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Alumni Awards

Each year an Awards Committee of the Alumni Association bestows Young Alumnus, Outstanding Alumnus and Distinguished Achievement Awards on select graduates. The awards have been given since 1960.

The Young Alumnus Award recognizes character and citizenship, achievement or service rendered, honors and recognition received. The recipient must be 39 years of age or younger.

The Outstanding Alumnus Award is given on the basis of character and citizenship, service to church/community or college or other outstanding achievements, honors and recognition.

The Distinguished Achievement Award acknowledges character and citizenship, achievement in a chosen profession or vocation and work of benefit to humanity.

The Awards Committee operates independently of administrators and staff in making selections. It welcomes a broad range of nominees who reflect Bethel’s many programs, college experiences and diversity as well as achievement or service in a variety of areas. Send names with accompanying comments to the Awards Committee in care of the Office of Alumni Relations.

For more information, contact the alumni office.

2017 Award Recipients

Young Alumnus Award:

Kate Becker ’04 – Growing up in the Great Plains, it shouldn’t be surprising that Newton native Kate Becker, Bethel College’s Young Alumnus awardee for 2017, ended up working with weather.

She’s at about the highest level there is – organizationally as well as literally.

Becker, who now lives in Washington, D.C., is a program and policy adviser in the Satellite and Information Service (known as NESDIS) for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Among her responsibilities in that position are to advise NESDIS leadership on U.S. space-based weather observation policy and programs; to lead NESDIS commercial space policy development, and implementation of a commercial weather data procurement pilot program; to ensure the most effective use of all sources of space-based weather observation; and to manage NOAA and NESDIS interactions with the National Research Council (NRC) as a sponsor of the NRC’s 2017 Earth Science and Applications from Space Decadal Survey, which will set national Earth observation priorities for the next decade.

Becker assumed her current position in 2014 but has worked for NOAA almost non-stop since 2011, when she served a student internship while in a master’s degree program at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

As an international relations assistant, among her tasks was to coordinated drafting of the NOAA/NASA Global Precipitation Measurement mission’s Memorandum of Understanding, to facilitate NOAA access to precipitation data that supported NOAA’s forecasting requirements.

Following that, she served a year as NESDIS program coordinator within the Office of the NOAA Administrator, before moving to the White House Office of Management and Budget, Science and Space Branch, as a program examiner for a year.

As such, she looked at the programs for five NASA accounts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She reviewed NASA legislative documents on behalf of the Executive Office of the President.

She was part of interagency conversations on improving space weather research and forecasting coordination across the U.S. government, which led to the formation of an interagency space weather task force to design and implement improved processes.

She also contributed to briefing papers for Administration leadership that contained analyses of key space policy issues facing the United States, such as domestic launch capability and space traffic management.

Becker than spent a year as an international and interagency affairs specialist at NOAA before taking her current job there.

She represented NOAA in U.S. interagency space policy discussions, which included serving on the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, providing expertise in the Long-Term Sustainability of Space Activities Working Group.

Becker graduated from Bethel College in 2004 with a B.A. in physics and mathematics, then went to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, where she completed an M.A. in theological studies.

Following graduation from AMBS in 2007, Becker worked for three years at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson as a camp programs manager and space science educator.

She graduated from GWU’s Elliott School in 2012 with an M.A. in international science and technology policy, concentration in space policy.

In addition to the internship with NOAA as an international relations assistant, Becker was a staff assistant for the Space Policy Institute at GWU and a visiting researcher at the European Space Policy Institute in Vienna during the time she was completing her master’s degree.

In and around all those things, she earned a private pilot’s license and became SCUBA open-water certified.

When she’s not working, Becker enjoys playing Ultimate® Frisbee®, running the occasional half-marathon, playing in D.C.’s Different Drummers, a community marching band, and tutoring kids in math at a local organization called For Love of Children.

Distinguished Achievement Award:

Paul Mullet ’72, CEO and president of Excel Industries in Hesston and Bethel’s 2017 Distinguished Achievement Award winner, has helped make his company into more than an economic cornerstone.

It has become part of the fiber of the Hesston and wider Harvey County community – perhaps at no time more evident than after a mass shooting at Excel in February 2016 left four employees dead and 14 injured.

Mullet was born and raised on a farm near Bloomfield, Montana. In 1958, Mullet’s parents, Roy and Bess Mullet, moved their family of five boys to Hesston so their sons could attend high school without having to commute 25 miles one way in the bitterly cold eastern Montana winters.

