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Renovated Kaufman House opens its doors to KIPCOR

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - It was the Prexy's house in the '30s and '40s, a modest home in North Newton that Bethel College President Ed.G. Kaufman, his wife Hazel and their children called home. In July, the residence, long ago deeded to Bethel College, opened its doors at 2515 College Avenue to house a new Bethel family -- the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR). A new look for the 70-year-old has softened her aging and austere fa'ade, thanks to the late Edna Ramseyer Kaufman whose estate gift to Bethel College made possible the renovation and future maintenance of Kaufman House. Although Edna, who married Ed.G. in 1965, never lived in the house, she recognized its significance to the Kaufman family and to Bethel College.

Relocating KIPCOR to what had been the Kaufman home made sense to Edna and the family because of their interests in working for peace and justice. KIPCOR, which includes the Community Mediation Center, offers a variety of programming to prepare college students and others to be peacebuilders on the local, state, national and global levels.

Today Kaufman House dons a larger front porch, an extended room addition and a wood deck. Inside are a reception area, meeting room with kitchen, mediation and conference rooms, offices and other work areas for staff. The basement and third floor remain unfinished.

"The house is a renovation, not a restoration," said Gary Flory, KIPCOR director. "The family wanted to be sure we didn't have to restore everything to its original state. The bay window as well as the oak stairway and banister are original features, but everything else is new. It will serve us well."

The changes have dressed up Kaufman House, thanks to the architectural work of Chip Parker and the firm of Wilson Darnell and Mann P.A. of Wichita. Construction manager Roger Penner of Wichita oversaw the one-year renovation, which included the work of nine volunteers. Milton Claassen, Newton, and Howard Buller, North Newton, each contributed more than 200 hours to the project.

Designed by Ed. G. and Hazel (Dester), the white colonial revival sits comfortably between other college-owned houses, Welty and Kliewer, and across the street from the stately Goerz House. The Kaufmans' son, Gordon Kaufman, Cambridge, Mass., was in the fourth grade during the Depression when his childhood home was built with used lumber.

"There was an old house being wrecked in Newton, and my Dad bought that. It was disassembled and the lumber brought to North Newton. ... There were still a lot of nails to be pulled. I was about 10, and I pulled nails," said Gordon Kaufman when he toured the house before the renovation. He also remembers doing other jobs to help the McPherson carpenter Jake Daum, who was hired for the construction.

The five-bedroom house replicated the floor plan of one Daum had built near Elyria, but without the eaves. The North Newton residence was one of the first houses on campus to have a circuit breaker, according to Gordon Kaufman, who is now retired from a professorship in theology at Harvard University.

The family took occupancy in 1934, the third year into Ed.G.'s presidency at Bethel College, settling into the modest home, planting a big garden out back. Gordon remembers Hazel canning fruits and vegetables, making pickles and putting up 200 pounds of sauerkraut each year. Students were occasionally hired to clean house and help serve dinners for "fancy" company, according to family letters.

"My mother always made the dinners for the prominent guests we had," Gordon recalled. Overnight lodging was provided in a second-floor guest bedroom.

Among those who visited the house were notable people who had been invited to campus for the 1936 to 1940 summer institutes offered by the Kansas Institute of International Relations, KIPCOR's ancestor. Houseguests included Eduard Benes, former president of Czechoslovakia; Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas; journalist Drew Pearson; British socialist and pacifist Muriel Lester; and German pacifist Martin Niemoeller.

After Hazel's death in 1948, Ed.G. turned the house into apartments. By 1949 it began a 50-year career as a rental, serving students and others in its five apartments. In 1964 Ed.G. deeded the house to Bethel College. In August 2002, renovation began.

The house's history models its future as a location for mediation work and conflict resolution.

"Our home was a place in which every kind of human problem and experience was discussed," Ed.G. and Hazel's daughter, the late Karolyn Zerger, said at his funeral in 1980. "We children felt completely free to raise any sort of question or doubt about religion or life that was troubling us."

In mid-July KIPCOR used its new home for the first time when staff members hosted 20 workshop participants for a one-day training session for mediators on dispute resolution counseling. KIPCOR's annual four-day Summer Mediation Institute and also a one-day training session on church conflict were held in early August. During Bethel College Fall Orientation, Gary Flory will lead a workshop for all freshmen on the subject of roommate relationships.

"KIPCOR's new location will allow us to do some things we have never been able to do because of space issues. Thank you to the Kaufmans and everyone who made this possible," Flory said.

KIPCOR staff include Gary Flory, director; Jean Isaac, administrative assistant; Barbara Schmidt, Community Mediation Center manager; John Eads and Jason Schmidt, student assistants; and Ted Mueller, volunteer. In addition, KIPCOR maintains a panel of outside training associates, including David Claassen Wilson, Lawrence, and Kirsten Zerger, McPherson. Zerger is Ed.G. and Hazel Kaufman's granddaughter.

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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.