Bethel College

Alumni Awards

Congratulations Threshers!

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 submit a nomination form at the link below, or e-mail

2023 Award Recipients

Young Alumnus Award:

Brian Skinner is carrying his commitment to excellence in education to new generations of students and teachers.

Skinner received the award and spoke to students, faculty and staff in Bethel’s weekly convocation on Monday, Oct. 23.

Last November, Skinner got another important award, 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year – the first ever given to a teacher from USD 373-Newton Public Schools.

As the KTOY, Skinner led the KTOY Team (the seven runners-up) in presenting at colleges, universities, public schools and conferences across Kansas during the spring 2023 semester.

“Just to make the list of [KTOY] finalists is an honor,” said USD 373 Superintendent Fred Van Ranken when Skinner received the award. “To be [named] the Kansas Teacher of the Year is a career highlight.

“The USD 373 community should be very proud of Brian, Newton High and [the district]. They have a gem in Brian Skinner.”

Skinner grew up in Clay Center, Kan., where he graduated as valedictorian of his class at Clay Center Community High School in 2008. He was an honors graduate in history at Bethel College in 2012, and later went on to earn a master’s of teaching and learning at Friends University, Wichita.

Skinner has spent his entire teaching career thus far at NHS, where he in his 11th year and is chair of the special education department.

He has teaching licensure in history, government and social studies, and certification in adaptive special education, adaptive schools, and English/Language Arts, all for grades 6-12.

Skinner has also served as the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) case manager for Project SEARCH, a one-year program that focuses exclusively on vocational skills within the community, for students with significant disabilities who have completed their high school academic program.

Outside the special education department, Skinner was a general education English instructor for NHS’s virtual program from 2016-20 and served as adjunct history professor at Bethel in 2017.

Within USD 373, Skinner is known as a leader.

He started and expanded co-teaching in the NHS ELA department in 2017, has been the NHS Scholars’ Bowl coach since 2015, and has served as a concessions manager since 2014.

Skinner is also on his building leadership team and the NHS site council, and serves as chair of Newton’s freshman success team.

He is an active member at the local, regional and state level of the National Education Association.

“Working with students across such a wide spectrum helps [me] to best understand all students and have a larger impact in helping build a positive school culture,” Skinner said.

The 2023 Young Alumnus Award was presented (along with a program by the recipient for Bethel students, faculty and staff) in convocation on Oct. 23, 2023.

Outstanding Alumni Award:

Both Bob and Lorna Harder spent many of their early years in places that were not prairie, but now they’ve settled there, in south-central Kansas, and are among prairie’s staunchest allies.

It wasn’t a straight path to Bethel for either. Bob went to community college in Seattle, then took a gap year. He was working as a Pacific Northwest Bell telephone operator and one day, he says, he was going down a long hill on his motorcycle and “I suddenly decided I was going to go to Bethel. I can still remember the exact spot.”

Lorna had an even more convoluted route. She went to Bluffton (Ohio) College for a year, then to Jamaica as an exchange student, got married, moved to the Virgin Islands, taught 2nd grade there, had a son, came back to Kansas to get a degree in education at Bethel, got divorced, and met Bob while both were working at Hesston College. At age 33, she decided to go back to Bethel and study biology, graduating in 1987.

In a way, that’s where both of their lives changed. Lorna was in one of Dwight Platt’s ’52 classes when he asked for a student assistant to help inventory the first planting of native prairie at Kauffman Museum.

“I was the one most awake at 7:30 in the morning, and I volunteered,” Lorna says. “I spent about 60 hours crawling on the ground to find the new growth from the planting. That was the hook. I never looked back. I knew, this is what I want to do.”

Lorna worked at the museum until 2000, when she joined the science faculty at Hesston College and stayed there until retirement in 2014.

Meanwhile, Bob majored in economics and business, and math, at Bethel. He graduated in 1977. While still in Seattle, he had learned to fly and earned his private pilot’s license. In 1978, he began teaching in Hesston College’s aviation program. Eventually, he moved into “the math part,” starting Hesston’s computer science and computer information technology programs. He now teaches half-time, dividing that between aviation and computer science.

