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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.

To make a nomination, please complete and return a nomination form to the Office of Alumni Relations, Bethel College, 300 E. 27th, N. Newton, KS 67117 or e-mail

2021 Award Recipients

Young Alumnus Award:

Joel Gaeddert, North Newton, came to Bethel after having grown up in Lenexa, Kan., in the Kansas City metro area, though familiar with both the college and North Newton from visiting grandparents there.

He graduated in 2006 with majors in natural sciences and mathematics – but he already knew that neither medicine nor medical research was for him.

Gaeddert met his wife, Crystal (Enz) '04, at Bethel and they got married right after he graduated. Crystal was clear she wanted to live and raise a family in the Newton area.

After growing up in a large urban/suburban area and rejecting the career path he had once figured on, Gaeddert’s challenge now, he said, was “how to make an interesting living in Newton, Kansas.”

When Chuck Regier '81, curator of exhibits at Kauffman Museum and someone with whom Gaeddert had worked as a student employee of the museum, offered him a job there, Gaeddert took it. He helped Regier complete the museum’s most recent permanent exhibit, “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture.”

After two years at Kauffman Museum, Gaeddert combined what he had learned in design with his longstanding fascination with computers and the technical skills in coding he had gained while still in college and started Flint Hills Design (FHD) in February 2008.

Initially, the business was custom-built websites. Interest was immediate and the business grew quickly. Gaeddert hired one Bethel modmate, Abe Regier '07, and then a second, Joel Krehbiel '06.

Within a year, Gaeddert was offered the opportunity to build a museum exhibit. That invitation came by way of Chuck Regier, and it began an exhibit-building collaboration between FHD and Kauffman Museum that went on for the next several years.

That first exhibit was “The Bison: American Icon,” which was also the start of a relationship with Mid-America Arts Alliance that continues to this day.

To date, FHD has designed and fabricated more than 30 permanent and traveling exhibits, on subjects from Willa Cather to climate change, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb road race to American Indian boarding schools, John Brown to Johnny Carson, Frida Kahlo to Kansas folk artist M.T. Liggett.

In 2015, Gaeddert launched Upland Exhibit Systems, building off-the-shelf exhibit furniture. As of the end of 2020, Gaeddert could say that between FHD and Upland, his business has reached more than half the states in the country.

The latest component is Overland Traveling Exhibits. Four FHD exhibits – with plans to expand that number – are available to museums to rent for a price that includes transportation, installation and tear-down.

While Krehbiel and Abe Regier no longer work for Gaeddert, he currently has several Bethel alumni employees, including his brother David Gaeddert '13, principal and lead developer, who has spun off a business,, from a product originally designed to manage an internal process at FHD.

The third brother, Aaron Gaeddert '11, has also worked with the company and still does occasionally, but spends most of his time managing Prairy Market, a natural foods grocery in Newton.

Gaeddert’s interests and involvement reflect his care for the community and region. He is on the board of trustees for the Central Kansas Community Foundation (he completed a two-year term as chair in 2020) and the board of directors of the Harvey County Economic Development Council.

Flint Hills Design quickly outgrew two different home office locations, so Gaeddert bought the former Mennonite Central Committee Central States warehouse in North Newton, and then the adjoining office building after the financial planners who were there moved out. And a recent business milestone has been purchase of land for further expansion.

“The pandemic hit us hard,” he said, “but as with lots of other companies, it accelerated change that needed to happen anyway. So we fast-forwarded through those changes and are coming out on the other side leaner and stronger than ever.”

Joel and Crystal Gaeddert live in North Newton with their two sons.

The 2021 Young Alumnus Award will be presented (along with a program by the recipient for Bethel students, faculty and staff) in convocation on Oct. 4, 2021.

Outstanding Alumnus Award:

Jennifer Scott Koontz, M.D., MPH, Newton, has always had a heart for the community, which the COVID-19 pandemic has only emphasized.

Except for briefly considering a missionary career as a first grader, Koontz has always wanted to be a doctor.

She volunteered at a nursing home as a high school student in Nickerson, Kan., and graduated from Bethel in 1998 with majors in psychology and natural sciences.

Right after graduation, Koontz spent two years with Mennonite Voluntary Service in Hamilton, Ontario. At the North Hamilton Community Health Centre, she coordinated the breakfast program for school children and worked as a camp counselor for adults and children living with HIV.

She then began her education at the University of Kansas, where she earned a master’s degree in public health (2001) and her M.D. (2005).

While at KU Medical School, Koontz founded and led the JayDoc Free Clinic, a student-run clinic for the uninsured in Kansas City, Kan., in 2003, and two years later co-founded the JayDoc Community Clinic in Wichita.

She completed a residency in family medicine at Via Christi in Wichita, where she was chief resident during her last year. By 2009, she was board certified in both family medicine and sports medicine, and began practicing with Pinnacle Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics, Newton and Hutchinson, Kan.

She has also served as team physician and medical director for athletic training and student health at Bethel since that time.

It isn’t by accident that Koontz has been able to combine medicine and sports, since she loves both and was captain of the volleyball and women’s basketball teams as a Bethel student.

Sports medicine, she says, covers whatever helps people stay healthy and lead an active lifestyle – it can include treating anything from an injured shoulder to asthma to chronic knee pain to depression.

Since 2012, Koontz has practiced family medicine and sports medicine, and served as medical director for cardiac rehabilitation, at Newton Medical Center, recently renamed NMC Health.

