NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – 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.
Price for the banquet is $25 per person, with a reservation deadline of May 17. For reservations, contact Thresher Shop 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 17, since after that the Alumni Office will have been charged for reserved meals.
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2016'17. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.
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