NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – For Gary Flory, his 19 years at the Kansas Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) at Bethel College come down to this: the chance to make a difference.
Flory retired in June as KIPCOR director. During his tenure, he saw the peacebuilding institute grow from one small room and a single person (himself) working barely halftime to a vital part of the campus and community with a staff of four in addition to senior associates and volunteers.
Flory, who has a J.D. degree from the University of Kansas and has studied conflict analysis and resolution at George Mason University, was a full-time faculty member at McPherson College when Kirsten Zerger ’73, former KIPCOR director of education and training, who was doing a needs assessment for KIPCOR, came to his office to interview him about his work in conflict resolution.
“I was teaching conflict resolution at McPherson,” Flory says. “I had a good arrangement. The administration gave me a lot of freedom and also good support.
“What I didn’t have was the chance to interact in actual conflict situations. I had practiced law long enough [15 years before going into teaching] that I missed the chance to get involved with clients. I wanted to do something else in addition to teaching.”
When Bethel decided to hire a KIPCOR director in 1998, Flory applied, and was hired. He started at “a low half-time” as the only KIPCOR staff, with his office in Richert House (now the Campus Ministries house, Agape Center) “in what used to be the parlor – there isn’t even a door.”
Eventually he moved to full-time (with Bethel paying half his salary and KIPCOR the other half), commuting from his home in McPherson five days a week.
During Flory’s tenure, KIPCOR revamped the Conflict Resolution Certificate program and established the Community Mediation Center, the Church Conflict Working Group and the Great Plains Consensus Council (GPCC).
He was key in developing multiple broad training programs for Bethel students – including one for nursing students that is unique to Bethel – as well as mid-career professionals. These are now a staple of KIPCOR’s work.
One responsibility to which Flory gave considerable attention was being principal facilitator for the GPCC, which designs and facilitates consensus building processes that support the development and implementation of public policy decisions.
Through the GPCC, which contracted with the State of Kansas, Flory worked with, among others, the Kansas Department of Transportation, the Kansas Governor’s Sub-Cabinet on Natural Resources, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the Kansas Water Office, the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts, and the Kansas Supreme Court Office of Judicial Administration.
However, because state budgets have been so cash-strapped in recent years, “all that work has dried up,” Flory says – which makes it a little easier to let go at KIPCOR.
He’s also confident he’s leaving the organization in good hands, even though a new director has yet to be hired.
“Clearly, the highlight [of my time here] has been the KIPCOR staff. I’ve had the opportunity to work with people who are very good at what they do and are committed to social justice.
“My management style is to hire people who [know what they’re doing] and let them do it. The quality of people at KIPCOR can do that – though we do have regular staff meetings, and a lot of collaboration.”
Perhaps his biggest disappointment, he says, may be Bethel’s “[not using] KIPCOR as an example of what distinguishes a Mennonite college. Especially our practice-based teaching – that is, people going out of here with some skills.”
He can’t document it for sure, but is pretty confident “Bethel was the first college in the country to have a major in restorative community justice [dropped in the program review of 2004]. We were at the front end of the curve on that, for sure,” he adds.
“When I mesh all these [experiences during my years at KIPCOR] together, I think while I was at KIPCOR, I was doing something that actually mattered,” Flory says.
“When we look back, we like to know we’ve made a difference in people’s lives. We’ve had to scramble a lot, but I think the work we’ve done has been important and we’ve made a difference.”
Among the changes he’s seen in nearly 20 years is, of course, “the scope of work we do at KIPCOR. Education is not just limited to ‘traditional’ students. We’re pretty committed to that – doing things in mid-career is very much what we’re about.
“Not unique to Bethel is how much social media has changed the landscape in which we work. It has an impact on interpersonal conflict, public policy or macro conflict, on skills students bring to class.
“We talk a lot about and spend a lot of time on how we listen and speak effectively, and kids coming to college now have not had as much practice doing that as they did 20 years ago when I started [at KIPCOR].”
For the immediate future, Flory plans to enjoy being a grandparent. He and his wife, Ann (who continues in her job as a librarian at Hutchinson Correctional Facility) are parents of three, including Todd Flory’04, and have seven grandchildren living within an hour’s drive of their home.
Flory will also have more time to give to his interests in growing trees, horticulture and woodworking.
“I’m not too worried about who will ‘replace’ me,” he says. “I was not one to micro-manage. The staff knows how to manage the programs.
“One thing we always say is ‘We do things better together than alone.’ All the years I’ve been at KIPCOR, have been the years [our friends and volunteers] have supported KIPCOR, and hope that continues in the future.”