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Service award honors professor for ‘half-century of history’

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – At this year’s commencement, Bethel College recognized a professor’s nearly 50 years of doing history, the latest manifestation being a history of the college itself.

President Perry White presented Keith Sprunger, professor of history emeritus, with the Julius A. and Agatha Dyck Franz Community Service Award, given periodically to a faculty member “judged to have made an especially important contribution to the college community beyond the normal expectations.”

In his citation to Sprunger during Bethel’s 119th commencement May 20, White said, “[He] served Bethel College for nearly 40 years in the Department of History and has spent nearly five years researching, conducting interviews, compiling photos, writing and editing a new book on the history of Bethel College.”

Sprunger has a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton (Ill.) College and earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois. In 1963, he began a 38-year teaching career at Bethel, where he was named to the Oswald H. Wedel chair in history.

In 1972, the Danforth Foundation awarded Sprunger the E. Harris Harbison Award for Gifted Teaching, and in 1985 and 1991, respectively, Bethel College honored Sprunger with the Ralph T. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award and the David H. Richert Distinguished Scholar Award.

Among Sprunger’s areas of scholarly interest have been Puritanism in the Netherlands and Anabaptist-Mennonite studies, with a particular focus on the history of printing and publishing by both groups. He is the author of The Learned Doctor William Ames: Dutch Backgrounds of English and American Puritanism (University of Illinois, 1972), Dutch Puritanism: A History of English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Brill, 1983) and Trumpets from the Towers: English Puritan Printing in the Netherlands, 1600-1640 (Brill, 1997), as well as numerous articles in scholarly journals.

Sprunger has also been dedicated to local history through such roles as organizer and advocate for the Kansas History Day programs, presidency of the Kansas History Teachers Association, leadership in the Harvey County Historical Society and author of a history of Bethel College Mennonite Church. He curated a Kauffman Museum special traveling exhibit, “Menno Simons: Image, Art and Identity” (1996) and has chaired the Newton/North Newton Historic Preservation Commission.

Sprunger retired from Bethel in 2001 but has remained active with historical research and writing. Bethel College marks its 125th anniversary in 2012, and the new history by Sprunger will be introduced at Fall Festival this coming October.

In his citation, White quoted Sondra Bandy Koontz, Bethel vice president for of advancement and co-chair of the 125th Anniversary Committee: “Keith Sprunger has considered the culture, traditions, people and relationships that have shaped Bethel’s history. As one would expect from Dr. Sprunger’s scholarship, [the new history book] will help us understand our past and shape our hopes for Bethel’s future.

“The 125th Anniversary Committee is grateful for Dr. Sprunger’s commitment to this school. What a glorious way to celebrate 125 years of educating students at Bethel College.”

White continued, “With this award, Bethel wishes to recognize Dr. Sprunger for his commitment and dedication to the college and his tremendous work on this newest narrative of Bethel. … For your tireless dedication and efforts to further the name of Bethel College, it is a pleasure to present you with this award as a symbol of our gratitude and esteem.”

In addition to launching the Bethel book in early October, at the end of that month, Sprunger will present the Menno Simons Lectures on the topic of 125 years of Bethel history.

In addition to public recognition, the Franz Community Service Award carries with it a gift of $1,000.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2011-12 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2011-12. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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