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McNary’s work in wood an expression of care for the world’s hungry

September 2nd, 2021

Turned wood by Rick McNary

This is the last day to see Rick McNary's exhibit "Doing Good with Wood" in the Regier Art Gallery, with the closing reception tonight, Thursday, Sept. 16, 6- 8 p.m.

So how did a man probably best known for his efforts to combat world hunger end up with an exhibit in the Bethel gallery?

Surprisingly – or maybe not so much – those two facts are related.

Through Sept. 16, the gallery in Luyken Fine Arts Center on the Bethel campus is home to “Doing Good with Wood,” turned wood pieces by Rick McNary of Potwin.

Regular gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. There is no admission charge. The artist reception will be Sept. 16, from 6-8 p.m. at the gallery, the night the exhibit closes.

McNary graduated from Bethel College in 1993 with a B.A. in religion. While at Bethel, he also took art and art history classes.

“I learned to see the world through the eye of the artist at Bethel, [in] classes taught by Reinhild Janzen, Gail Lutsch and Merrill Krabill [as well as Bob Regier, for whom the Bethel gallery is named],” McNary says.

“I chose photography both as a hobby and a profession through which to express my artistic desires. However, it wasn’t until I placed a rotted piece of firewood on a lathe that I became a three-dimensional artist, as I began using my tools and sharpening my skills to discover the beauty within each piece.”

He continues, “There, at the lathe with wood spinning at hundreds, if not thousands, of RPMs, I began to understand the concept of ‘flow’ I learned in Intro to Psychology taught by [Bethel Emeritus Professor of Psychology] Paul Lewis.

“He taught of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea that the ‘flow’ happens when people are completely involved and focused on what they are doing. If the skills are greater than the challenges, then one becomes bored. If the challenges are greater than the skills, one become frustrated.

“The flow happens when skills and challenges intersect and simultaneously increase.”

When a friend gave McNary a rare piece of burled Siberian elm, he knew at the time it was a challenge beyond either his skill level or equipment – but also that he needed to work with it.

“I was reminded of a speech I give to students about global hunger – a passion of mine for more than two decades. I encourage them to engage in the fight against hunger both as ‘artists and architects.’ I decided I would use [the burled wood] to raise money to feed the hungry.”

All the pieces in “Doing Good with Wood” are from either McNary’s Firewood Series or The Burly Tree Series. Some are for sale and many have been sold. In the exhibit, McNary lists how many meals the piece has provided or will provide.

“In 2001, a starving 5-year-old girl in a barrio in Nicaragua crawled into my arms and asked me to feed her,” McNary says. “At that moment, I pledged to God to do whatever I could for the rest of my life to feed hungry people.”

Since that day in 2001, McNary has traveled to numerous continents in his efforts to address hunger with short-term relief and by creating long-term development models.

In the first six months of 2010, he led a nonprofit that empowered more than 120,000 volunteers to package more than 20 million nutritious meals for the Salvation Army’s response to the Haiti earthquake disaster and recovery. Several of those mass food packaging events took place at Bethel College.

In 2020, during the pandemic, McNary organized the Kansas National Guard to provide 10 million meals for food insecure people.

McNary developed the Kansas Hunger Dialogue model – in partnership with Universities Fighting World Hunger –which gathers top administrators, faculty and students from Kansas institutions of higher learning to collaborate on hunger.

He received a National Innovation Award in 2012 from the Alliance to End Hunger for his Healthy Foods/Hunger Free Community model.

McNary has continued his efforts to address food insecurity in a variety of ways, most recently last April when he started the Shop Kansas Farms Facebook group.

His intent was to connect his friends with the farmers and ranchers of Kansas so they could buy meat, dairy, vegetables and other food items directly from the people who raise it, but the group grew rapidly to more than 148,000 members.

This resulted in even more recognition for McNary in 2020: he was named Leader of the Year by Kansas State University’s Huck Boyd Institute for Rural Development and a Friend of Agriculture by both the Butler County and statewide Farm Bureau, and received the Kansas Agricultural Hero Award from the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

McNary is vice president of Strategic Partnerships for The Outreach Program and a representative from Kansas for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

He is a frequent keynote speaker on world hunger and blogs for several national and international hunger sites. He is a freelance writer with regular features in Kansas Living and several national fly-fishing magazines, and is the author of Hunger Bites: Bite Size Stories of Inspiration, the novel Voices on the Prairie and a humorous book of short stories, The Cows of Hobson’s Pond.

“Being made in the image of God, we are made to create,” McNary says. “For me, creating art is an act of worship. I am the most joy-filled when I purposefully create with the intent to give of myself to the hungry.

“The works in ‘Doing Good with Wood’ are my creative expression of adoration to the one who loves it when we take care of ‘the least of these.’”

“Doing Good with Wood” is in the Regier Gallery through Sept. 16.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel ranks at #14 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” and #26 in U.S. News & World Report, Best Regional Colleges Midwest, and earned its third-straight NAIA Champions of Character Five-Star Gold Award, based on student service and academic achievement, all for 2020-21; is’s highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates; has the #10 RN-to-BSN program in Kansas according to; and is #57 among 829 U.S. colleges and universities named by as “Best for Financial Aid,” as well as #23 “Safest College Towns in the U.S.,” ranked by for 2020-21. For more information, see

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.