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Horst and science research have had a long, fruitful relationship

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Science has long interested W. Dale Horst of rural Newton, one of Bethel College’s strongest supporters of the sciences. Fortunately, science appears to have been interested in him as well.

It didn’t seem so earlier in Horst’s life – his high school teachers in Lancaster County, Pa., he says, told him he was “not college material.” When he graduated in 1954, the draft appeared to be pointing Horst away from scientific interests.

As a Mennonite and therefore part of a “historic peace church,” Horst opted for two years of alternative service with Mennonite Central Committee, through which he had the chance to volunteer in Bethesda, Md., at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

At the time, scientists were studying the effects of LSD in humans. Horst became one of the subjects for the study and then found his way into lab work. Although at first this work was mostly custodial, it wasn’t long before the scientists around Horst began encouraging him to go to college.

Near the end of his two-year service term, Horst met Newton native Rosie Claassen, who would become his wife. She had spent a year at Bethel College. So Horst came to Bethel, graduating in 1962 with a biology major and a chemistry minor.

Immediately upon graduation from Bethel, Horst received a job offer in pharmacology from NIH. He worked there for the next three years. But continual advances in science, and eventually his colleagues, began to nudge Horst toward graduate school.

Living a grad student’s dream, Horst attended Georgetown University with a pre-doctoral fellowship from NIH. He conducted all his experiments and analyses at NIH, earning degrees in physiology and biochemistry. His dissertation was entitled “The effects of ions on the uptake and storage of norepinephrine in isolated rat hearts.”

As his dissertation would indicate, Horst’s interest in neuropharmacology spiked during graduate school. This led to almost 20 years at the research division of Hoffman-La Roche in Nutley, N.J., where Horst served in various capacities: senior biochemist, assistant group chief, neurophysiology section chief, and research leader. His work focused on the evaluation of psychotherapeutics in their preclinical drug stages.

Following a downsizing at Hoffman-La Roche in 1986, Horst chose to leave the company and move with his family to Newton. Horst’s reputation after two decades of pharmacological work had spread through the scientific community – even as a 50-year old who seemingly had the bulk of his career behind him.

Horst soon co-founded the Psychiatric Research Institute, Inc. and Via Christi Research, Inc. at Via Christi Regional Medical Center-St. Francis campus in Wichita. His research with the organization rewarded Horst in a new way because it involved trials for new drugs in clinical settings.

“I actually talked to the people who would use and benefit from the drugs,” he says.

This second phase of Horst’s career was as busy as the first, resulting in a curriculum vitae 11 pages long by the time he retired a couple years ago. His findings have been published in scientific articles, abstracts and textbook chapters and presented to regional, national and international audiences.

A large portion of his research has been applied to techniques for helping individuals quit smoking by determining their personal rates of nicotine metabolism. Horst repeats what many scientists and doctors say: “It’s better to be addicted to nicotine [on a patch or in gum] than to cigarettes.”

Since retirement, Horst has been anything but idle. He likes to stay in touch with the scientific community and his knowledge and connections have come to the aid and benefit of many Bethel College students. He continues a pattern established during his years at Hoffman-La Roche when he hosted Bethel students during the January interterm.

“When I reflect back on my career,” Horst says, “I think one of the really important things is the people I met. [The relationships] worked both ways.” He speaks highly of several Bethel graduates who have shared their knowledge with him.

He also praises Bethel College science faculty. “Bethel has a terrific [science] program. The faculty are first rate, and the new science hall is a great facility.”

In retirement, Horst has gotten involved in Bethel’s science programs as chair of the recently organized STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Advisory Council. He has been a strong advocate for science at Bethel, contacting high school teachers and publicizing and teaching in Bethel’s Summer Science Institute for high school students.

This year’s institute, open to grades 10-12 and graduating seniors, is scheduled for June 1-6 on campus. Since Horst spent his career in scientific research, the institute’s emphasis on participant research in concert with Bethel faculty and upper-class students in the sciences is something he can and does promote enthusiastically.

Summer Science Institute students focus on biology, psychology, astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, computer science and/or environmental science, according to the interests of those who enroll, with research the common denominator.

A less scientific hobby that Horst has adopted in his retirement is collecting and recording works of F.S. Church, a newspaper illustrator from 1842-1924. He and Rosie are writing a book together about the artist. He approaches the new project with the same enthusiasm he applied to his scientific endeavors.

“Research is research,” he says.

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 was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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