NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College, the oldest Mennonite college in North America (dating from 1887), may also have the oldest presidential residence.
Bethel president-elect Barry Bartel and his family – wife Brenda, children Jordan and Leah and beagle Niko – moved into the house, called Goerz House, on Aug. 1. Barry Bartel will assume the presidency at his inauguration on Oct. 8.
The house was built in 1893 by Rev. David Goerz and his wife, Helene Riesen Goerz. They arrived in Kansas from Russia in 1875, first living in Halstead before moving to North Newton. David Goerz was a co-founder of Bethel College as well as its first business manager. He was also pastor of the college church. The Goerzes’ son and the house’s second owner, Rudolph Goerz, founded Newton’s Goerz Flour Milling Plant.
Bethel College bought the house (located at 2512 N. College Ave., directly south of Bethel College Mennonite Church) from the Goerz family in 1921 and has used it as a student residence, a faculty residence and a guest house. At various times, it has hosted study rooms, the college infirmary, the YMCA (in the parlor) and a social meeting place for the Kansas Institute of International Relations (in the living room). The Western District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church (now Mennonite Church USA) had its offices there from 1963-88.
Barry and Brenda (Isaak) Bartel attended Bethel College in the early ’80s, graduating in 1984. “We don’t remember much about Goerz House from when we were students,” Barry says. “I attended some meetings there. I think students may have lived on the third floor or had art studios there.”
“I remember visiting Goerz House several years ago when Paul Roth, a friend of ours from Oregon, was renovating it,” Brenda adds. “It was quite a project! We had no idea that one day we would live here.”
In 1993, thanks to an initial gift from Frances Garrison, Rudolph Goerz’s daughter, Bethel began a thorough restoration of the house, restoring original woodwork, recreating the original floor plan and adding furniture and dishes that belonged to the Goerz family. Goerz House became the president’s residence and reception center when E. LaVerne Epp took office in 2002.
More renovations have been taking place this summer, ahead of the Bartels’ move, on the third floor of the house. “[Goerz House] is a great place for receptions and for hosting, and we look forward to living here and being part of the campus community,” Brenda says. “We also want our children to have space that feels comfortable to them.”
“Our son Jordan will be a freshman at Bethel and will live in the dorms, but he will have a bedroom on the third floor [of Goerz House], as will our daughter Leah, who will be a sophomore at Newton High School,” Barry says. “The third floor is being renovated to be more ‘teen friendly,’ including a family room where we will put a television and foosball table, a computer and an area with a small refrigerator, microwave and sink. That way, the kids will have a space to have friends over, do homework and hang out, and we’ll have some good family time up there.”
“We are excited to have such a wonderful home in which to host receptions and guests,” Brenda says. “We want to maintain the sense of history and heritage while also giving the house some of our own flavor. We have weavings and other artwork from living overseas, a collection of nativity sets from cultures we have visited or lived in and special furniture that Barry’s father made from walnut from his grandparents’ farm near Hillsboro.”
Barry Bartel’s connection by heritage to Bethel College goes back nearly as far as Goerz House’s. He is the fourth generation to be connected to the college in some way. His parents, Gladwin and Lois (Franz) Bartel, met while they were students at Bethel and his mother and other relatives have even lived in Goerz House at times in the past. His brother Kelvin as well as the majority of his cousins, aunts and uncles attended Bethel College.
“Clearly, that rich legacy inspires and supports me,” he says. “Many others feel deep connections to Bethel as well, and I look forward to learning more about that.
“It is an incredible honor to be asked to provide leadership for Bethel,” he adds. “I stayed in Goerz House several times when I was on campus earlier this summer. Sometimes I just walk around and marvel at the house, soak up the history and reflect on the vision that it took to start Bethel.
“I can imagine conversations that took place there, and I have been hearing stories – and even confessions – when people tell of their experiences at Goerz. If only these walls could talk! We want to collect some of those stories as we hear the different ways in which Goerz House has served Bethel.”
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 has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.