NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – It’s probably impossible to get a firm count on the number of Bethel College students Jerry and Delora Decker have hosted in their home.
The Deckers, who live in North Newton not far from campus, are this year’s recipients of Bethel’s Outstanding Alumnus Award, to be presented at the Alumni Banquet in June.
This award looks especially at “service,” which the Deckers epitomize.
In particular, their service to the college has taken the form of hospitality to students. Scores have sat down at the Decker table for a home-cooked meal, maybe once, maybe multiple times.
Delora and Jerry have been host parents for one or more Bethel students every year since about 1986. They have hosted entire teams on numerous occasions. Most recently, they had the softball team for a meal to mark the end of the season – no matter that it followed an away game and didn’t start until 10:30 p.m.
In addition, for the past 15 years, members of the Student Alumni Association have looked forward to a “fall feast” in November or early December in the Decker home.
“We got started with this [in the ’80s] when you took a mod or a hall,” Delora remembers. “We began with a hall in Goering [former men’s residence] – you never knew if you’d get three or 20 [for a meal or game night].”
Later, they began taking individual students through Bethel’s Host Family Program. These days, the Deckers also help Patsy Dirksen in the Student Life office with organizing the program and trying to find host families for all the out-of-state students who want one.
The Deckers are currently hosting Sami Strauss, a freshman volleyball player from Aztec, New Mexico, who frequently brings along her roommate, freshman Amanda Ramsden of Coquitlam, British Columbia, when she comes over to the Deckers’ home.
In addition to attending too many games and concerts to count, the Deckers have hosted students’ graduation parties and have been special guests at some of their weddings.
They still hear regularly from many of the students they’ve hosted over the years, through Christmas cards, photos of new babies and children, and phone calls.
Delora Jantz grew up in Hillsboro. She met Jerry Decker, who grew up on a farm southwest of Newton, at a wedding – she was the maid of honor for his aunt Elvera Jantz (no relation to Delora), who was only a couple of years older than Jerry. The Deckers were married in November 1960.
Jerry, who studied at Wichita Business College and Central Christian College in McPherson, retired from a 47-year career at Agco in Hesston in 2007 and now works part-time at Graber’s Ace Hardware in Newton.
Delora graduated from Bethel College in 1963 with a degree in elementary education. She taught at Hesston Elementary School for four years, until their first child was born (the Deckers have two daughters, Gail Pryce and Denetta Denno).
Years later, Delora took up her current occupation as an accountant for Dewayne Pauls LLC, Newton. She served on the Bethel Alumni Council, 1991-2010, and the Bethel Board, 1996-2010.
Delora’s parents, the late Harvey and Gladys Jantz of Hillsboro, were role models of caring for and interest in young people to their daughter and son-in-law.
“I dragged more chairs and tables to and from their house,” Jerry says, and Delora adds, “Dad was a principal and Mother was a librarian at the elementary school in Hillsboro. They were hospitable to anyone and everyone.”
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.
The Deckers will receive the award and be honored along with other alumni award winners at the annual Alumni Banquet, June 6 at noon in Memorial Hall.
Price for the banquet is $22.50 per person if paying by May 22, $25 regular price May 23-27. To make a reservation, visit or phone Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, 316-284-5205. Payment or credit card information is required when the reservation is made. No refunds can be given after May 29, since after that Alumni Office will have been charged for reserved meals.
Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.