Paul Mullet graduated from Hesston College and later completed his bachelor’s degree at Bethel in 1972 with a major in industrial arts.

In 1961, Roy Mullet bought into a fledgling company called Excel that made cabs for farm machinery.

Excel started making lawnmowers as a side business in 1964. John Regier of Moundridge, who liked to tinker with and improve machinery, developed a zero-turn radius mower and offered it to Mullet.

The company continued to develop lawnmowers from then on, but until the late 1990s, they never amounted to more than a third of the business.

Paul Mullet went to work for Excel a few months after graduating from Bethel, in November 1972. He started out as a welder, and steadily worked his way up – from production supervisor to service manager to materials manager to director of sales and marketing.

Mullet was elected to the Excel Board of Directors in 1983 and became company president in 1991.

He has served on the board of directors of Krause Corporation, Hutchinson, and on the board of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, including as chair for one year, 2014-15.

Excel’s biggest economic challenge came when the cab-production business evaporated in 1997, after the John Deere company, a major customer, cut back on outsourcing.

This nearly killed Excel. The Mullets were forced to lay off more than half their employees. At that point, they decided to focus on lawn mowers.

Today, Excel employs more than four times the number of workers it did at its former zenith in the late 1990s, making Hustler and Big Dog commercial and residential riding mowers. It produced its 500,000th mower in October 2015.

The company began emphasizing foreign export in 2004, and currently has accounts in 30 different countries. It received the 2013 Governor’s Exporter of the Year award from the Kansas Department of Commerce.

The Mullets are now in the third generation of senior leadership at Excel. Paul Mullet’s brother, Bob Mullet, is chief financial officer. Two of Paul Mullet’s sons, Chad Lane and Adam Mullet, are in senior management positions (as is one of Bob Mullet’s sons).

In addition to being one of the largest employers in Harvey County, Excel has a charitable foundation through which the company gives about 10 percent of its profits annually to charities and philanthropic efforts, most of them local.

Mickey Fornaro-Dean, former Harvey County economic development director, knows the Mullets and the company well, told the Wichita Eagle in 2016, “[Excel is] seen with great respect, as successful and wonderfully managed, a great corporate citizen. But our companies aren’t important just because they provide jobs and tax base, but because they become part of the fiber of our community, [which is] incredibly difficult [for many].”

In 2016, Mullet and his wife, Teresa, moved from Hesston to Sarasota, Florida. They have a third son, Jeremy, and a daughter, Melinda.

Mullet continues to serve as Excel president and CEO while also taking more time to enjoying traveling with Teresa in their motor home, biking and golf.

The Bethel College Alumni Association presents the Distinguished Achievement Award to acknowledge character and citizenship, achievement in a chosen profession or vocation, and work of benefit to humanity.

Mullet will receive the award and be honored along with other alumni award winners at the annual Alumni Banquet, June 3 at noon in Memorial Hall.

Outstanding Alumnus Award:

Harold Thieszen ’51 - In the middle of his long list of interests, Harold Thieszen of North Newton, Bethel College’s 2017 Outstanding Alumnus Award winner, places “listening to and visiting with people.”

And that becomes more than obvious when looking at Thieszen’s life’s work and accomplishments.

An Aurora, Nebraska, native (he was born on a farm near there), Thieszen was raised and baptized in Bethesda Mennonite Church, Henderson, Nebraska.

After getting his Associate in Arts degree at Freeman (South Dakota) Junior College, Thieszen completed his B.A. at Bethel in 1951. He studied two years at Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Chicago, 1951-53, and earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree at Oberlin (Ohio) Graduate School of Theology in 1959.

Thieszen was ordained to Mennonite ministry in his home congregation, Bethesda, in 1954. He then went on to serve as a pastor for 27 years, from 1953-80, in five congregations: Bethel Mennonite Church, Marion, South Dakota; First Mennonite Church, Sugarcreek, Ohio; Buhler Mennonite Church; First Mennonite Church, Mountain Lake, Minnesota; and West Zion Mennonite Church, Moundridge.

After completing his tenure at West Zion, Thieszen took up a “second career” in institutional and church development, of which he’d had a taste when he spent 18 months in part-time fund development and student solicitation for Freeman Junior College, 1953-54.

For six years, Thieszen worked for Mennonite Mutual Aid (now Everence) in the Hesston office as area representative in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.

From January 1987 to June 1994, he was coordinator of church and seminary relations for Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana, working with General Conference Mennonite Church congregations in the United States and Canada.