Koontz was Bethel’s Young Alumnus Award winner in 2009. In 2017, she was one of three Women of the Year in Harvey County.

At that time, she told The Newton Kansan, “[Getting the MPH] expanded my view of what health means. I know it’s not just a one-on-one visit in the exam room with me. Health is community work and I think health is about being connected with others in the community.”

Koontz currently serves in a number of leadership positions, including president of the Harvey County Medical Society, member of the Kansas Healthcare Collaborative board of directors, and chair of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Sexual Violence Task Force, among others.

But it has been her work to educate the public about COVID-19 and public health and safety measures surrounding it that have pointed out her dedication to community most clearly.

For months, she read everything she could find, and then distilled it into COVID-19 updates covering Harvey County to the global situation, which she put on her Facebook page and made shareable to anyone.

“I am a fierce believer that facts and education are important to address any challenge,” she said. “Facts help us understand how to protect our communities and can keep us calm in times of great uncertainty.”

As president of the Harvey County Medical Society, Koontz coordinated a group of physicians that gave input into the county’s re-opening and testing plans, advocated for adequate testing and contact tracing programs, and tirelessly promoted frequent handwashing, physical distancing and wearing face coverings in public spaces.

In the early months of the pandemic, when face masks for the general public were in short supply, Koontz organized a group of volunteers to sew masks and distribute them through the schools and other avenues.

Her efforts earned her an “Ad Astra Star Award” from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas, a recognition created to particularly note those “embodying the strength and resilience of Kansas” at this time.

When Koontz was nominated as a Harvey County Woman of the Year in 2017, the nominator called her a “servant leader.”

The award was “a nice recognition from the community, but it mostly serves as a reminder for me to continue to be community-minded and continue to be a servant leader,” Koontz said. “It’s just a great reinforcement to continue to serve the community.”

Koontz lives in Newton with her husband, Matt Koontz ’98, and their three children.

The Outstanding Alumnus and Distinguished Achievement awards are presented at the annual Alumni Banquet on campus the Sunday evening of Fall Festival. 

Distinguished Achievement Award:

Steve Friesen, Littleton, Colo., has seldom met a museum he didn’t like or vice versa.

Friesen was born in Lawrence, Kan., grew up in Buhler, Kan., and graduated from Bethel in 1975 with a B.A. in history and social science. He then earned an M.A. in American folk culture from the Cooperstown Graduate Program of the State University of New York at Oneonta.

He came back to south-central Kansas as director of Bethel’s Kauffman Museum, 1976-77, and then spent a year with the Office of Museum Programs of the Wichita Public Schools, 1977-78, before moving on to direct educational programs at the Littleton Historical Museum, in the Denver area, for the next four years.

After two years in Baton Rouge, La., as a service worker with Mennonite Central Committee, Friesen moved to Lancaster, Pa., to be the director of the 1719 Hans Herr House, until 1990.

He then returned to Colorado as superintendent of museums for the City of Greeley, and later became director of the Molly Brown House in Denver.

In 1995, Friesen took the directorship of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave in Golden, Colo., from which he retired in 2017 after serving in the position for 22 years.

In 2018, he was inducted into the Jefferson County (Colo.) Hall of Fame.

Following retirement from the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, Friesen combined forces with his wife, Monta Lee Dakin, to create Friesen-Dakin Museum Consulting, a part-time business.

The two have a combined total of 80 years in the museum profession (Dakin has worked at Mount Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington; the Smithsonian; Strawbery Banke in New Hampshire; Gadsby’s Tavern in Virginia; Colorado Preservation, Inc.; and most recently as executive director of the Mountain-Plains Museums Association).

Friesen and Dakin have provided consulting services to Aspen Historical Society, Evergreen Mountain Area Historical Society, Hastings Museum, Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum, and The Hermitage, the Andrew Jackson home, in Nashville, Tenn.

Friesen’s first book, A Modest Mennonite Home (Good Books, 1990), dealt with the 1719 Hans Herr House in Lancaster County as well as early Pennsylvania German life.

His second book, Buffalo Bill: Scout, Showman, Visionary (City and County of Denver, 2010), was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award and received Best Museum Publication of 2011 from the Mountain-Plains Museums Association.

Lakota Performers in Europe: Their Culture and What They Left Behind (University of Oklahoma Press, 2017) won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and Best Illustrated History 2017 from the Western History Association, and was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award.

Friesen has provided chapters for several books on museum management, and has written numerous historical articles and book reviews for academic and popular publications. In 2021, he began writing a regular column for True West magazine. He is an active member of Western Writers of America.

Friesen and Dakin are the parents of two (including Elizabeth Friesen '10) and have one granddaughter.

In addition to writing and reading, Friesen enjoys travel and cooking which, combined with his years of studying Buffalo Bill, has resulted in his latest book in progress, Galloping Gourmet: Eating and Drinking with Buffalo Bill.

Friesen is a member of Beloved Community Mennonite Church in Denver and continues his lifelong connection to Bethel College as a member of the Kauffman Museum board.

The Outstanding Alumnus and Distinguished Achievement awards are presented at the annual Alumni Banquet on campus the Sunday evening of Fall Festival. 

Awards Committee

  • Jeffrey Graber ’04, Newton, Chair
  • Gwen Neufeld ’89, North Newton
  • Monica Schmidt Spicer ’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.