  The Elkhart campus and the nursing program at Grace College are two of several emerging extension centers for Bethel.

2013

With the appointment of Dr. Gregg Chenoweth as the new president in 2013, 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.”

About the Missionary Church

The Missionary Church, Inc. (est. 1969)

The Missionary Church (MC), headquartered in Ft. Wayne, Ind., grew from the 1968-1969 merger of the Missionary Church Association (MCA) and the United Missionary Church (UMC) (formerly the Mennonite Brethren in Christ). The MCA had roots in the "Egly Amish" and the "German Branch" of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, while the UMC drew from a spectrum of Mennonite groups and the "River Brethren" of Ohio ("Swankites") and embraced Canadian districts. Both sides shared an Anabaptist history influenced by Pietist, Wesleyan-Holiness and Keswickian-Holiness movements, including the fourfold gospel preached by A. B. Simpson: Jesus Christ as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King. By the time of the merger, both were active in the National Association of Evangelicals; earlier trademarks such as the peace witness and women in ministry had faded, while elements of fundamentalism emerged. Believer's baptism by immersion remains important; church polity is a modified congregationalism. The MCA had been more centralized nationally, the UMC more district oriented. Both found great meaning in camps and revival meetings. As the names suggest, overseas missions were a driving motivation and a means of self-definition: missions and evangelism prepared the way for the imminent return of Christ (Mt. 24:14 & Mk. 13:10). Kenneth E. Geiger, former UMC general superintendent and National Holiness Association president, became the first MC president (1969-1981), followed by Leonard DeWitt (1981-1987) and John Moran (1987- ). The theological tilt is still generally Wesleyan-Arminian.

The merger saw some 273 local congregations come together, with 17,700 members, some 25,500 in Sunday worship, and a constituency of 35,500, with a congregational average of 93 members. Most U.S. members were located in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and California. Growth came slowly and was offset by the loss of the Canadian churches when they formed the Missionary Church of Canada in 1987 (then merged with the Evangelical Church of Canada in 1993 to become the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada). But an aggressive pattern of church growth and church planting in the 1990s led by the end of 1998 to over 340 congregations with 31,600+ members, 47,500+ in Sunday worship, a constituency of 72,000 and a congregational average of 139 members. One-third of current congregations are less than nine years old, over a third of the new churches represent a non-European ethnic heritage and there is renewed vision for urban ministries. New districts include Puerto Rico and Texas, with systematic coverage of the U.S. planned. Vibrant worship services in younger congregations reflect a move toward contemporary styles of music and praise. The Church Multiplication Training Center has in a few short years gone from a Western District project to serving over 80 denominations.

At the merger missionary outreaches were maintained in Nigeria, India, Sierra Leone, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, Brazil, Mexico and Cyprus, each with its own unique history and pattern of church-mission-church relations. National churches are autonomous members of the International Fellowship of Missionary Churches. France (1979) and Spain (1985) saw new approaches, then were followed in the 1990s by missionary thrusts into Kurdish areas (various countries), Indonesia, Thailand, Portugal, Russia, Arab nations, Viet Nam, Guinea, China, Cuba, Chad, Venezuela, South Africa and Germany. Some national churches experienced spectacular growth (Nigeria exceeds the U.S.), and several maintain notable training centers (e.g., Jamaica Theological Seminary). Numerous missionaries have also served under other agencies, often in other countries where there is no official Missionary Church presence.

Not every aspect of the merger went smoothly. Bethel Publishing expanded rapidly and entered the retail market, then collapsed, ceasing both publishing and retail store operations during 1998. The two historic central districts were gerrymandered rather than merged, and remained fiercely loyal to their respective colleges, Fort Wayne Bible College and Bethel College, Mishawaka, Indiana. Each school struggled and nearly closed. FWBC, after a brief hiatus as Summit Christian College (1989-1992), finally severed formal ties to the MC and merged with Taylor University, Upland, IN, becoming its second campus. Bethel College, down to 89 resident students (spring 1986) and facing bankruptcy, has instead enjoyed a spectacular renaissance and since gained repeated national recognition for religious revival, rapid growth, aggressive administration, academic innovation, artistic performance and athletic prowess. In some ways Bethel College embodies the current MC denominational trends toward higher visibility and transformed identity, but the college has simultaneously become a center for the recovery of denominational history and heritage.

