Decades later, grad gets his name on academic award

A Thresher Award from the 1960s, etched with the name Shingo Kajinami, and the subject area, Creative Writing

Almost 60 years after the fact, Shingo Kajinami of North Newton has his name on a cherished Bethel College award.

Kajinami is a retired professor of chemistry at McPherson College. He and his wife, Kathy, recently moved to Kidron-Bethel Village in North Newton after decades of living in McPherson.

Shingo Kajinami graduated from Bethel in 1965 with a degree in chemistry. But he also took other courses to earn his liberal arts degree, including creative writing with Christine Miller.

A short story he wrote earned praise and a high grade and is what he believes led her to nominate him for the highest Bethel academic award given to a graduating senior, the Thresher Award.

Kajinami grew up in Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city. Although he was interested in pursuing chemistry early on, he also wanted to learn and improve his English, so he took extra classes at a local YMCA.

While there, he told one of his teachers that he dreamed of studying in America. The teacher knew a Bethel graduate – Kajinami can’t remember the name – and from what he’d heard about Bethel, it was a good place to go.

“He told me, ‘They don’t drink, smoke or dance there. It’s an excellent school – they are serious about their studies.’

“I didn’t know anything else about Mennonites, and nothing about America or Kansas, except cowboys and Indians from movies. That was kind of scary.”

He applied to Bethel among other schools, and when he was accepted, he decided to go.

“The Mennonites [I met] were so helpful and kind. During school breaks, people would invite me to stay with them. Student friends would take me home with them.”

One of those was Barry Hieb of Henderson, Neb. Barry’s parents, Dr. Bill Hieb and Sally Hieb, considered Shingo their fifth son, he says.

His chemistry professors, Dr. Ronald Rich and Dr. Robert Schmidt, were also important, he says. Schmidt pointed him in the direction of Schmidt’s own graduate school alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, where Kajinami earned a doctorate in biochemistry.

After three years at Bethel, Kajinami decided to do a year of service with Mennonite Central Committee in Germany.

He needed one semester to finish his degree and it turned out to be pivotal. He met Kathy Peters, a Bethel student from Walton, Kan. And he took the writing class with Professor Miller.

He was told he had been awarded the Thresher. But it was mid-school year and he was going back to Japan.

He got his physical award. Seniors in Bethel’s Industrial Arts program made them from wood and milled the small metal threshing stones.

But etching the names on the awards had to be outsourced, and there wasn’t time to do it before Kajinami left the country.

So for the next almost six decades, the award came with him as he went to graduate school in Oklahoma, got married to Kathy and lived in New Jersey, Illinois and finally McPherson.

Earlier this year, when the Kajinamis moved to North Newton, they came to the Bethel campus to see who might be able to help get Shingo’s Thresher Award personalized.

Denise Krase, the assistant in the academic dean’s office, connected them with Adam Akers, physical plant director, who is now in charge of making Thresher Awards each year.

And now Shingo can proudly display his Thresher with his name and the award area evident for all to read.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel ranks at #23 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of “Best Regional Colleges Midwest” for 2023-24. Bethel was the first Kansas college or university to be named a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center, in 2021. For more information, see