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Outstanding Alumnus has long career in church service

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College’s 2010 Outstanding Alumnus Award winner, James F. (Jim) Schrag, Newton, went from teaching to pastoring to Mennonite churchwide leadership.

The Newton native graduated from high school at Hesston Academy before completing a B.A. in history and social science at Bethel College in 1966. He taught social sciences at Clay Center Community High School from 1966-67 and then moved to Maseno, Kenya, where he taught at Emusire Secondary School for three years under Mennonite Central Committee’s Teachers Abroad Program (TAP).

Schrag earned his Master of Divinity degree at Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind., in 1973. He then served pastorates at Tabor Mennonite Church in rural Newton, 1973-85, and at Oak Grove Mennonite Church, Smithville, Ohio, 1985-96. In 1996, he was called to be general secretary of the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC).

From 1996-2001, Schrag was the project director for the Transformation Team that guided the transition process whereby the GCMC and the Mennonite Church, both bi-national denominations, became Mennonite Church USA, as well as Mennonite Church Canada. From 2001 until his retirement Nov. 30, 2009, Schrag was executive director of Mennonite Church USA.

Schrag has served on a number of regional and national Mennonite boards and committees throughout his career, including chair of the Education Committee for Western District Conference; member of the GCMC Communications Committee; co-chair of the program committee to plan the first-ever joint GCMC-MC gathering at Bethlehem, Pa., in 1983; chair of the Bethel College Board of Directors; and member of the Presidential Search Committee for Bluffton (Ohio) University, among others.

Jim and Judy (Nickel) Schrag, a 1967 Bethel graduate, have three daughters, all Bethel alumnae – Valerie Schrag, Melissa Claassen and Rachel Sommerfeld – and three grandchildren. Jim and Judy are members of First Mennonite Church, Newton.

Now that Jim Schrag has retired, he says he hopes to have more time for his hobbies of golf and photography. He is also writing a history of the merger of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church into Mennonite Church USA, 1983-2009.

The Bethel College Alumni Association gives the Outstanding Alumnus Award on the basis of character and citizenship, service to church/community or college, or other outstanding achievements, honors and recognition.

Schrag and other alumni award winners will be honored at the annual Alumni Banquet Saturday, May 22, at 6 p.m. in Memorial Hall on the Bethel College campus. To make a reservation, visit or phone Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 316-284-5205. Cost of the banquet is $18 per person if paying by May 7, $20 regular price, May 10-12. Payment or credit card information is required when the reservation is made. (No refunds can be given after May 14, since the Alumni Office will have been charged for reserved meals by that date.) Attenders receive a nametag at the door that serves as their banquet ticket.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges profiled in Colleges of Distinction 2009-10. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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