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New Krehbiel Distinguished Chair recognizes McCabe-Juhnke's “life in performance”

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A new endowed chair at Bethel College recognizes John McCabe-Juhnke’s “life in performance” at Bethel and beyond.

The recognition came thanks to the estate of a Moundridge couple who loved music, literature and their community.

McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts and director of forensics at Bethel, was awarded the Nelson W. and Gladys I. Krehbiel Distinguished Chair in Speech and Forensics in a special ceremony Nov. 19.

The event began and ended with performances that reflect some of McCabe-Juhnke’s work and in one case included his son, Austin McCabe-Juhnke, Bethel College senior.

Local musicians Doug and Jude Krehbiel, along with Bridget Kratzer on vocals, began the presentation ceremony with “Ain’t Got the Blues” and ended it with “Let It Flow Through You,” joined by Austin McCabe-Juhnke on vocals. The songs are from the Krehbiels’ musical The Upside-Down King, for which John McCabe-Juhnke served as stage director for summer 2009 performances.

Bethel President Perry D. White then welcomed those gathered to honor McCabe-Juhnke. “These ceremonies are important in the life of a college like Bethel,” he said. “We celebrate, as a community, those who devote their lives to Christ-centered education, as well as our loyal supporters.”

Sondra Bandy Koontz, vice president for advancement, then recognized Alfred Sauer of Moundridge, Nelson and Gladys Krehbiel’s son-in-law. The Krehbiels and their only child, Anne, are no longer living. Koontz gave a brief sketch of the lives of Gladys and Nelson Krehbiel.

Nelson grew up in Moundridge. His first job was in his father’s milling company, removing nails from the boards of a dismantled elevator for “the impressive wage of five cents an hour,” Koontz said.

Nelson graduated from Bethel College Academy in1916 and then, upon receiving his B.A. from Oberlin (Ohio) College in 1919, joined his father and uncle in the Moundridge Milling Company, where he worked for 30 years, serving as president and manager. At one time, the mill had more than 100 employees. During World War II, it ranked third among American manufacturers in supplying cereals to the armed forces.

Gladys Heaston was born in Beatrice, Neb., and grew up in McPherson. She graduated from McPherson College in 1920 and did graduate work at the University of Chicago. In 1921, she arrived in Moundridge to become an instructor and then principal at Moundridge High School. There she met Nelson and they married in 1922 – a union that endured for nearly 60 years.

In 1948, Nelson’s health began to fail and he sold the family mill but, said Koontz, “discovered that he hated inactivity and soon became involved in other businesses, taking on administrative posts in the Clayton Vogt Lumber Co., Jayhawk Motor Co., Farmers Service System and the Halstead Mausoleum Corporation.”

Nelson loved music and played several instruments. He would improvise on the piano, Koontz said, sometimes accompanying the Bethel College Men’s Glee Club. He also enjoyed sports – he played tennis, organized the Moundridge Golf Club, designed two nine-hole courses and founded the Central Kansas Collegiate Basketball Tournament.

“Nelson said that his reason for being was to serve the town in which he lived,” Koontz said. “He wrote to his 50th anniversary class at Oberlin: ‘It is obvious that I have not gone far in this world for I still live in the house in which I was born.’ Community service was a priority – Moundridge school board, city council, American Legion post, Lions Club, board of directors of the Kansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Bethel College Board.”

Gladys and Nelson were both avid readers, Koontz added. Gladys’ letters to Bethel were “each one … a small jewel. The couple’s letters to Bethel quote E.B. White, James Reston, Robert Frost, G.K. Chesterton, Aldous Huxley and the Bible. This, I assure you, is not standard fare in letters from our donors.”

Koontz noted that the Krehbiels were “generous donors to Bethel. They gave to the current fund and to many projects. They gave the funds to build the trophy cases in the Fine Arts Center where the forensics trophies are housed.”

She added that the Krehbiel endowed chair was established “because of the Krehbiels’ lifelong friendship with and affection for [the late] Ed R. Stucky [of Moundridge], whom they believed to be the greatest debate coach, and out of their desire that Bethel’s forensics and debate program remain strong.

“I know, John, that the Krehbiels would appreciate your gift of creating images with words,” Koontz continued. “They would understand the importance of your prison [theater] work. And they would applaud the encouragement that you give students and the strong program that you have built at Bethel.”

Brad Born, Bethel vice president for academic affairs, then cited McCabe-Juhnke’s accomplishments since joining the Bethel College faculty in 1986. “Grounded in his training in performance studies, John brings to the classroom his full range of talent as a lecturer, storyteller, actor, coach and conversationalist,” Born said. “For his outstanding contribution to teaching, John received the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award in 2003.”

Born noted that in every year of McCabe-Juhnke’s faculty role at Bethel, he has directed at least one theatrical production, totaling 35 stage plays and 22 musicals and operas. He has continued to perform as opportunities arise – most recently this past February in a staged reading of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit at a symposium in Georgia, which included the playwright, Margaret Edson, along with health-care professionals and communication scholars, meeting to discuss the performance of palliative care.

Under McCabe-Juhnke’s leadership in forensics, Bethel is one of only a handful of colleges or universities nationwide to qualify students for the American Forensic Association (AFA) national tournament every year of that tournament’s existence – a “record of excellent forensics leadership” recognized by peers in 2008 when the AFA honored McCabe-Juhnke with the Carroll and Barbara Hickey Distinguished Coaching Award for the six-state region that includes Kansas, and in 2010 when the AFA cited him for 25 years of participation in the National Individual Events Tournament (NIET).

Ten years ago, McCabe-Juhnke began working in prison theater at Lansing Correctional Facility. He has continued since then with the Prison Arts Theater Project at the Hutchinson State Correctional Facility.

“There, John directs plays with incarcerated men in a program centered on values of discipleship, service and restorative justice,” Born said. “In his chapter of a forthcoming book, John tells stories that illustrate how both his professional training and his faith commitments have shaped the art that he enacts with incarcerated men. This is, as John calls it, ‘restoration theater,’ a shared aesthetic experience that can bring comfort, rebuild hope, reawaken compassion and restore right relationships for those engaged in the process.

“John’s dedication to that kind of creative activity is yet another expression of a vocational life that has modeled excellence and manifest ethical commitment,” Born concluded. “John, we thank you for all your past performance, and for the living in performance that you continue to enact with us.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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