Bibliography

Erdel, Timothy Paul. "The Missionary Church: From Radical Outcast to the Wild Child of Anabaptism." Illinois Mennonite Heritage, September 1997, 60, 59.

Engbrecht, Dennis. "Marriage, Memory, and Mission: On the 25th Anniversary of the MCA/UMC Merger." Emphasis on Faith and Living, July/August 1994, 4, 13.

Lageer, Eileen. Merging Streams: Story of the Missionary Church. Elkhart, IN: Bethel Publishing Co., 1979.

"The First Quarter Century" [Special double issue]. Reflections: A Publication of the Missionary Church Historical Society 2-3 (Fall 1994/Spring 1995).

Emphasis on Faith and Living. Elkhart and Ft. Wayne, IN: 1969- .

World Partners. Ft. Wayne, Ind.: 1992-1996.

Missionary Church Archives, Bethel College, IN

Stories Through the Decades

In the spring 2017 edition of Bethel Magazine we featured stories from seven decades, as we celebrated the college's 70th anniversary.

Hear voices of the past in these engaging alumni stories.

Through the Years

Presidents

Emeritus

Following is a list of individuals of outstanding merit who were named emeritus at Bethel College.

Name Birth-Death Role

Jacob Bawa Salka

1935-

Honorary Visiting Professor: Religion

Otis R. Bowen

1918-2013

Honorary Trustee

Norman V. Bridges

1938-2010

President Emeritus

Donald L. Conrad

1926-2017

Professor Emeritus: Sociology

C. Emmet Eiler

1902-1979

 

Associate Professor Emeritus: Education

Marvin E. Engbrecht 

1922-

Trustee Emeritus

Quinton J. Everest

1907-2005

Trustee Emeritus

Richard E. Felix

1938–

Trustee Emeritus

Wayne J. Gerber

1927-

Dean Emeritus

Charles E. Habegger

1930-

Trustee Emeritus

Robert N. Ham

1954-2016

Associate Professor Emeritus: Music

Ralph C. Holdeman

1921-1986

Trustee Emeritus

Michael L. Holtgren

1942-

Vice President Emeritus

Horace E. Hossler

1915-2004

Trustee Emeritus

Jasper Abraham Huffman

1880-1970

Dean Emeritus

Joseph H. Kimbel

1913-2005

Trustee Emeritus

James L. Kroon

1926-2015

Professor Emeritus: Chemistry

Ora D. Lovell

1914-2008

Associate Professor Emeritus: Bible

Lois L. Luesing

1933-

Librarian Emerita: Archives

Lowry Mallory

1923-2016

Professor Emeritus: History

Glen E. Musselman

1931-

Trustee Emeritus

Elliott A. Nordgren

1933-

Professor Emeritus: Music

Ray P. Pannabecker

1913-2001

President Emeritus

E. Kathryn Paschall

1924-2013

Emerita Library

Bruce W. Pearson

1919-2009

Trustee Emeritus

Earl A. Reimer

1936-2007

Professor Emeritus: English/Theatre

Kenneth L. Robinson

1912-1998

Professor Emeritus: English

Seth A. Rohrer

1909-2005

Trustee Emeritus

Vernon R. Sailor

1926-2007

Trustee Emeritus

Bernice E. Schultz-Pettifor

1935-

Professor Emerita: Education

Evelyn R. Slavik

1922-1994

Associate Professor Emerita: English

John M. Smith

1931-

Professor Emeritus: Biology

Howard H. Steele

1914-2007

Trustee Emeritus

Charles W. Taylor

1909-1996

Professor Emeritus: Social Sciences

Stanley M. Taylor

1916-2011

Professor Emeritus: Education

John E. Tuckey

1910-2007

Trustee Emeritus

Raymond M. Weaver

1906-1991

Associate Professor Emeritus: Music

William E. White

1928-2008

Trustee Emeritus

Ancel L. Whittle

1913-1989

Trustee Emeritus

Commencement Speakers

Year Traditional Non-Traditional

2018      

Katelyn Beaty

Katelyn Beaty

2017

Donald Jeff Clark

Donald Jeff Clark

2017

Virginia Mae (Schultz) Krake

Virginia Mae (Schultz) Krake

2017

Gary Varvel

Gary Varvel

2016

Richard "Dick" Foth

Richard "Dick" Foth

2015

Bobb J. Biehl

Bobb J. Biehl

2014

Jackie Walorski

Todd Gene Gongwer

2013

William A. Hossler

Dennis D. Engbrecht

2012

Sarah Mwakiuna Kilemi

Sarah Mwakiuna Kilemi

2011

John Abram Huffman, Jr.

