by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – One of the most visible contributors to Bethel College’s quasquicentennial (125th) year celebrations is, at the same time, among the least noticed.
That’s the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel. Keith Sprunger, Bethel professor emeritus of history and author of the just-released history Bethel College of Kansas, 1887-2012, called the MLA “a rich resource for study.”
It’s a fitting compliment to the MLA, since October is National Archives Month as declared by the Society of American Archivists.
Many of Sprunger’s primary sources for Bethel College of Kansas, and the lion’s share of its photos, came from the MLA.
In addition, says John Thiesen, archivist and Bethel co-director of libraries, the MLA has been the main source for photos for much of the remodeling work that’s been happening on campus in the past year.
There are new photo displays in Franz Atrium in Krehbiel Science Center, in the Academic Center foyer and in the Schultz Student Center hallway, including one that reflects the college’s history through six emphases (such as “the Administration Building” and “pranks”).
Sondra Koontz, vice president for advancement, and Dalene White, President Perry White’s spouse, have made numerous visits to the MLA over the past months to search out appropriate photos for these two areas, Thiesen says.
“Photo requests have really ramped up recently,” he says. “There is also material related to the threshing stone exhibit at Kauffman Museum, mostly photos of places where threshing stones appear, such as in yearbooks or on brochures, and logos.”
As curator Glen Ediger and Kauffman Museum Director Rachel Pannabecker were putting together the threshing stone exhibit, one of the most interesting things uncovered in the MLA was a set of blueprints from the ’70s, Thiesen says.
“[Former Bethel professor] Harley Stucky was pushing for a ‘Wheat Center’ that would have been a conference center plus a museum and archives devoted to Kansas wheat,” Thiesen says. “There are blueprints in his papers for a building design that made use of the threshing stone motif, especially in a gallery that would have had seven parts, like the seven teeth on a threshing stone.”
Although the number of photo requests has been up recently, providing them is a common function of the MLA, Thiesen says. “We’re always getting requests from the administration or the community for a photo or date related to a certain event. For example, Brad Born [vice president for academic affairs] called recently and wanted to know about the Order of the Golden A, an academic society from [when E.G. Kaufman was president].”
About a fourth to a third of queries concern genealogies, Thiesen says, “although it’s sometimes hard to separate those from what would be more biographical.”
Besides fielding requests for photos or dates and helping with genealogical research, another “big category, because it’s high priority” for the MLA and its staff, which includes archivist James Lynch, is administrative requests, not only from Bethel College but also from Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA and from the MC USA offices themselves.
The MLA is one of two official archives for MC USA (the other is at Goshen College in Goshen, Ind.), so Thiesen and Lynch answer to two “bosses,” Bethel College and the Historical Committee of MC USA.
Other regular visitors include students at various levels working on senior seminar papers, master’s theses or doctoral dissertations; people compiling congregational histories; and individuals doing house or property histories for which they need maps or photos.
Asked for the strangest recent request, Thiesen says, “A guy called, probably from California, looking for a particular Amish-published book. It was a real citation. He said he was looking for it because the Masons, the Mormons and the Mennonites had buried the Ark of the Covenant in Escondido, Calif., in 1927, and this book was going to lead him to it.”
Unfortunately for the man, Thiesen says, the MLA couldn’t send him the book.
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.