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College president, former Newton resident, receives Distinguished Achievement Award

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Awards Committee of the Bethel College Alumni Association has named Claudia A. Limbert, Columbus, Miss., as the winner of the 2008 Distinguished Achievement Award.

Limbert was appointed by the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning as the 13th president of Mississippi University for Women July 1, 2002.

Originally from Missouri, Limbert married and had four children (three sons and a daughter) before beginning college. She received a bachelor’s degree with majors in English, history and education from Bethel College in 1978. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing in 1980 and a doctorate in English literature in 1988, both from Boston University.

In 1988, Limbert began her career as an English and women’s studies professor at Pennsylvania State University-Shenango. She was then selected as an administrative fellow, spending the next year in leadership training under the direction of a senior vice president at Penn State-University Park.

Following that experience, she became the director of academic affairs at Penn State-DuBois. After then serving as acting campus executive officer for a short time, she was selected for the permanent position in 1998, a position she held until being appointed president of Mississippi University for Women.

Limbert has received many awards, including the prestigious Athena Award for service to women and the community by the Greater DuBois Area Chamber of Commerce, the Outstanding College Administrator of Penn State’s Commonwealth College in 2001, the Rosemary Schraer Mentor Award from Penn State University’s Commission for Women in 2000, and the Teaching Award in 1994 from Penn State-Shenango students. She also was named one of the Achieving Women of Penn State. In 2004, she was selected as one of Mississippi’s 12 Leading Business Women.

Limbert’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in such publications as Country Living and House Beautiful and her scholarly work has appeared in Restoration, Philological Quarterly and The National Women’s Studies Association Journal. Her most recent work is an essay in the book Herspace: Women, Writing, and Solitude (Haworth, 2003). Her hobbies include gardening (specifically herbs and old-fashioned flowers), reading, writing, walking and spending time with her children and friends.

In a commencement address she delivered at Bethel in 2000, in her inauguration address at Mississippi College for Women and in other settings, Limbert has openly shared about growing up in poverty in the Missouri Ozarks and about being the only one in her family to finish high school, much less go on to college and advanced degrees. She has frequently credited Bethel and its faculty for launching her career by teaching her to write, speak and teach.

She graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and received a full scholarship to Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. She turned it down, she said, because she did not have the bus fare to Omaha. She married at 20 and by her own description “spent the next 28 years living on the edge of poverty.”

When her family moved to Newton in the 1970s, she gathered up her courage to apply at Bethel when she was 35 and her youngest child had entered first grade. She rode her bicycle three miles from her home to campus because she had no working car. “I knew the key to improving my own and my children’s lives was getting a college education,” she said. “Attending Bethel was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. [It] totally changed my life and the lives of my four children for the better. Years later, my daughter told me: ‘We never even considered not going to college – we knew we wanted to do [what] you did.’”

Limbert credits faculty for believing in her, challenging her and giving her good advice during her three years at Bethel. The late Anna Juhnke, professor of English, in particular was an important mentor for her, Limbert said.

“When I was ready to graduate, I had a conversation with Anna and thanked her for everything. I said, ‘How can I pay you back?’ Her wonderfully wise answer was: ‘Claudia, you don’t pay people back for helping you – you pass it along to others.’ I’ve tried to do that every day of my life since. The chance to change a life for the better gets me up in the morning and helps me persevere through the day. Life is about service, helping others to do better, making dreams happen for yourself and others.”

The Distinguished Achievement Award acknowledges character and citizenship, achievement in a chosen profession or vocation, and work of benefit to humanity.

Limbert and other alumni award winners will be honored at the annual Alumni Banquet Saturday, May 24, at 6 p.m. in Memorial Hall. All alumni and friends of Bethel are invited. Those making banquet reservations will receive a discount if they do so with full payment by Friday, May 9. After that, all regular-price registrations must be received with payment by Wednesday, May 14.

Cost of the banquet is $16 per person if paying early, $18 regular price. To make a reservation, visit or phone Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 316-284-5205. Payment or credit card information is required when the reservation is made. (No refunds can be given after May 16, since the Alumni Office will have been charged for reserved meals by that date.) Attenders receive a personalized nametag at the door that serves as their banquet ticket.

Bethel College, located in North Newton, 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

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