“In [that] seven-and-a-half year period, I visited 152 congregations,” Thieszen said. “I represented the seminary at six to eight conferences per year. I averaged 144 days on the road and 126 nights away from home each year.”

Thieszen then spent seven years as full-time and later half-time director of fund development, marketing and church relations for Memorial Home, Moundridge, helping to raise about $5 million for the institution. Starting during that time and continuing through 2007, he assisted in bringing in another $3 million as a development consultant with Kidron-Bethel Village in North Newton, Mercy Hospital in Moundridge and Mennonite Manor in South Hutchinson.

He served as development consultant for Radio Kansas, the public radio network based in Hutchinson, and for Casa del Sol, a retirement community in La Junta, Colorado; half-time co-director of fund development with the General Conference Mennonite Church in Newton; and director of fund development for the Vision 2012 campaign of Western District Conference (WDC) of Mennonite Church USA, which raised $1.5 million for the conference.

Starting in 2003, Thieszen, whose first language was Plautdietsch or Low German, became involved in ministry with Low German-speaking people coming into the WDC geographical area from colonies in Mexico.

From 2003-2010, he was a member of the Low German Mennonites from Mexico Support Committee, a WDC task force, serving as chair for five years and vice chair for two.

He also served as a Low German interpreter at medical appointments and during hospitalizations in Newton, Wichita and (via telephone) Dallas.

Between 2001-2016, Thieszen took short-term (about one-three months) interim pastor assignments within WDC, during times of pastoral transitions, sabbaticals or medical leaves. He was at his home church, Bethesda Mennonite in Henderson, three times, at First Mennonite Church of Christian, Moundridge, and Inman Mennonite Church twice each, and at Hoffnungsau Mennonite Church, rural Inman, Bethel Mennonite Church, Inman, and Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton.

Some of his pastoral statistics over the decades, Thieszen reports: “I officiated at 126 marriage ceremonies, conducted 136 memorial services and baptized 198 catechumens [who were] received into the membership of the church.”

Thieszen has served on numerous district-wide and church-wide committees, particularly in the former Northern District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church (he was president, 1973-75) and WDC. He was WDC’s representative to the Bethel College Board of Directors, 1977-86.

He has also been a member of the boards of the Mid-Kansas Credit Union in Moundridge, Radio Kansas and Mennonite Manor, as well as the ministerial associations in the five communities where he was a full-time pastor. Currently a member of Bethel College Mennonite Church, Thieszen is on the Deacon Commission.

Many in North Newton know Thieszen as “the man with the horses,” which could be seen in a field across the street from Bethel’s athletic complex or visited by people walking through Chisholm Park.

Thieszen reports “being interested in horses since childhood.” He raised registered Arabian horses from 1968 until finally “retiring” last year, and was a member, at various times, of the International Arabian Horse Association, American Arabian Horse Association, and Minnesota, Kansas, and Indiana Arabian Horse Associations.

He has been “interested in bees, stings and honey since 1981,” and continues to keep bees and help relocate hives. He is a member of the American Bee Federation and Central Kansas Bee Association.

Among other interests, he said, are “computer since 1992; photography since 1949; Plautdietsch reading and writing, including reading De Bibel in Low German; reading Die Mennonitische Post in high German; and theology.”

Thieszen is married to Bethel alumna Esther (Klassen) Thieszen, a retired nurse. Their three children, Jon Thieszen, Kathryn Thieszen and Barbara Thiesen (Bethel co-director of libraries, married to Bethel graduate and co-director of libraries John Thiesen), are all Bethel graduates, and grandson Andrew will graduate this spring.

The Thieszens have four more grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

The Bethel College Alumni Association gives the Outstanding Alumnus Award on the basis of character and citizenship, service to church/community or college, or other outstanding achievements, honors and recognition.

Thieszen will receive the award and be honored along with other alumni award winners at the annual Alumni Banquet, June 3 at noon in Memorial Hall.


Nominate an alumnus for the Distinguished Achievement Award, Outstanding Alumnus Award or Young Alumnus Award. Email the Alumni Director your nomination. Include comments and, if possible, supporting documentation on the nominee’s qualifications and achievements.

Awards Committee

  • Dianne Epp ’61, North Newton
  • Jeffrey Graber ’04, Park City, Chair
  • Delon Martens ’73, Haven
  • Gwen Neufeld ’89, North Newton
  • Monica Schmidt ’11, Newton
  • Richard Zerger ’69, McPherson

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.