There was work involved: writing a history book, planning Division Open Houses, directing a musical, planning meetings, organizing worship and music, submitting recipes, preparing historical monologues and, of course, teaching our classes. Yes, Hesston College faculty put in many extra hours to prepare for Centennial Weekend 2009. However, we believed it would be worth the extra effort to make this Centennial event one to remember. We were right.
On the Tuesday prior to Centennial Weekend, the faculty gathered to commemorate the “official” centennial anniversary of Hesston College; the first day of class was held on September 22, 1909. John Sharp read excerpts describing the conditions: no blackboards, camp chairs for desks, 21 students, four faculty members. Jim E. Yoder helped us look forward with renewed commitment as we figuratively raised our ebenezers, our rocks of dedication. In a circle, we sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” looking at the faces of colleagues who continue educating in the name of Christ with much the same vision, dedication, and love for students as those in 1909. It was then that I experienced my ‘Centennial Moment.” I was now part of the history of the next hundred years and had a newfound respect and appreciation for those who came before me.
During this special weekend, Hesston College faculty members encountered many ways to recognize and show our gratitude to those in our history who led the way. Through the art of Paul Friesen, the music of the restored Steinway piano, the drama depicting life for women on the prairie, we honored the rich history of Hesston College. We also celebrated our sense of community during Centennial Weekend when more than 200 current and former faculty and staff members gathered at the Faculty Staff Reunion on Saturday morning. Many decades and departments were represented as we reminisced and reconnected over coffee. A former staff member said it best when she described how wonderful it felt to see familiar faces from the past, “This must be what heaven will be like!”
As a Hesston College faculty member, I thoroughly enjoyed hosting those of you who were able to be our guests during this weekend. I hope you left campus feeling informed, entertained, inspired, and most of all, reassured that the vision and dreams of the Erb and King families, are very much alive in this “School on the Prairie” we now know as Hesston College.
Centennial Homecoming Weekend September 25-27 was a wonderful celebration. A warm thank you to those who came and those who helped make a memorable time together as a community of God’s people connected in relationship by a church institution.
As its second century begins, Hesston College faces many challenges and questions. Mennonites face sobering demographic shifts indicating an aging and in some ways disinterested constituency. The college itself is changing, becoming more regional and less Mennonite. In 2009-10 Hesston College has more Kansas students and a lower percentage of U.S. Mennonite students (48) than in any year of it’s history. The challenge is to adapt to serve the new diverse representation while retaining the core Anabaptist values that are critical to us as followers of Christ.
Advocacy on behalf of the college, prayers for it’s well being, and financial contributions to sustain its efforts from Hesston’s alumni and friends are even more essential to provide the opportunities we experienced at Hesston for the next generation of students who will then go out in service to the church and the world.