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Professor dedicated a lifetime to history

April 25th, 2022

Keith and Aldine Sprunger

The memorial service for Keith L. Sprunger, professor emeritus of history, will be Saturday, May 7, at 10:30 a.m. at Bethel College Mennonite Church.

Sprunger held the Oswald H. Wedel Endowed Chair in History, and is remembered by generations of Bethel students for the class History of Civ. He died April 24 after several months of physical decline.

A native of Berne, Ind., Sprunger had a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton (Ill.) College and earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois. He began a 38-year teaching career at Bethel College in 1963, retiring in 2001.

In 1972, the Danforth Foundation awarded Sprunger the E. Harris Harbison Award for Gifted Teaching. Bethel College honored him with the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award in 1985 and the David H. Richert Distinguished Scholar Award in 1991.

Among Sprunger’s areas of scholarly interest were Puritanism in the Netherlands and Anabaptist-Mennonite studies, with a particular focus on the history of printing and publishing by both groups, as well as the history of Mennonite church architecture.

He is the author of The Learned Doctor William Ames: Dutch Backgrounds of English and American Puritanism (1972), Dutch Puritanism: A History of English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1982), and Trumpets from the Tower: English Puritan Printing from the Netherlands, 1600-1640 (1994), as well as many articles, reviews and professional papers about English, Dutch and church history.

He wrote two Bethel-related histories: the centennial history of Bethel College Mennonite Church, Campus, Congregation and Community: The Bethel College Mennonite Church, 1897-1997, and Bethel College of Kansas 1887-2012, written for and published in the college’s 125th anniversary year.

Also in 2012, Bethel College gave Sprunger the Julius A. and Agatha Dyck Franz Community Service Award in particular recognition of his work on the Bethel history, which was the topic of the Menno Simons Lectures that Sprunger gave later that year.

Along with other Bethel faculty and students, Sprunger was active in oral history, especially in building a collection of interviews with conscientious objectors from the First and Second World Wars.

He was dedicated to local history through such roles as organizer and advocate for the Kansas History Day programs, presidency of the Kansas History Teachers Association, leadership in the Harvey County Historical Society and chair of the Newton/North Newton Historic Preservation Commission.=

In 1996, he curated a Kauffman Museum special traveling exhibit, “Menno Simons: Image, Art and Identity.”

Generations of Bethel students remember Sprunger for the class History of Civilization.

Keith and Aldine Sprunger are the parents of three children, who all graduated from Bethel College and went on to careers in academia: David, recently retired English faculty at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn.; Mary, history, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.; and Philip, economics, currently academic provost and dean, Lycoming (Pa.) College.

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 #15 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” and #31 in U.S. News & World Report, Best Regional Colleges Midwest, both for 2021-22. Bethel was the only Kansas college or university selected for the American Association of College & Universities’ 2021 Institute on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, and has been named a TRHT Campus Center. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

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.