Timothy Paul Erdel

2010

Dwight Robertson

Jeffrey L. Rea

2009

Christopher Dean Fuller

Timothy Allen Rouse

2008

David J. Engbrecht

John R. Mow

2007

Paul R. Corts

C. Robert Laurent

2006

Earl A. Reimer

Sue Morey

2005

Dieumème Noëlliste

Wayne J. Gerber

2004

Richard Felix

 

2003

Jerry Bruce Jenkins

 

2002

William A. Hossler

 

2001

Otis R. Bowen

 

2000

Eugene E. Carpenter

 

1999

Michael W. Smith

 

1998

Wayne J. Gerber

 

1997

Donald L. Conrad, Stanley M. Taylor

 

1996

Peter Nathaniel Cyril Spencer

 

1995

Jacob Bawa Salka

 

1994

Ray P. Pannabecker

 

1993

Glandion W. Carney

 

1992

Donald M. Taylor

 

1991

John P. Moran

 

1990

J. Duane Beals

 

1989

Anthony Campolo

 

1988

Myron S. Augsburger

 

1987

Janette Steeves Oke

 

1986

Mark O. Hatfield

 

Year

Traditional

Baccalaureate Sermon

1985

Ray P. Pannabecker

Donald M. Taylor

1984

Harold John Ockenga

Pronoy Sarkar

1983

Edwin J. Simcox

Charles “Chuck” Carpenter

1982

Otis R. Bowen

Leonard W. DeWitt

1981

Laura Bornholdt

Thomas P. Murphy

1980

Robert P. Dugan, Jr.

Kenneth L. Stucky

1979

Russell G. Mawby

G. Glen Waun

1978

John Z. Martin

Norman V. Bridges

1977

Woodrow I. Goodman

R. Gordon Bacon

1976

Ted Ward

Morris Joe Jones

1975

Milo A. Rediger

William L. Whiteman

1974

Dennis F. Kinlaw

Timothy M. Warner

1973

Ellis Taverner

Charles Seidenspinner

1972

Albert J. Beutler

Dwight M. Horn

1971

Ellwood A. Voller

Laurence Pine

1970

Landrum R. Bolling

Gerald I. Gerig

1969

Roger J. Voskuyl

Jared Franklin Gerig

1968

Lawrence Schoenals

Jay Kesler

1967

Charles Habib Malik

Wayne J. Gerber

1966

Alex Jardine

Kenneth E. Geiger

1965

William W. Jellema

Richard S. Reilly

1964

Robert Reardon

Donald M. Taylor

1963

Frank Bateman Stanger

William K. Burgess

1962

W. R. Davenport

G. Glen Waun

1961

Stephen William Paine

Ward Montford Shantz

1960

Delbert R. Rose

Quinton J. Everest

1959

Ralph Earle

Bruce W. Pearson

1958

John Abram Huffman, Sr.

William K. Burgess

1957

V. Raymond Edmund

John E. Tuckey

1956

Henry J. Long

Ward Montford Shantz

1955

Evan H. Bergwall

James T. Hoskins

1954

Stephen William Paine

William Hygema

1953

Ernest E. Miller

William K. Burgess

1952

Delbert R. Rose

Kenneth E. Geiger

1951

Leslie R. Marston

Harold E. Bowman

1950

Paul Stromberg Rees

D. Paul Huffman

1949

Jared F. Gerig

Quinton J. Everest

1948

Harold Barnes Kuhn

Jasper Abraham Huffman

Honorary Degrees

Following is a list of Bethel College honorary degree recipients, listed by date degree was granted:

