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Fretz estate gift reflects a lifetime interest in peace and justice work

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- In his long life, J. Winfield Fretz had many friends, numerous interests and a web of church connections. A year after Fretz died at age 94 on Jan. 24, 2005, the bulk of his and his wife Marguerite Fretz’s estate (Marguerite, Bethel College ’36, died in 2002) has been given to support one of those interests at a church institution he served for many years.

A gift of close to $300,000 will go to Bethel College’s endowment for the support of the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR).

Fretz was a professor of sociology at Bethel College from 1942-63 and served as Bethel’s acting president in his last years at the college, before going on to be the founding president of Conrad Grebel College (now University College) in Waterloo, Ont. He was also acting president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., 1983-84. He was a graduate of Bluffton (Ohio) College, now University, with honorary doctorates from both Bluffton and Conrad Grebel.

Winfield and Marguerite Fretz left Canada in 1979 and retired to North Newton. The couple lived just behind where KIPCOR had its first office, in the house called Richert House just south of the Fine Arts Center.

Toward the end of his wife’s life, "Winfield was dedicated to Marguerite’s care," Gary Flory, KIPCOR director, remembers. "He wasn’t able to get out very much." But Fretz also maintained his intense interest in the world around him, including the progress of peace and justice work at the academic level, and he and Flory would often visit and talk about KIPCOR’s progress.

KIPCOR got off to a rocky start. It was initiated in 1985 on the promise of a half-million dollar gift that did not materialize. It managed to limp along for several years, and eventually developed into a viable organization that trains and works with mediators on many levels. In 2003, KIPCOR celebrated a health milestone when it moved its offices three doors down from Richert House to the newly renovated Kaufman House, its current home.

"I think part of Winfield’s interest in KIPCOR came from that building," Flory says. "He’d been affiliated with small colleges and he knew the struggles of keeping programs going. I think Kaufman House said to him, ‘KIPCOR is going to be around for a while.’"

This wasn’t Fretz’s first financial connection to KIPCOR, although the previous one was in his honor. A gift of $12,000 from Lois and Richard D. Reimer of Smithville, Ohio, made in 1999 in appreciation of Fretz, went to support the Peace Lecture Series. The Peace Lectures were established in 1973, and in 1992 KIPCOR and the series merged to form an institute administered by Bethel College. (The Reimers gave an additional $3,000 in 2002.)

"My father and mother saw in KIPCOR an opportunity for partnership with Bethel College and a way to encourage academic scholarship in the much needed realm of peace studies and conflict resolution," says Sara Fretz Goering of Silver Spring, Md., a 1976 graduate of Bethel College. "Dad’s enthusiasm for academic programs in conflict mediation and restorative justice at large universities and small colleges grew as these developed over the past 15 years. Although his field of study was sociology, he wholeheartedly supported the idea of studying peacemaking on personal, local, national and international levels.

"The relationship and bond that KIPCOR has with Bethel College is also tremendously significant," she adds. "Our hope is that our parents’ gift to KIPCOR will help provide an ongoing endowment so that the institute has the flexibility and courage to take on new challenges as well as sustain the current programs." Fretz Goering has two brothers, Stephen Fretz, Fresno, Calif., and Thomas Fretz (Bethel College ’69), Olathe. Her son Joel Goering, Kansas City, Kan., is a 2004 graduate of Bethel College with a major in global peace and justice studies.

The Fretz estate gift will produce for KIPCOR an annual income of $15,000 from interest earnings. "We can’t overestimate the importance of gifts like this that help ensure KIPCOR’s long-term stability," Flory says.

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