NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Earl Koehn earned both a degree and his livelihood for most of his working life at Bethel College. So one of his long-held wishes was “to give something back,” says his wife, Louise.
The Koehns have done just that, establishing the Earl D. and Louise Duerksen Koehn Scholarship, $100,000 to help new students, whether first-time freshmen or transfers, attend Bethel. “Earl wanted to get more students to come to Bethel,” says Louise. “The scholarship will help make up the difference between what Bethel and another school might be offering [in financial aid], so a student who wants to come to Bethel can afford it.”
Earl died March 25 at age 86, but he had already worked with Louise and their sons – Dennis, Brent and David, all Bethel graduates – to get the scholarship set up.
Earl Koehn was a native of Pawnee Rock, where he grew up on a farm that his mother’s father, Christian Schultz, homesteaded in 1874. When Earl graduated from high school in 1939, he had to work for a year before he could enroll in college, since it was the Depression and there was little money to spare.
After two years at Bethel, Earl was drafted into Civilian Public Service. He served four years in three units in Nebraska, Oregon and Montana and ended his time in CPS on a shipload of horses going to Greece. He made many lifelong friends in CPS and never lost his love of travel – during his life, he visited all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, as well as Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Mexico, Taiwan and parts of Africa, Europe and South America.
Earl came back to Bethel in 1946 and graduated in 1948 with a degree in industrial arts. He farmed at Pawnee Rock in the summer and worked at Bethel in the winter until the job there became full-time, lasting 38 years. Most of his years at Bethel, Earl’s title was manager of physical plant and purchasing agent.
That role means that today it is nearly impossible to look around the campus and not see something that Earl Koehn had a hand in building, maintaining or both. Earl worked with five different presidential administrations – E.G. Kaufman (1932-52), D.C. Wedel (1952-60), Vernon Neufeld (1960-66), Orville Voth (1967-71) and Harold Schultz (1971-91). His tenure included the construction of two residence halls (Haury and Warkentin), the Fine Arts Center, Thresher Gym and Schultz Student Center, with the major Mantz Library addition onto the old library (now the Mennonite Library and Archives), along with Kauffman Museum’s current building, well underway by the time Earl retired in 1986. Also while he was on the Bethel staff, Bethel College Mennonite Church moved out of the Ad Building chapel, where it had met for almost 60 years, into its own new building, and Earl oversaw major renovation of the chapel.
At various times, Earl kept all the keys on campus, supervised all the custodians and was responsible for servicing the typewriters and maintaining a fleet of 4-6 college vehicles. He served as interim business manager in the late 1950s and in that capacity attended the College Business Managers Short Course, an annual event that he continued to participate in and enjoy, Louise says.
Earl and Louise met at Bethel College in the late ’40s and were married in 1950. Louise herself has a significant history with the college. After teaching public school for several years, she took a job as head of Bethel’s food service in 1948, where one of her first tasks was to feed the participants in Mennonite World Conference’s assembly on campus that summer. With a degree in home economics, she taught in Bethel’s home ec department one year in between two permanent faculty appointments. Later, when her sons were older, she earned hours in library science and eventually spent 21 years working in the Bethel College library, retiring along with Earl in 1986.
“Earl talked for years about setting up a scholarship at Bethel,” Louise says. On the program for Earl’s memorial service, his photo appears alongside that of one of Bethel’s best-known symbols, the Administration Building, where Earl spent countless hours – in his first office (in the basement), in renovating the chapel and in maintaining the historic landmark over the years.
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.