Cornelius H. Wedel (1860–1910)
Cornelius Heinrich Wedel was born in South Russia. In 1874, he migrated with his family to what is now Goessel, Kan. From 1876-80, Wedel taught school in that community. In 1881, he answered the call to do mission work in Darlington, Okla. However, he left that work the following year due to eye troubles.
Wedel attended McKendry College, Lebanon, Ill., and Bloomfield (N.J.) Theological Seminary. In 1890, he took a position at the Halstead (Kan.) School, teaching there for three years. He continued his studies at Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pa., earning his M.A. degree.
When Bethel College opened in 1893, Wedel became the first president as well as the professor of Bible, a position he held until his death in 1910.1
Jacob H. Langenwalter (1877–1965)
President of Bethel College 1910–11 and 1921–24
John W. Kliewer (1869–1938)
John Walter Kliewer, born in a German Mennonite community in Russian Poland, migrated to Kansas with his family in 1874. He went to high school in Newton and then continued his education at Halstead (Kan.) Seminary. After teaching a few years, he attended Bethel College and Garrett Biblical Institute, Evanston, Ill., from which he received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree in 1901.
Bethel College called him to become president in 1911. He resigned the post in 1920, but he was asked again, in 1925, to assume the presidency and served until 1932. In 1925, both Garrett Biblical Institute and Bluffton (Ohio) College gave him honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees. Kliewer presided over Bethel at a transitional time in the college’s history.2
John E. Hartzler (1879–1963)
John Ellsworth Hartzler grew up in Cass County, Mo. He received a B.A. from Goshen (Ind.) College, a B.D. from Union Theological Seminary, New York, an M.A. from the University of Chicago, a law degree from Hamilton College of Law, and a Ph.D. from Hartford (Conn.) Theological Seminary.
Before coming to Bethel College, Hartzler served as pastor of Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., and dean and president of Goshen College. He became a professor of Bible at Bethel in 1918 and served as president from 1920-21. When the Witmarsum Theological Seminary opened in 1921 at Bluffton (Ohio) College, Hartzler took the position of president.
In 1936, he joined the faculty at Hartford Theological Seminary, serving there for 11 years.3
Edmund G. Kaufman (1891–1980)
Edmund G. Kaufman grew up near Moundridge, Kan. He earned an A.B. from Bethel College, an A.M. from Witmarsum Seminary, Bluffton, Ohio, a B.D. from Garrett Biblical Institute, Evanston, Ill., and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
From 1917-25, Kaufman served as a missionary in China, working as superintendent of the Mennonite Mission School in Kai Chow.
Kaufman became president of Bethel College in 1932 in the middle of the economic depression. During his tenure, he led financial drives, a building program and helped revise the curriculum. In 1938, the college became accredited through the North Central Association. Before he left office in 1952, Kaufman saw the development of the Mennonite Library and Archives and the acquisition of the Kauffman Museum.
His commanding presence on campus was expressed in chapel services, in his required senior course in Basic Christian Convictions, and in his rigorous attention to the details of college activities.4
David C. Wedel (1908–2009)
David C. Wedel, originally from Goessel, Kan., was a student at the Bethel Academy in the mid-1920s and graduated from Bethel College in 1933. From 1936-46, he pastored First Mennonite Church in Halstead, Kan.
Upon the invitation of President E.G. Kaufman, Wedel served one year as acting dean of Bethel while the current dean was on sabbatical. After that, he went on to get his doctorate in Christian education from Iliff School of Theology, Denver. In 1952, he took over the presidency of Bethel College, serving in that capacity until 1959.5
J. Winfield Fretz (1910–2005)
Joseph Winfield Fretz graduated from Bluffton (Ohio) College. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Divinity at Chicago Theological Seminary and then M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from the University of Chicago.
