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Concert will celebrate local musician and raise money for tornado relief

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by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – It started with a Bethel College favorite –  live music – and the wish to recognize the contributions of a local musician before he moves to Kansas City.

But Dale Schrag, campus pastor, quickly saw a way to connect the Sept. 15 concert featuring The Book of JEBB and The Misguided Professors to another important Bethel activity: service.

The concert will be at 3 p.m. in Memorial Hall on the Bethel campus. Admission is free but there will be an offering taken to support tornado relief efforts in the Oklahoma City area, stemming from devastating storms there this past May.

The Misguided Professors are Christine Crouse-Dick, Bethel associate professor of communication arts, and Chris Dick, associate professor of English at Tabor College. They frequently play as a duo but also enjoy having several other musicians join them when possible – Landon Bartel on bass and Jesse Graber on fiddle.

Graber is also the “J” in The Book of JEBB. Other members are Eric Schrag, Ben Regier and Bethany Schrag.

Graber is married to Ruth Harder, who is concluding as a pastor at Bethel College Mennonite Church and has taken a position at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kan., starting in mid-September.

“We wanted to have one last fling with Jesse playing fiddle,” Dale Schrag says. “And we soon saw the chance to generate something good in addition to listening to music.”

The “something good” is raising money for tornado relief (cash gifts will go to Mennonite Disaster Service, which has a long-term unit in Shawnee, Okla., checks to MDS, the Salvation Army or the Red Cross, all designated for Oklahoma tornado recovery).

Bethel’s student group Service Corps is a co-sponsor of the event. “We hope to send members to Shawnee to work with MDS on at least two occasions this school year,” Schrag says. (The money raised Sept. 15 goes directly to relief – Service Corps’ own funds pay travel costs for club members.)

Schrag began planning the concert early in the summer – and then discovered another interesting Bethel connection in the form of Ethan Birdwell, a new student from Moore, Okla. On May 20, an EF5 tornado crossed a heavily populated section of this Oklahoma City suburb, killing 23, injuring 377 and all but destroying two elementary schools that had children still inside.

Although his family’s home sustained only minor damage, “about 150 yards from our house was the epicenter of destruction,” Birdwell says. “My friend’s house down the street was destroyed.

“It was crazy. My mom is a teacher – computer education for K-6. My dad and I had just gotten home [when the tornado hit] and I went to our neighbors’ shelter. We heard that two or three schools were destroyed, and we were freaking out. Of course, all the cell phone towers were down. Then it was dark and there was no power, and we couldn’t go across town [to look for my mother].” She turned out to be safe.

“People started helping immediately – which is both good and bad, because it doubles the injuries. We immediately started cleaning up. You don’t sleep for the first 48 hours. This is as close as I’ve been to a tornado, and I was there for the May 3, 1999, one, too.”

Although Birdwell had already signed to play football at Bethel, head coach Marty Mathis and assistant coach Chi Worthington went down for Birdwell’s high school graduation soon after the tornado and stayed the next day to do some cleanup.

“We got up really early and went and helped with cleanup,” Birdwell says. “It was cool – other colleges were in town for the softball world championships. So we were cleaning up next to the Washington Huskies softball team.

“We weren’t part of anything organized – Coach just drove around until he saw someone working and stopped to ask if they needed help. That’s the good thing about central Oklahoma – everyone helps. In other places, it drops off after a week or so, but not there, because everyone is local.”

He says he was especially impressed with members of the American Cancer Society, with which his mother, a cancer survivor, works. They came from all over the country to help with cleanup.

These days, he says, “neighborhoods are looking empty. The debris is cleared,  the slabs are cleared. You can stand at the end of the path and look and see where [the tornado] started and where it went.

“It was so centralized – everyone I knew in Moore was within 100-200 yards of the tornado. My girlfriend lived across the street from the 7-11 where several people were killed. My dad had driven right past there a few minutes before. You see it on TV but you don’t really know until you experience it.”

The Bethel benefit concert will be the crowning event of Family Weekend, a special time planned especially for families of students.

“We picked that weekend [Sept. 13-15] because there are quite a few activities already planned on campus then,” says Allen Wedel, vice president for business affairs, who is in charge of coordinating this year’s event. There are home football and volleyball games and the annual Thresher Fall Golf Classic at Sand Creek Station.

Planners were delighted when Schrag proposed a Book of JEBB/Misguided Professors concert for Sunday afternoon, Wedel says.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2013-14 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 2013-14. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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