NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- When the new sports complex at Bethel College opens this fall, the entry area will bear the name of a couple who spent most of their married life in eastern Arizona, supporting Bethel College modestly from afar. The $864,000 estate gift of Roland Richert, who died June 7, 2000, and Edna (Tuttle) Richert, who died on Sept. 9, 2003, combined with their giving to Bethel College during their lifetime, adds up to more than $925,000.
Roland Richert grew up at Bethel College as a "campus kid," the son of Edith and D.H. Richert, Bethel’s legendary "Uncle Davy," who taught mathematics at Bethel from 1906-56.
Roland and his friends Glenn Fuller and Waldo Wedel, also campus kids, often collected arrowheads together, and all went on to become archaeologists. Roland graduated from Newton High School in 1931 and from Bethel College in 1936 with a degree in biology. In 1939, he received an M.A. in archaeology from the University of Arizona.
Roland began his career with the National Park Service in 1938, as a ranger at Tonto National Monument, later serving in the same position at Montezuma Castle National Monument. Both are located in central Arizona.
After a stint in the Army, Roland married Edna Tuttle of Yates Center, Kan., in 1946. In 1951, Roland was named archeologist at Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona. Later that year, he became Chief of the Ruins Stabilization Unit at the Southwest Archaeological Center in Globe, Ariz.
Edna Richert was a freelance writer and painter. In the early years of their marriage, she would join Roland, whom she called Rick, at his archaeological sites, living in a tent or a trailer. The Richerts eventually owned a home in Globe, where they lived frugally and were known to all they entertained as "gracious hosts." The Richerts did not have children.
As the leader of the Ruins Stabilization Unit, Roland worked with five Navajo men, who called him "Big Smoke" because of the pipe he kept clenched between his teeth. This unit renovated the Gila National Monument cliff dwellings near Silver City, N.M., as well as the Pueblo Bonito and Chettro Kettle dwellings in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
Roland’s sister Ethel Richert Schmidt, who lives with her husband, Roland Schmidt, in North Newton, says her brother Roland was a quiet man, "not the kind of ranger who gave talks." However, he published numerous papers on his archeological research in New Mexico. In 1969, he received the Meritorious Service Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
While he was a Bethel student, Roland Richert enjoyed playing tennis, and amused his family by driving the short distance to the tennis courts for his vigorous exercise, his sister says. In later years, he loved to receive Bethel mailings, especially those about sports. His letters to Bethel comment on his wish to "support Bethel’s athletic program" and his hope that Bethel would enjoy "a successful year in both scholastics and athletics."
Bethel vice president for advancement Sondra Koontz says that after Roland and Edna Richert retired, they informed Bethel that the college was included in their estate plans but warned that, given their income, Bethel should not be looking for a large gift from them.
"Roland and Edna referred to their gifts to Bethel during their lifetime as ‘a mere drop in the bucket,’" says Koontz. "They frequently wished that they could give more. Now, with this generous estate gift, they have."
In addition to funding construction of the entry area at the Thresher Sports Complex, the Richert estate will establish an endowed scholarship and will benefit the Center for Academic Development, the nursing and science departments and the Sand Creek Trail.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and in 2005 was named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report for the 8th straight year. For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.