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Social work to celebrate 40 years at Fall Festival

September 11th, 2017

by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – When Larry Friesen, Newton, graduated from Bethel College in 1967, there was no social work program.

But the Aberdeen, Idaho, native – who majored in English – had grown up in “a family with a commitment for service,” he says.

This service orientation led him to stay in Newton for the summer between his junior and senior years to work at Prairie View Mental Health Services.

That solidified his decision to pursue more studies in the area of social services, he says. Immediately after graduation, he went to the University of Denver for a master’s degree. He eventually earned his doctorate in social welfare from Columbia University.

Friesen began teaching in Bethel’s Department of Social Work in spring semester 1983. With a tenure of 28-and-a-half years, Friesen, who retired in 2011, was affiliated with Bethel’s program for nearly 3/4 of its existence.

Bethel celebrates 40 years of social work as an accredited program at this year’s Fall Festival, including a special symposium Oct. 17 that is open to the public and also offers CEUs to practicing social workers.

The symposium starts in the fellowship hall (basement) of Bethel College Mennonite Church. Registration begins at noon and the symposium runs from 1-5 p.m., with an overall theme of “Extending Hands.”

Orlyn Zehr, Newton, retired from Prairie View, is the speaker for the opening plenary. His topic is “Development and Theoretical Influences on a Lifetime of Social Work Practice.”

The speakers for the closing plenary, which also takes place in the fellowship hall, are Dr. George Waddles, pastor at Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, on using social work in pastoral ministry, leadership and education; and Rita Voth, Newton, whose topic is the social worker as entrepreneur and her work providing a home for elders. Nadine Reimer Penner, Wichita, will moderate the session.

In between (starting at 2 p.m.), in the Will Academic Center, are two concurrent panel presentations by Bethel social work alumni.

Friesen will moderate a panel on “direct practice” with Annaken Mendoza-Toews, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Jean-Yves Komayombi, Fort Worth, Texas, and Jennifer Reid, Wichita.

Mendoza-Toews has worked with unaccompanied minor immigrants and also with efforts to stop human trafficking. Komayombi works with refugees fleeing violence, and Reid with sexual abuse survivors.

The other panel, with moderator Wendy Funk Schrag, Newton, consists of three social work alumni working in community advocacy – Je T’Aime Taylor, Kansas City, Kansas, Amelia Brandt, Quincy, Massachusetts, and Anne Miller, Denver.

Dr. Waddles, current Bethel Professor of Social Work Ada Schmidt-Tieszen and four others made up the social work class of 1974, the first to earn degrees from an accredited Bethel program.

Bethel’s was one of the first accredited baccalaureate social work programs in Kansas. It was most recently reaccredited – for the maximum time possible of eight years – in 2010 by the Council on Social Work Education.

According to the self-study the Bethel program conducted for reaccreditation, more than 60 percent of Bethel social work graduates go on to complete master’s degrees in social work or related fields.

Schmidt-Tieszen was drawn to social work, she says, because “I particularly appreciated the profession for its breadth of possibility, and its dual focus on both direct work with vulnerable people and social action and change in the broader community and society.”

She was associate executive director of the YWCA in Denver when Friesen called her in 1985 to see if she would be interested in applying for a vacant faculty position in the department.

Schmidt-Tieszen has taught at Bethel ever since. She has an MSW from the University of Denver and a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. Both of Schmidt-Tieszen’s daughters are also Bethel social work graduates.

Hamilton Williams, who came to Bethel in 2011, is the other full-time faculty member in the department.

The social work 40th-anniversary celebration continues with a “social work social” for alumni and friends, after the symposium, and a coffee and reunion the next day, Oct. 18, in Mantz Library Lounge on campus.

Social work alumni and friends will be able to enjoy cookies baked by the Student Social Work Organization – now a Fall Festival fundraising tradition – and join in a student-organized social action.

In the afternoon, the social work department facilities – new as of two years ago when the department moved into the renovated Will Academic Center – will be open for touring, from 1:30-2:30.

Social work alumni will also be invited to mark their program’s 40th anniversary by contributing to an endowed scholarship that the department’s Community Advisory Board established to honor Larry Friesen upon his retirement.

When fully funded, the scholarship will be used to help encourage students with financial need who are interested in social work to apply to Bethel.

For information about the Oct. 17 symposium, call Tricia Lopez at 316-284-5255. Early registration is recommended, especially for those desiring CEUs. The fee is $30, or $10 without CEUs.

See for a complete schedule of the symposium and other anniversary events.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. 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.