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Research fund started to honor long-time history professor

February 23rd, 2023

Keith Sprunger at his desk in the Mennonite Library & Archives

Former students and family members will remember the late Keith Sprunger Saturday, March 11, at 7 p.m. at Kauffman Museum, when a research fund in his honor will be formally launched.

The event will take place in person in the museum auditorium, but there is also a Zoom link for those who want to join from a distance:

Keith L. Sprunger, Oswald H. Wedel Professor Emeritus of History at Bethel College, died April 24, 2022, eliciting a flood of tributes and memories from dozens of his students and colleagues.

Now Bethel alumni and others can help build a faculty research endowment with the aim of carrying on Sprunger’s legacy of deep love for history.

Presenters at the launch include three of Sprunger’s former students: Rachel Waltner Goossen, retired professor of history at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan.; Clayton Koppes, retired professor of history at Oberlin (Ohio) College; and Mary Sprunger (Keith’s daughter), currently professor of history at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.

Robert Milliman, Bethel vice president for academic affairs, will talk about how the Keith Sprunger Faculty Research Fund will be used.

Donations are already being accepted at, with the designation “Keith Sprunger Research Fund.”

Sprunger began a 38-year teaching career at Bethel College in 1963. He retired in 2001, but continued to be active with occasional teaching as well as research and writing up until shortly before his death.

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, with all majors, remember Sprunger for the class History of Civilization.

Keith and Aldine Sprunger had three children, who all graduated from Bethel College and went on to careers in academia. In addition to Mary, David is recently retired English faculty at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., who now lives in North Newton and is adjunct English faculty at Bethel, and Philip, an economics graduate, is currently academic provost and dean at 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 #14 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges,” and #24 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of “Best Regional Colleges Midwest,” both for 2022-23. Bethel is the only Kansas college or university to be named a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center. For more information, see

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