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Couple’s gift will help Bethel students keep making music

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Jerry and Leann Toews of Goessel love music, and they love Bethel College.

So they decided to do something for the benefit of both. On Dec. 18, the Toewses presented Bethel College’s instrumental music department with a gift of $35,000

Both Jerry and Leann are Bethel graduates, Jerry with degrees in music education and industrial arts and Leann with a degree in elementary and secondary education in English, speech and drama. Their daughters, Katrina and Annaken, are also Bethel graduates.

Until he retired in 1996, Jerry taught instrumental music at small schools in grades 5-12, most of the time (1973-96) at Goessel High School. “Instrumental music has been my career,” he says, “so I’m interested in what goes on in instrumental music at Bethel College. I attribute my own successes in instrumental music to the skills I learned at Bethel” from teachers such as J. Harold Moyer, Walter Jost, Jim Faul and David Suderman.

“Since I’ve taught both vocal and instrumental music, I know how much it takes to fund an instrumental music program correctly – to get good quality instruments,” Jerry continues. “Bethel hasn’t had extra money to give to the instrumental music program [including orchestra and jazz]. It’s been amazing what they’ve been able to do with limited funds. We wanted to affirm what’s been done, and to show our support to these two young teachers and their dreams as well as to the fantastic students at Bethel.”

The two teachers to whom he refers are Jim Pisano, who began this fall as the director of the jazz program, and assistant professor of music Richard Tirk, who is in his second year as the head of the instrumental music program, including the Bethel College Chamber Orchestra and Wind Ensemble.

“We are impressed with how well these two seem to work together, their talent, and their rapport with and recruiting of high school students,” Jerry says. “It’s great all they’ve managed to do in a short time.” He points, for example, to “the great strides” the Wind Ensemble has made over the course of just three semesters under Tirk’s direction and to “the professional balance, tone and precision of the jazz groups” after only a semester with Pisano.

Plans for use of the money are not yet finalized, but Pisano and Tirk have discussed some ideas with the Toewses. “We are so thrilled to receive such a generous gift to the instrumental program,” Pisano says. “We [hope] to use the donation to bring in guest artists and to purchase some new instruments that we are in desperate need of. We are really grateful to the Toewses for their support.”

“This gift shows the great support we have from our alumni,” Tirk adds. “Jerry and Leann’s generosity will have an impact on those who have yet to step foot on campus, and their love of Bethel is an inspiration for our current students.”

“We always said we want to give money in our lifetime, so we can see it work and see the rewards,” Leann says. “We think Jim and Richard are doing a good job – we’re very impressed.”

“This is a way for us to say thanks to the college and to support the students and a couple of instructors who are very, very talented,” Jerry says. “Bethel is lucky to have them.”

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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