Lorna and Bob were married in 1984, renting a century-old farmhouse a few miles northeast of town. In 1996, they had an unexpected opportunity to buy the property, 111 acres with about half of it in neglected former pasture. They tore down the old house and built their own on the site. And they began to restore the prairie. 

Now it’s about 25 years later – years of removal of trees and other invasive species, controlled burns, rotated cutting and infinite patience. Their work attracted a Wichita Eagle reporter, Sarah Spicer, in 2021. Spicer’s story about prairie restoration, featuring the Harders, made it into the Washington Post magazine in 2022.

“There are no words to express what happens when damaged land is allowed to heal,” Lorna says. “We walk it every day, we watch it, we learn to know the cycles of the seasons. The prairie speaks to you, and you learn to know what to do for it.”

The Outstanding Alumni and Distinguished Achievement awards will be presented during the spring 2024 semester, time and place TBA.

Distinguished Achievement Award:

Keith Ratzlaff spent his entire career teaching undergraduates at a small, private college and still made time to write and publish poetry.

Ratzlaff, Pella, Iowa, is the 2023 recipient of Bethel College’s Distinguished Achievement Award, which acknowledges character and citizenship, achievement in a chosen profession or vocation, and work of benefit to humanity.

The award will be publicly presented in the spring semester of 2024, with the time to be decided.

Ratzlaff is professor emeritus of English at Central College in Pella. He began teaching there in 1984, after earning an M.F.A. from Indiana University-Bloomington, and retired in 2019.

Ratzlaff grew up in Henderson, Neb., and graduated from Bethel in 1976 with a B.A. in English.

Over the years, he published five books of poetry (the most recent, Who’s Asking?, came out in 2019), four poetry chapbooks, and scores of single poems in numerous journals and anthologies.

“It is rare for Bethel College to have so distinguished a writer among its alumni, as its undergraduate focus in the English department has always been on literature and composition rather than creative writing,” said Raylene Hinz-Penner, a former professor of English at Bethel and Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., now retired.

“Keith has made his own way and proven himself a prolific writer, an amazing poet, a distinguished thinker, and a scholar of renown in poetry.”

Ratzlaff’s poems won Pushcart Prizes in 2007 and 2018, and have appeared in Best American Poetry 2009, A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry (2003) and Poets of the New Century (2001).

His essays, reviews and at least 150 individual poems have appeared in journals including the Georgia Review, Image, the Hudson Review, McSweeney’s, the Colorado Review, the Cincinnati Review, the North American Review, Poetry Northwest, the Denver Quarterly, the Indiana Review, College English, and many others.

His work has won the Anhinga Poetry Prize and the Theodore Roethke Poetry Prize, both in 1996, and he was a finalist for the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets.

His service to Central College has been marked throughout by an interest in international education. He was co-director of Central College London, England Study Abroad Program for three years, 1986-89. He spent a decade on Central’s Committee on International and Cross-Cultural Programs.

In 2015, he edited World Class: 25 Years of Central College Travel Writing. The Travel Writing course was one he taught regularly through the years.

Anhinga Press published four of Ratzlaff’s books of poetry – Man Under a Pear Tree, 1997; Dubious Angels, 2005; Then, a Thousand Crows, 2009; Who’s Asking?, 2019 – while Loess Hills Press published Across the Known World in 1997.

Ratzlaff and his wife, Treva Reimer ’75, helped found The Work of Our Hands in Pella, a thrift store that gives all profits to charity, and have volunteered there for more than 30 years.

Hinz-Penner praised Ratzlaff’s “career of distinguished thinking and writing about what it means to be human in a changing world … to tell a new story [and] find a way to surprise with his poems.

“I am in awe that he has persevered for decades in writing the word in all its complexity and frustration, year after year after year, and continued to find ideas that intrigue in the rich language of poetry that moves the human soul.”

The Outstanding Alumni and Distinguished Achievement awards will be presented during the spring 2024 semester, time and place TBA.

Awards Committee

  • Brad Kohlman ’07, Hesston – Chair
  • Mark Wedel ’81, Salina
  • Carolyn Wedel ’83, Salina
  • Hope Lee ’80, Grand Prairie, TX
  • Renae Floyd ’76, Modesto, CA