Fretz taught sociology at Bethel College from 1942–63, serving as Bethel’s interim president from 1959–60. He left Bethel in 1963 to become the founding president of Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. After serving in that position for 10 years, Fretz stepped down to teach sociology at the Conrad Grebel, which he continued until he retired in 1979. Upon retiring, he moved to North Newton.6
Vernon Neufeld (1920–2008)
Vernon Neufeld was born in Shafter, Calif., and raised on the family farm. After high school, he spent several years on the farm before deciding to pursue a college education. Neufeld graduated from Bethel College in 1949 with a B.A. in music. He continued his studies at Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Chicago, receiving a divinity degree in 1954. In 1955, he moved to New Jersey so that he could carry on his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, earning a masters and doctoral degrees, in 1957 and 1960.
Neufeld began teaching in the Bethel College Department of Bible and Religion in 1959, and after teaching only one year, he accepted the position of president, serving from 1960–66. During his presidency, the Fine Arts Center was planned and constructed. Also, he played a significant role in the beginning stages of the Associated Colleges of Central Kansas (ACCK).
Following his tenure, Neufeld returned to California to work as executive director for Mennonite Mental Health Services. He later retired and moved to Bakersfield.7
Orville L. Voth (1924–2008)
Orville L. Voth was born in Rosthern, Saskatchewan. He grew up a
campus kid, since his father, John Voth, was on the Bethel faculty and taught Bible and industrial arts from 1925–46. Voth graduated from Newton High School but was forced to take a break from his studies at Bethel College when he was drafted into Civilian Public Service in 1943. He served in Fort Collins, Colo., and Kalamazoo, Mich.
After graduating from Bethel in 1948, Voth continued his education at Oklahoma State University, earning an M.S. in chemistry with a minor in physiology. He then went on to earn his Ph.D. in biochemistry with minors in bacteriology and organic chemistry from Pennsylvania State University.
Voth began his teaching career at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina. He served as interim academic dean at Bethel College and then as president from 1967–71 before returning to Kansas Wesleyan as vice president of academic affairs. He ended his career as director of independent study at the University of Kansas.8
Harold J. Schultz (1932–)
President of Bethel College 1971–91
John E. Zehr (1929–2018)
President of Bethel College from 1991-95, Zehr was born near Foosland, Illinois. He married Betty L. Birky in 1951 and they were the parents of four children: Terry, Randy, Brent and Rhonda.
Zehr was a longtime professor and head of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Illinois. He also served in a number of leadership roles with the Illinois Heart Association.
Zehr’s undergraduate degree was from Eureka (Illinois) College and his graduate degrees, including the Ph.D., from Indiana University Medical Center. He did post-doctoral work at the Mayo Clinic and in Seattle before starting his career at the University of Illinois.
According to Zehr’s daughter, Rhonda Gibson, Zehr was involved in some of the ground-breaking work on angiotensin, a hormone that causes a rise in blood pressure and is a target for many blood-pressure medications.
Zehr retired from Illinois in 1991 and he and Betty moved to North Newton, where he assumed the presidency of Bethel College. These were rewarding years for the Zehrs, involving traveling and entertaining on behalf of the college, and building many friendships across the country.
Keith Sprunger wrote of Zehr in Bethel College of Kansas 1887-2012: “Active in Illinois Mennonite Conference [of the Mennonite Church] activities, and son of a Mennonite pastor [Rev. Harold Zehr], he brought to Bethel his ‘lifelong history of dedication to the Christian faith from the Anabaptist perspective.’ Accepting the Bethel presidency meant taking a huge financial hit, but he saw it as a worthwhile service to the church.”
Sprunger went on to note that Zehr had to rebuild the administrative staff, with several positions falling vacant at the time of or soon after Harold Schultz’s resignation in 1991 after six terms (20 years) as president.
Zehr hired Wynn Goering as academic dean and George Rogers as dean of students, first as interim, then as permanent, appointments.
Zehr was the first president to make Bethel a non-smoking campus, and he established the Mexico internship program in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Although the latter did not continue, Bethel groups continue to go to Cuernavaca for short-term cross-cultural experiences.
