Retiring from Bethel, two leave legacy both seen and unseen
by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Two recent retirements at Bethel College leave a large and visible legacy on the north end of campus in the form of Thresher Stadium.
As vice president for advancement, Sondra Bandy Koontz, over almost 15 years in the position, frequently saw her work take tangible shape.
Diane Flickner, after 35 years of coaching, teaching and administration (she was athletic director, 1990-2011), may leave subtler, but no less important, signs behind.
Each one, at farewell receptions given at the end of the school year, listed as a highlight of their tenure serving with each other on the design team for Thresher Stadium, completed in 2005 during the presidency of E. LaVerne Epp.
Koontz led the design team, which included, in addition to Flickner, Gregg Dick, controller, and Les Goerzen, head of the physical plant.
“What fun we had together,” Koontz said. “My respect for each one of them is enormous – incredibly knowledgeable, hard-working, get-it-done folks.”
Flickner also remembered “many good times, laughing and hard, hard work” in the design team’s experience with the stadium. The task, she says, was “to decide what was good for Bethel College, that would leave the best legacy.”
Koontz was “happily employed as a department head at the Wichita Public Library” when one day in 1998, the first of five Bethel presidents she would go on to work with, Doug Penner, called to invite her to lunch.
When he asked her to take the advancement position, she was a little unsure – to put it mildly – that she was up to the job.
“Doug looked at me and asked, ‘Do you love Bethel?’ I assured him I did. ‘Well, then, you can do this,’ he told me. It took a couple more lunches but Doug did convince me.”
Koontz learned, on her first day in the job, that the $16 million Penner had told her the advancement office needed to raise had turned into $19 million and, soon, $23 million. During the Penner administration, Koontz worked on the Leisy Admissions and Welcome Center, Voth Hall (residence hall) and Krehbiel Science Center campaigns.
Koontz also worked with John Sheriff as interim president (twice), Barry Bartel and finally current president Perry White.
“We finally built the Academic Center – raising funds for that building and the [Ward Tennis Center] at the same time, truly an amazing feat,” she said.
She also led the James A. Will Family Academic Center design team. “Because I wanted so long to do this building, in many ways it feels like it belongs to me,” she said.
“We love our donors,” Koontz says. “Our close relationships with them give meaning to our jobs and to our lives. Building confidential, respectful and even loving relationships is what it’s all about.
Koontz’s last day on the job was July 12, once she had seen the 2013 fiscal year closed out and annual report completed.
“It feels like a good time to leave,” she said, “when everything is in good hands – president, cabinet, advancement staff. I have had a wonderful 15 years at Bethel.”
While Koontz is a Bethel graduate, Diane Sanders had never heard of Bethel College before a friend told her 35 years ago that there was an opening for a volleyball coach.
After beginning her teaching and coaching career at Buhler High School, Flickner (who married Dennis Flickner, longtime Newton High School teacher who also retired this year) came to Bethel in 1978, where her Thresher volleyball teams compiled a 400-147 overall record and a 169-21 KCAC record during her 11 years as coach.
During that time, they won eight of 11 KCAC Championships. Flickner’s 1981 Bethel team was one of the best ever to compete for the Threshers, winning the 1981 KCAC Championship with a 16-0 conference record, earning national recognition as a Top 10 team in overall Division II rankings, winning the NAIA District 10 Tournament and placing third at the NAIA National Volleyball Tournament in Athens, W.Va.
After she became athletic director at Bethel in 1990, Flickner was honored numerous times as NAIA District 10 and KCAC Athletic Director of the Year. She was instrumental in developing and implementing Bethel’s Champions of Character program for student-athletes.
Flickner was associate professor of health and physical education with teaching emphases in public school health and physical education, curriculum design, sport sociology and sport management.
Being at a Mennonite college yet unfamiliar with Mennonites back in 1978, Flickner recalled, she felt a bit like the proverbial fish out of water. But she adds without hesitation that she stayed so long because “Bethel is worth it,” for many reasons.
Chief among these, she said, are the people she worked with over the years – from the Thresher Stadium design committee to the various coaches, from her colleagues in the health and physical education and athletic training departments and Faculty Welfare Committee to maintenance, administrative office and development staff (“I can’t say enough about those who work behind the scenes”).
“So many of those I worked with are gone [from Bethel] now,” Flickner said. “That’s what happens when you’ve been here so long. Brad [Born] and also John Sheriff were so helpful with advice and guidance on letting go when it’s time.”
In addition to people, Flickner says she’ll remember “a joy of working here being ‘doing more with less’ and being creative. The fun things, like breaking Guinness world records and Booster Club activities.
“And finally, being a Thresher and being committed to Bethel College. I’ve had the best time of my life.”
“As younger faculty come through at this time of year, interviewing for open positions, I think of … how rare it is to have 35 years at one institution,” said President White at Flickner’s farewell reception. “There are a lot of places [she] could have gone – to a bigger city or more money – but [she] gave her life to students at Bethel College.
“The impact of all those lives touched is awe-inspiring. Few people leave that kind of legacy.”
Flickner will be back for this year’s Fall Festival, when there will be a celebration of 40 years of volleyball excellence at Bethel and Flickner will be inducted into Bethel's Athletic Hall of Fame.
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.