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Will Scholarship winner puts passion for plants in action through service

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College freshman Naomi Epp is passionate about plants.

She cultivated both her interest and the green, growing things as an active member of Future Farmers of America while at Newton High School.

Epp, a 2016 NHS graduate, started at Bethel College this month and is the 2016 winner of the James A. Will Scholarship, given annually to a student who demonstrates a dedication to community service.

Will, who died in 2011, was a native and longtime resident of Halstead. Halstead High School students get priority for the Will Scholarship, after which it opens to any graduating high school senior in Harvey County.

As a senior, Epp was the greenhouse manager for NHS FFA – “unpaid on-the-job training,” she says. Her duties included managing the greenhouse fertilizer and watering systems, and overseeing and assisting in planting, propagating, producing and selling greenhouse plants.

Another important FFA activity was Day on the Farm, with which Epp helped three different years.

“We put together ag-related, plant-related and horticultural-related programs for Newton elementary-school classes,” she explains.

These programs were “hands-on and interactive,” she says, and helped teach the kids the importance of plant and soil health and what it was like to work in a greenhouse.

And a one-time plant-related project she did was to help build pallet gardens for a local church, which was also a volunteer project of NHS FFA.

Though Epp didn’t grow up on a farm (she was raised in North Newton, just a couple of blocks from Bethel), “I was part of FFA because I love plants and I love education, and I thought I could definitely get some experience with that [through FFA].”

“Naomi … was always willing to work extremely hard and would give her best effort in all of the agriculture and FFA activities,” says Lowell Ely, NHS FFA adviser as well as the agriculture and horticulture teacher. “She was always willing to help others and made sure all activities in our greenhouse were done correctly and on time. Over the past four years, … she was a joy to have in class and in FFA.”

Epp was an NHS cheerleader all four years and put in a number of volunteer hours in that capacity. She helped with Newton Relay for Life four years – setting up, tearing down and “whatever was needed”; participated in Dillons Day of Caring in Wichita two years, sorting donated school supplies and filling backpacks for students; and assisted with the Buddy Walk in Wichita one year.

Angela Voth, Epp’s cheer coach, says Epp was “always positive. She sees the best in everyone. I don’t think I ever heard her say something negative about anyone or anything. She was encouraging to her team members who struggled with routines, chants and cheers. She took the time to explain, demonstrate and teach.”

Finally, Epp has worked as a volunteer, clerking and sorting, at the Newton Etcetera Shop.

“I did it just because I wanted to,” she says. “I know it sounds cliche but it was very life-giving. I liked the people – they were warm and giving, and I felt really appreciated.”

Epp is the daughter of two teachers. Her mother, Kristin Neufeld Epp, runs New Creation Preschool in Newton and her father, Jerry Epp, teaches science at Newton High School.

“I’m interested in the sciences, especially biology, and also secondary education,” Naomi Epp says.

This might not seem surprising – but, she also notes, “I was in denial [about being interested in teaching] until the middle of last year, when a teacher told me it seemed like maybe I had a passion for it.”

The James A. Will estate’s seven-figure gift to Bethel resulted in, among much else, creation of the Will Family Scholarship Fund, which awards $5,000 annually for up to four years to a qualifying student.

The name of Bethel’s James A. Will Family Academic Center and the Will Family Scholarship memorialize James Will, who died in November 2011, as well as his parents, Henry Gustav and Helen Elizabeth (Mueller) Will, and brother, Ernest “Ernie” Will (all of whom predeceased him), and also recognizes the Will extended family.

After graduating from Halstead High School, James Will completed two years at Bethel before finishing his degree in business at the University of Kansas. He was an officer for the Bentley State Bank and then a vice president at the Halstead Bank for nearly 30 years, until his retirement.

Church and community service was important to Will, a member of First Mennonite Church in Halstead as well as many civic clubs and organizations, including the board of directors for the Kansas Learning Center for Health, Halstead; Pine Village Endowment Foundation, Moundridge; Halstead Chamber of Commerce; Halstead Housing Authority; and Halstead Lions Club.

For more information about the Will Family Scholarship and other scholarships at Bethel College, contact Bethel’s Office of Financial Aid, 316-284-5232, or visit www.bethelks.edu

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2016–17 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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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.