Farewell to a Faithful Leader: Dr. Norman Bridges

Last month, the campus and the community honored President Dr. Norman Bridges' 15 years as president of Bethel College during a special chapel service. Students, faculty, staff, family members and distinguished members of the community gathered to express their love and memories shared throughout Dr. Bridges' term of office.

When Dr. Bridges first came to Bethel in 1989, the college was experiencing difficult times. Through hard work, he was able to help Bethel stablize. Bethel's growth during this period has been phenomenal, both in enrollment and reputation. Even though Dr. Bridges doesn't like to consider achievements as just a list of accomplishments, he did comment that he's grateful to have helped restore pride and strength, as well as build the relationships between Bethel and the Missionary Church denomination. He's also worked to earn the community leaders' respect toward the college.

However, to reach these goals, he knew he needed dependable people sharing the same vision for Bethel to help. Dr. Bridges is thankful for having a wonderful group of people to work with and lean on in tough situations. He commented that "[There are] always moments when you know the task is greater than you are and only the Lord's blessing can make it work."

Dr. Bridges and his wife Janice have worked with young people in education for over 30 years. Prior to his presidency at Bethel Dr. Bridges taught English, geography, history, and education for almost every level, from grade six through Master's work. He has also served in a variety of leadership positions within the Friends Church in Kansas and with the Missionary Church. Dr. Bridges has been active in public relations for various non-profit organizations, as well as heading up numerous independent business endeavors.

Several faculty and administration members shared their memories of Dr. Bridges.

"Not only have I known Dr. Bridges as Bethel College President," stated Kathy Gribbin, "but I also was fortunate or unfortunate enough to sit under his teaching for three college classes.

"I remember feeling so petrified and nervous during his lectures. He really didn't care who he embarrassed when he asked questions pertaining to history. The more arrogant and confident a student appeared," continued Gribbin, "the more likely he or she was to be humiliated by Dr. Bridges. Even during that time I also realized he really cared about students. I remember spending time in his office sharing that life could never be more stressful and difficult than what I felt it to be as a college student. With his wisdom and insight he capably helped me put things in perspective and regularly convinced me that I would make it."

"I believe that one of the things that has always defined Dr. Bridges is that he is very intentional," said Lorne Oke. "When he came to Bethel back in the late ‘80s, he was very purposeful about some immediate changes that needed to be made. He was also intentional about some slower moving processes that needed to be improved. He has consistently been deliberate and calculated as a decision maker."

"At a faculty retreat on a hot, humid, August day a number of years ago, several of the faculty were playing a pick-up basketball game," remembers Senior Vice President Dr. Dennis Engbrecht. "The president joined in and it became my task to guard him. Granted, I'm 10 inches taller and have 50 pounds on him, but he was a crafty player and easily lost due to his size. I made up my mind I'd guard him like ‘a fly on stink.' We were really going at it and one time he got a pass in the low post. I ‘bellied up' to him on defense (I was a ‘skin' and he was a ‘shirt') and refused to budge. The closeness was too much for him and he screamed out at the top of his lungs, ‘Get away from me, you big fat slimeball!' I started self-esteem therapy the next day."

Tim Erdel shared his memories of the president as well.

"The first year that I helped arrange a pre-season game between the Lunchtime Basketball Association and the Lady Pilots, I begged Dr. Bridges to play on the LBA squad. He not only played, but he did so with an amazing intensity. When he tripped while racing down court to stop a fast break, he actually turned a complete flip in process, absorbing a rather nasty blow to his head. But he jumped right back up, ready to challenge the Lady Pilots again," said Erdel. "I then realized I was in a no-win situation. If Dr. Bridges kept on playing, either a Lady Pilot might be seriously injured, or he might kill himself. In either case, I would likely be in serious trouble with the entire Bethel College family, not to mention Janice Bridges."

With so many memories left for another day, Dr. Bridges leaves these words of wisdom for Bethel students, faculty, and staff. "I think it's very important that we combine a high level of intellectual effort with a deep commitment to Christ and His Kingdom."

Thank you Dr. Bridges for everything you've done for Bethel.