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Sheriff’s decades of service to Bethel lead into new administrative role

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – After spending most of the past 40 years at Bethel College, John K. Sheriff, Ernest E. Leisy Professor of English, must by now have done it all.

With the Oct. 8 inauguration of Barry C. Bartel as Bethel’s 13th president, Sheriff concluded a year as interim president. And he immediately accepted a new challenge when Bartel named him executive vice president for institutional development.

In announcing Sheriff’s appointment during his inaugural address, Bartel said, “Special thanks to President John Sheriff for dedicated service. The easy path as interim president would be to cautiously fill the gap, but John has boldly continued to move Bethel forward.”

The Bartel administration will be the sixth in which Sheriff has served. Orville Voth, the eighth president, hired the young English professor in 1967. He had just completed his master’s degree at the University of Illinois. From 1969-72, he was off campus earning his Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. Except for sabbaticals, he did not leave Bethel again.

Sheriff served under presidents Harold Schultz (1971-91), John Zehr (1991-95), Doug Penner (1995-2002; Sheriff became academic dean during this time) and E. LaVerne Epp (2002-05). He also knew E.G. Kaufman, Bethel’s fifth president, as well as David C. Wedel and Vernon Neufeld, the sixth and seventh respectively, who are still living.

“I loved being a teacher,” Sheriff says. “I couldn’t imagine a job I’d rather be doing.” Nevertheless, when in 1997 Penner asked him to serve as interim academic dean following Wynn Goering’s resignation, Sheriff accepted it as “a welcome change of pace.”

“After a year,” he says, “I saw that administration can [also] be rewarding. It allows the opportunity to work at change and accomplish things in an institution you care about a great deal that you can’t as faculty. It was a way to help make Bethel a better college.” Penner made the appointment permanent in 1998.

“In each successive job, the people with whom I worked would change,” Sheriff says. “As a professor, it was students. As a dean, it was faculty. When I became president, the institution suddenly became much larger than I’d previously experienced. It was wonderful to speak in churches and alumni gatherings and to encounter the second, third and fourth generation – once even the fifth – of alumni, who had as much ownership in the institution as the president did. I realized what a large group of people there is supporting Bethel College.”

Among the accomplishments of his year in the president’s office, Sheriff points to the recently announced completion of the report of the Bethel College Project, headed up by consultant Galyn Vesey of Wichita.

“We want Bethel College to be a great learning and personal development experience for all students,” Sheriff says. “We recognize that we have to use all resources available to make sure that happens. Dr. Vesey’s study outlined ways in which we can better capitalize on both college and community resources.”

Vesey’s task was to do a thorough analysis of Bethel College’s programs and policies, bringing together an advisory committee made up of 24 faculty and staff members, current students and Newton community members, some Bethel alumni and others not, to help him do so.

The Bethel College Project report suggests a number of “alternatives” or action steps to address weaknesses that Vesey and the committee identified, some of which are already being implemented as President Bartel begins his first term. However, Sheriff points out that the process itself was as important as its outcome.

“We need to continue with this kind of broad representation, or the collection of resources that the advisory committee represents, to keep advising us in some capacity.”

Other accomplishments of his interim presidency, Sheriff says, include hiring Bethel’s first-ever director of marketing and communication, Lori L. Livengood, who began work this past January, and initiating the planning for an Academic Center (which tentatively calls for renovation of the Old Science Hall with construction of a new wing for the nursing program).

“It was a joy to be part of getting these things started, of putting some pieces into place – not losing any momentum or sitting on our hands,” Sheriff says. “It was satisfying and it was fun. I’m proud that I was able to work with other members of the Administrative Cabinet to provide a smooth transition [from the Epp to the Bartel presidency]. It was a good year.”

His new position as executive vice president for institutional development will allow him to be involved in a number of projects, Sheriff says. “The title was chosen to allow me to participate in planning and development for the institution on all fronts.”

Some of those projects include looking toward a capital campaign for the new Academic Center, continuing to work at implementing the Bethel College Project report, helping to find a new vice president for Student Life following Donna Becker’s resignation last spring and figuring out ways to enhance Bethel’s summer curriculum.

“What’s most exciting to me is seeing if I can contribute in any way to moving Bethel College more swiftly toward achieving the goals of the institutional model,” Sheriff says. “That includes making it even more distinctive and of even greater value and service to its students and alumni and to the community.”

Bartel says, “John’s extensive service at the college gives him perspective and wisdom. I recognize and appreciate John’s vision and innovative spirit, evident as we have begun working together.

“John can continue to serve the college well,” Bartel continues, “by advising me in my new role, giving leadership to projects that require coordination among the various cabinet levels in the college, helping evaluate and launch new endeavors, being a spokesperson or ambassador for the college and providing continuity to areas where he has already been involved.”

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.

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