“Zehr’s move to Bethel came late in his career, in his 60s,” Sprunger wrote. “In light of his age, he ‘always considered [himself] a “transitional” president.’ Ever the ‘incorrigible optimist,’ even in difficult times, he could always see opportunities.”
Rhonda Gibson noted that in addition to his family and education, her father’s great loves included the Mennonite church and music.
Zehr served the local and larger Mennonite Church in many ways, particularly when it came to music. As someone gifted with a voice for singing, he was a regular song leader for the churches he attended, most recently First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana, where he was a member at the time of his death in 2018 at the age of 88.
John and Betty Zehr sang in many duets and quartets in their younger years and were often heard singing around the house as their children grew up.
Douglas A. Penner
President of Bethel College 1995-2002
E. LaVerne Epp
President of Bethel College 2002–05
John K. Sheriff
Interim President of Bethel College 2005–06, 2009–10 and 2017-18
Barry C. Bartel
President of Bethel College, 2006–09
Barry C. Bartel grew up in La Junta, Colo. He graduated summa cum laude from Bethel College in 1984 with majors in mathematics (computer science emphasis), peace studies and Bible and religion.
Bartel and his wife, Brenda, served under Mennonite Central Committee for three years in Haiti and five years in Bolivia. He graduated from Willamette University College of Law, Salem, Ore., and worked as an attorney in Denver before becoming president of Bethel College. He is now practicing law in the Denver area.
Perry D. White
President of Bethel College, 2010-17
Perry D. White served as the 14th President. Prior to his arrival in central Kansas, he served as Vice President of Advancement and Admissions at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, WI and as Vice President for Advancement at Monmouth College.
Before his move into College Administration, Perry served six years as the Director of Choral Activities and Music Department Chair at Monmouth College in Monmouth, IL. His previous teaching experience includes: serving as Director of Choral Activities at Kilgore College in Kilgore, Texas; Director of Choral Activities at Iowa Central Community College in Ft. Dodge; and Director of Vocal Activities at Winnetonka High School in Kansas City, Missouri.
Perry holds a bachelor of arts degree in vocal music education from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. In 1988 he received his master of music degree in choral conducting from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and received a doctor of musical arts degree in choral conducting from the University of Oklahoma in 1998.
White now serves as chief executive officer of Harmony Foundation International, based in Nashville, Tennessee.
- Krahn, Cornelius and Richard D. Thiessen.
Wedel, Cornelius Heinrich (1860-1910).Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2007. Retrieved 18 September 2008 <http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/W4382.html>
- Kaufman, Edmund G.
Kliewer, John Walter (1869-1938).Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Retrieved 18 September 2008 <http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/K554.html>
- Weaver, J. Denny.
Hartzler, John Ellsworth (1879-1963).Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Retrieved 18 September 2008 <http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/H382.html>
- Juhnke, James C.
Kaufman, Edmund G. (1891-1980).Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Retrieved 18 September 2008 <http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/K39535.html>
- Zuercher, Melanie.
At 100, Wedel bridges Bethel history.2008. Bethel College News. 2008. Retrieved 22 September 2008. <http://www.bethelks.edu/news-events/news/2008/03/post/3919/>
Grebel Mourns the Death of Founding President Dr. J. Winfield Fretz, 1910-2005.Conrad Grebel University College. 2005. Retrieved 22 September 2008. <http://grebel.uwaterloo.ca/aboutgrebel/releases/2005_2_jwinfieldfretz.shtml>
Vernon Neufeld, Bethel’s seventh president, dies at 88.Bethel College News. 2008. Retrieved 22 September 2008 <http://www.bethelks.edu/news-events/news/2008/07/post/3984/>
Orville Voth, Bethel College’s eighth president, dies at 84.Bethel College News. 2008. Retrieved 24 September 2008 <http://www.bethelks.edu/news-events/news/2008/09/post/4008/>