NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College, the oldest Mennonite college still operating in North America, has another distinction: eight of its 13 presidents are still living.
The oldest, D.C. Wedel, has now completed almost a century of life, turning 99 on March 16.
David C. Wedel was the pastor of First Mennonite Church in Halstead (he served the church from 1936-1946) when then Bethel president Edmund G. Kaufman invited him to come to the college to serve as acting dean while the current dean took a sabbatical. Following that, Wedel went to Denver to get his doctorate in Christian education from Iliff School of Theology. He wrote his dissertation on “The contribution of C.H. Wedel to Mennonite education.” C.H. Wedel, no relation, was Bethel’s first president.
In 1952, D.C. Wedel succeeded E.G. Kaufman, becoming Bethel’s 6th president. He served until 1959. Every president after Wedel is still living as well – Vernon Neufeld (1960-66), Orville Voth (1967-71), Harold Schultz (1971-91), John Zehr (1991-95), Doug Penner (1995-2002), E. LaVerne Epp (2002-05) and Barry Bartel (2006- ).
Bartel and several other Bethel College staff and administrators went to Bethesda Mennonite Home in Goessel with cake and ice cream to celebrate with Wedel a few days early. Wedel is a Goessel native, but until recently was still living on his own in North Newton, Kan., where his neighbors still remember his regular walks and his beautiful gardens.
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.