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Good chemistry: Bethel lab assistant “retires” at 90, after 25 years

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The first week of May marked two milestones for Paul Renich of Hesston – he turned 90, and he turned in his Bethel College keys.

Renich is a 1942 graduate of Bethel and has a master’s degree and Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Kansas. He spent a career in teaching and administration at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina (where he served as both dean and president) and Haskell Junior College, now Haskell University, in Lawrence.

After Renich retired from academia in 1984, he and his wife, Roberta, also a Bethel graduate (they met in a Bethel chemistry lab), built a passive solar home in Newton. And for the past 25 years, Renich has volunteered in Bethel’s chemistry department.

For about the first eight years, he says, he would teach classes to help ease transitions as older faculty retired and new members joined the department. For the past number of years, Renich has been coming to campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays – so faithfully you could set a calendar by him, according to Richard Zerger, professor of chemistry, who has taught at Bethel since 1995 – to help out with the Introductory Chemistry, Chemistry I and Chemistry II labs.

Renich would make the unknowns, reagents and solutions for qualitative analysis. “That’s been a huge contribution,” Zerger says. “The students learn a lot of descriptive chemistry by seeing colors and reactions, and not just reading theory. Many schools have stopped doing [qualitative analysis] because of all the work involved [in making the solutions].”

Renich recently cut back to only Tuesdays at Bethel because he sold his old Ford and Roberta uses the other car for her volunteer job on Thursdays. Many past chemistry students remember the Ford – it had no catalytic converter, so they would test its exhaust fumes for pollutants.

And on May 7, Renich handed in all his keys. The Chemistry II students, Zerger and Professor of Chemistry Gary Histand marked Renich’s last lab with cupcakes, a group photo and several individual expressions of thanks.

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