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Bethel opens school year with established and fledgling traditions

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College formally opened the 2006-07 school year with an old tradition and what will likely become a new one.

Sometime during the administration of Harold Schultz as Bethel president (1971-91), the ringing of a large bell to mark the “opening of school” began. Kauffman Museum had received the bell as a donation from Frank Goossen of North Newton in the early 1950s. It had previously hung in the Colby Mennonite Church and before that was a school bell.

Nowadays, the bell is stored on campus except when it comes out for the first day of fall classes. It has its own history at Bethel College, however.

Most notably, it made national news in October 1969 when a photo of the bell and four Bethel students appeared in Life magazine. Between October 15 and 18, students rang the bell once for each American killed in Vietnam up to that point. This was part of a nation-wide Vietnam Moratorium observation. (See

In 1984, the bell traveled to Southwestern College in Winfield for the KCAC football championship game between the Moundbuilders and the Threshers. Bethel won and the bell rang. In 1999, the bell tolled on the steps of the Administration Building to mourn the young people and teachers who had died in a rash of school shootings between 1997-99 (the most fatalities were at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on April 29, 1999). The bell has also been rung to protest the deaths of children and other civilians in Iraq in recent years.

On Aug. 28 this year, the first day of classes, interim president John Sheriff, Student Senate president José Valenzuela, senior from Kansas City, Kan., and Student Senate vice president Miriam Friesen, junior from Paoli, Ind., rang the bell before the opening convocation – 10 times at 10 before the hour, five times at five before and more continuously at 11 a.m., when convocation begins. They also rang it as students filed out of the Fine Arts Center for the traditional Walk of Welcome around the campus Green.

What may become a new tradition happened within that convocation, when first-time freshmen had their names read out, and crossed the stage of Krehbiel Auditorium to shake hands with Sheriff, Valenzuela and Friesen, along with interim academic dean Brad Born and vice president of admissions Allan Bartel. This action was the idea of Dale Schrag, director of Church Relations and chair of the Convocation Committee, who got it from a similar event that happens at Bluffton (Ohio) University each fall.

The stage walk and Bartel’s “presentation of the class of 2010” was meant to presage the Commencement walk across the stage of Memorial Hall each May.

“At your graduation ceremony,” Born told the 106 freshmen, “when you again hear your name called, when you walk across the stage yet again, when your family and friends – including many new friends – clap their hands and whoop their cheers, we trust that ‘you shall go out with joy,’ with peace and with purpose. Embrace that possibility, and commence your journey toward that future now, on this new day of this new year.”

Bartel also recognized the 83 transfer students new to Bethel this fall by asking those present to stand for applause.

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.

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