Quinton J. Everest, Doctor of Divinity, May 26, 1974

Everek R. Storms, Doctor of Laws, May 26, 1974

Raymond M. Weaver, Doctor of Humanities, May 23, 1976

R. Gordan Bacon, Doctor of Divinity, May 23, 1976

Margaret H. Prickett, Doctor of Humanities, May 22, 1977

Kenneth L. Robinson, Doctor of Humanities, May 28, 1978

Otis R. Bowen, Doctor of Humanities, May 22, 1982

Leonard W. DeWitt, Doctor of Humanities, May 22, 1982

Stanley M. Taylor, Doctor of Humanities, May 22, 1982

Ernest William Taylor, Doctor of Humanities, May 21, 1983

Pronoy Sarkar, Doctor of Divinity, May 5, 1984

Donald M. Taylor, Doctor of Humane Letters, May 4, 1985

Dinesh Chandra Gorai, Doctor of Divinity, May 3, 1986

Mark O. Hatfield, Doctor of Laws and Letters, May 3, 1986

Janette Steeves Oke, Doctor of Humanities, May 2, 1987

Seth A. Rohrer, Doctor of Humanities, May 2, 1987

John E. Tucky, Doctor of Divinity, May 2, 1987

John E. Moran, Doctor of Divinity, October 16, 1987

Myron S. Augsburger, Doctor of Humane Letters, May 7, 1988

Anthony Campolo, Doctor of Humanities, May 6, 1989

Roger W. Otterson, Doctor of Divinity, May 2, 1992

Glandion W. Carney, Doctor of Divinity, May 8, 1993

Billy W. Kirk, Doctor of Divinity, May 3, 1998

Michael W. Smith, Doctor of Humanities, May 2, 1999

William A. Hossler, Doctor of Divinity, May 5, 2002

Jerry Bruce Jenkins, Doctor of Humane Letters, May 4, 2003

Howard L. Brenneman, Doctor of Humane Letters, May 2, 2004

Richard E. Felix, Doctor of Humane Letters, May 2, 2004

William Lane Craig, Doctor of Letters, November 7, 2004

Wesley L. Gerig, Doctor of Divinity, November 7, 2004

William E. White, Doctor of Laws, November 7, 2004

Joyce Newman Giger, Doctor of Humane Letters, April 30, 2005

Dieumème E. Noëlliste, Doctor of Laws, May 1, 2005

Belsazar Nunez, Doctor of Divinity, May 4, 2008

Timothy Allen Rouse, Doctor of Divinity, May 2, 2009

Millard Dean Fuller, Doctor of Humane Letters, May 3, 2009 (Posthumously)

Dwight Robertson, Doctor of Divinity, May 2, 2010

John Abram Huffman, Jr., Doctor of Divinity, May 1, 2011

Sarah Mwakiuna Kilemi, Doctor of Humanities, April 29, 2012

Frank Habineza, Doctor of Humanities, March 15, 2013

Wayne Jay Gerber, Doctor of Humane Letters, May 4, 2013

Donald Jeff Clark, Doctor of Business, April 29, 2017

Grant R. Osborne, Doctor of Divinity, May, 2018

Chief Academic Officers

David E. Hoover, B.A. (Acting, School of Music, 1947-1948)

The Rev. Jasper A. Huffman (School of the Bible, 1947-1965)

Willard R. Hallman, B.Mus. (School of Music, 1948-1949)

The Rev. Roland V. Hudson, B.D., M.A. (Acting, College of Liberal Arts, 1947-1948)

The Rev. Stanley M. Taylor, Ed.D. (College of Liberal Arts, 1948-1953)

Wilbur B. Sando, M.Ed. (College of Liberal Arts/Bethel College, 1953-1963)

The Rev. Wayne J. Gerber, Ph.D. (Bethel College, 1963-1982)

Bernice E. Schultz-Pettifor, Ph.D. (Acting, 1982)

The Rev. Gerald Winkleman, Ph.D. (1982-1989)

The Rev. Dennis D. Engbrecht, Ph.D. (1989-1991)

Michael L. Holtgren, Ph.D. (1989-2002)

Paul Donald Collord, Ph.D. (Interim, 2002-2003)

James B. Stump, Ph.D. (2003-2008)

The Rev. Dennis J. Crocker, D.M.A. (2008-2011)

Bradley D. Smith, Ph.D. (Interim, 2011-2012)

Barbara K. Bellefeuille, Ed.D. (2012- )