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Donor’s generosity leads to naming new academic center

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – James Will was known throughout his lifetime for his generosity, which Bethel College has honored in the name of its new academic center.

Bethel President Perry White announced the naming of the James A. Will Family Academic Center in his remarks at the center’s dedication, Saturday, Oct. 13, during Fall Festival. The dedication and announcement of the name were among the special events celebrating Bethel’s 125th anniversary.

The academic center represents a $5 million renovation of the former Science Hall.

“Bethel received a seven-figure gift from the James A. Will Estate,” said Sondra Bandy Koontz, vice president for advancement. “In appreciation, we have named the academic center for James Will and his family.”

Including the word “family” in the academic center name memorializes Will as well as his parents and brother, Ernest “Ernie” Will, all of whom predeceased him, and also recognizes the Will extended family.

James A. Will was born in 1934 at the Halstead Hospital to Henry Gustav and Helen Elizabeth (Mueller) Will. He grew up on a farm north of Halstead, attended Riverside and South Garden schools and graduated from Halstead High School.

After two years at Bethel College, he finished his degree in business at the University of Kansas. He then served in the United States Army, stationed in Germany for part of the time.

He began his career at an accounting firm in McPherson before opening his own business on Main Street in Halstead and working as an accountant at Halstead Hospital. He was an officer for the Bentley State Bank and then a vice president at the Halstead Bank until his retirement.

Will was a member of First Mennonite Church in Halstead as well as many civic clubs and organizations. These included the board of directors for the Kansas Learning Center for Health, Halstead; Pine Village Endowment Foundation, Moundridge; Halstead Chamber of Commerce; Halstead Housing Authority; and Halstead Lions Club. He also served as Halstead city treasurer.

Will enjoyed playing golf, following Halstead High School Dragons sports and exploring Kansas highways and back roads. Friends and family recall an amazing capacity for remembering dates – he could give dates of births, graduations, marriages and deaths of most relatives and many friends.

His family described him as “a private person” who nonetheless was concerned about others: “He was most generous wherever he saw a need.”

Will suffered a stroke in 2006 that limited his physical abilities although his mind, along with his interest in his family and friends, stayed active. He died Nov. 25, 2011, at the age of 77.

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.

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