NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College’s Krehbiel Auditorium is the venue for convocation, instrumental concerts of all kinds, opera, lectures and theater – seldom a service of eulogy.
However, it became “sacred space” Friday evening, Aug. 5, as Bethel students, staff and faculty gathered to mourn and celebrate the life of Seth Dunn, who would have been a senior and who died in an accident Monday, Aug. 1.
Dunn, 20, was from Fresno, Calif., and was vacationing with his family in the beach resort town of Cayucos, Calif. He and one of his brothers were skateboarding to meet their parents for dinner and went by way of a hill on Bakersfield Avenue in Cayucos that is popular with skateboarders.
Residents of the area where the hill is located say it is “a magnet for skateboarders” who can reach speeds of close to 30 miles per hour when skating down it. Dunn, a longtime skateboarder, apparently lost his balance, probably while trying to slow down or stop.
According to the San Luis Obispo County coroner’s report, Dunn died of blunt force head trauma. He was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
Among those remembering Dunn Aug. 5 was Megan Upton-Tyner, Bethel instructor of theater, who directed Dunn in Bethel’s production of Wit last May as well as in the improv troupe.
“It’s appropriate that we’re gathered in this sacred space,” where Dunn spent so much time, she said – if he wasn’t rehearsing a play or building sets, he was in the Krehbiel Auditorium audiovisual booth as a student employee of the AV department. He regularly worked convocations.
“I can’t make sense of the fact that he’s gone,” she said. “I won’t even try. I can only try to make sense of his effect on my life. He was a person of humor, dedication and a fierce hold on life.
“I’ll miss him when he’s not on this stage, which he filled so well – or when we’re building sets at 1:30 a.m. and he’s not here to rebuild one over and over until we get it right. We’ll miss him the most when we live in a moment Seth would have been part of but now isn’t.”
As freshmen at Bethel, Dunn and Lisa Penner, also from Fresno, started a coffee shop on campus at a time when there was nothing like it closer than downtown Newton. They used their own money to buy urns, cups and fair-trade coffee.
Though-short lived, the venture illustrated Dunn and Penner’s contention that students wanted a place to gather, socialize and drink good coffee. It made having a coffee shop on campus a top priority for Bethel’s Student Senate and Student Life office, which led to the opening of Mojo’s Coffee at Bethel a year ago.
Dunn was majoring in communication arts. Last school year, in addition to his role in Wit, he played Albert Einstein in Steve Martin’s comedy Picasso at the Lapin Agile, directed by 2011 graduate Clint Harris.
Dunn and Creigh Bartel, junior from Newton, hosted “Creigh and Seth in the Morning” on Bethel’s KBCU-FM, every Monday night during the school year – “Bethel’s most popular morning show after 10 p.m.” In addition to playing music, they conducted in-studio interviews with local leaders such as Bethel President Perry White and North Newton Mayor Ron Braun.
John McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts, directed Dunn in his debut on the Krehbiel Auditorium stage when, as a sophomore, he played Mr. Webb in Our Town. McCabe-Juhnke also acted opposite Dunn in Wit as Dr. Harvey Kelekian to Dunn’s medical resident, Jason Posner.
“[In my experience], stage personalities are often driven by what makes them shine [individually],” said McCabe-Juhnke, remembering the experience of Wit. “Seth was most interested in what helped us best work together to express the message of the play.”
Christine Crouse-Dick, assistant professor of communication arts, noted that, as a freshman, Dunn would share with her his struggle to feel at home with and at Bethel. However, she said, in her most recent communications with him, he talked about how much the Bethel community and his friends there meant to him.
Time and again, the members of that community, who shared for more than two hours, spoke of honoring Dunn’s memory by trying to make a difference in the world as he had expressed being called to do.
“I have to keep him alive through myself and my actions,” said Bartel. “It’s all I can do.”
“Seth now becomes love,” said Terra Scott, sophomore from Newton, “the essence of life we should all live.”
Helping to introduce a time of candlelighting, she added, “When you pray, remember people who don’t have food, people who hurt others [because they are hurting]. Pray for them.
“Seth is in heaven,” she continued. “We don’t have to worry about him. We have to worry about his legacy, about making this worth it … Please never say ‘Amen’ to the prayer of love and honesty.”
Upton-Tyner shared part of a message from Margaret Edson, author of Wit, who came to campus last spring to see the Bethel production.
On learning of Dunn’s death, Edson wrote: “I suppose we are all breath-based events. Here we come; there we go. What doesn't crumble? Our love. Where do we keep it? Safe inside. How long does it last? Forever.”
Dunn is the oldest son of Larry and Susan Dunn of Fresno. Larry Dunn is an associate professor and director of the undergraduate peacemaking and conflict studies program at Fresno Pacific University. Besides his parents, Dunn is survived by two younger brothers, Eli and Isaac.
Though Dunn was a member of College Community Church, Clovis, the Aug. 10 memorial service will be held at North Fresno Church due to crowd size. Both are Mennonite Brethren congregations.
Bethel students are tentatively planning a second memorial service on campus for early September, after classes are back in session.