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Emeritus professor built foundation of excellence for forensics, debate

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Ada Mae (Gressinger) Haury, Bethel College’s first professor to be named emeritus faculty, died Jan. 13 in Newton. She was 94.

She was born in Halstead and graduated from Halstead High School as the valedictorian of her class. She was a 1941 graduate of Bethel College, where she was a member of the Golden A.

Haury was part of a group of Bethel College alumni who had lived together in one of the residence halls who started a round-robin letter after graduation that lasted more than 60 years.

During and just following World War II, Haury taught English, drama and forensics and coached state championship debate teams at Fowler, Halstead and Russell.

Several of Haury’s debate students in the Russell High School class of 1947 went on to illustrious careers in law, television production and politics, including one known nationally, Arlen Specter, formerly the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee (Specter died in 2012).

Specter and several of his classmates used to make regular trips to Newton to visit their former teacher, whom they held in high esteem.

Specter read a tribute to Ada Mae Haury into the Congressional Record of Sept. 4, 2007, as the Senate was preparing to take up an appropriations bill on funding for education:

“Our health is our number-one capital asset … And our number-two capital asset is education… . I say this in the context of paying tribute to Ada Mae Gressinger Haury, who came to Russell in the fall of 1945 in her early 20s, having recently graduated from college herself, and brought a … level of intensity to high school debate … which is unparalleled in my educational experience.

“We had a class in debate at 9 in the morning and then she would … have another round of debate [at 4 p.m.], again at 5, again at 7 and again at 8. … Miss Gressinger emphasized a smooth delivery, and if anybody faltered during the course of a 10-minute speech or a 5-minute rebuttal, that individual was likely to be rated fourth.

“It was not only the first team which excelled but the second team [also]. We went to one tournament at Salina High School … and the second team did better than the first team. The second team advanced to the semi-finals and the first team, which I was on, sat and watched the proceedings because they had done better than the first team. One year, everybody on the debate team went through one tournament undefeated.

“It was really a very remarkable background in analysis and in organization, in extemporaneous speaking, and very, very good training for the practice of being a trial lawyer, very good training for being a senator, very good training for the questioning which we do in the various committees where we serve.”

Haury married Robert A. Haury, whom she met at Bethel College, in 1947, and they moved to Topeka, where she became assistant to the pastor of First Presbyterian Church. They then moved to Newton, where Robert founded an accounting firm that later became Haury, Boston and Steely.

Ada Mae Haury was a member and elder of First Presbyterian Church, Newton, and was active in Sunday school teaching, scouting and Cruisers. She was a member of Pi Kappa Delta, Ladies Reading Circle and Harvey County Retired School Personnel.

Haury taught speech and coached debate and forensics at Bethel College from 1963-85 and was the first professor to be awarded emeritus status, in 1989.

“It was her tenacity and sacrifice that played such a critical role in forging Bethel’s reputation for excellence in speech and debate,” said Brad Born, vice president for academic affairs.

Keith Sprunger, writing in the 2012 history of Bethel College, noted that “with Ada Mae Haury as director, forensics and debate teams did exceedingly well, winning ‘trophies by the armload.’ The prowess of her forensic team vanquished all opponents; it ‘[beat] big and small alike.’

“So numerous were the trophies that they required the installation of a new display case in the Fine Arts Center to contain them.”

Haury’s former student John McCabe-Juhnke followed her as forensics and debate coach (another former student, Mark Stucky, was director of forensics from 1980-92). In 2013, reflecting in Context on his own career at Bethel, McCabe-Juhnke wrote:

“I was privileged to be coached by … Ada Mae Haury [who] developed Bethel’s reputation of excellence in debate and forensics from the ground up. What she lacked in financial resources, she more than compensated for in determination, creativity and inspiration.

“Forensics coaching sessions with Mrs. Haury were dominated by the warmth of that signature smile, which made me forget just how hard she was making me work to achieve the high standards she set for me.”

“At this time of learning of Professor Haury’s death,” Born said, “it is fitting that we recall her professional life at Bethel College, and express the admiration and gratitude that many former students and colleagues will continue to have for her life of service here.

“She is remembered, her achievement is celebrated and we all continue to benefit from the tradition of excellence she helped forge.”

Haury is survived by two sons and their families: David and Rose Haury, Harrisburg, Pa., and their daughter, Emily Haury, Overland Park, and John and Carolyn Haury, Dearborn, Mich., and their children, Ruth Haury, Dearborn, and Aaron Haury, Ann Arbor, Mich. Her husband, Robert, and a grandson, Ben Haury, preceded her in death.

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