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Bethel College observes silence to honor Bluffton students, staff, families and community

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – One year ago, Bethel College admissions counselor Lowell Wyse was playing on the Bluffton (Ohio) University baseball team and was on the road with his teammates for the annual spring break bus trip to Florida.

Today, his father, Ned, called him at 6 a.m. with news of a tragic accident. En route to Florida, the Bluffton team’s charter bus plunged off an overpass on Interstate 75 near Atlanta. The bus driver, his wife and four of the players died. Several remain in critical condition in area hospitals.

“I’m glad I heard it from [Dad] instead of the media,” said Wyse, a 2006 graduate of Bluffton.

“It’s actually hard to work today, but it’s good to be busy,” said Wyse, who kept his mind occupied by leading tours during one of Bethel’s visit days for prospective students. Wyse, one of six seniors who led the Bluffton baseball team last year, knew all the coaches and most of the team members.

Bethel College president Barry C. Bartel alerted the campus community via e-mail this morning to the tragedy earlier in the day, encouraging prayers for those killed or injured and for their families and friends. He also informed the members of the Bethel Board of Directors, on campus for the annual spring meeting.

Students, faculty, administrators, staff and board members observed times of silence for Bluffton University faculty, staff and students, the wider Bluffton community, and for the families of those killed and injured along with the victims themselves.

“This tragedy experienced at a sister institution touches us all. We lift up our thoughts and prayers for all in the Bluffton community,” Bartel said. Like Bethel College, Bluffton University is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA.

The board meeting, which started this morning, began on a somber note as President Bartel explained the situation and the board had a moment of silence together.

During the 11 a.m. Friday convocation, Dale Schrag, director of Church Relations and convocation coordinator, shared the news with students, briefing them on the facts of the tragedy.

“It’s an incredible blow to a sister institution,” Schrag said. He noted that Bluffton’s new president, James Harder, is a former Bethel faculty member and also pointed out Wyse’s connection to the baseball team.

Current students, along with Bethel faculty and staff and prospective students and their parents, joined Schrag in a moment of silence remembering the Bluffton University baseball team and the tragedy they experienced.

“Lord, hear our prayers,” Schrag concluded.

Amy Barker, campus pastor, will be coordinating further Bethel responses to the tragedy.

For more information on Mennonite Church USA’s statement regarding the accident, see the Mennonite Education Agency Web site. For more news, go to the Mennonite Weekly Review Web site.

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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