A panel of distinguished historians talked about Hesston College and its relationship to the Mennonite Church throughout the past century at the Friday afternoon forum during the Centennial Homecoming Weekend.
Jim Juhnke, Wichita, professor emeritus of history at Bethel College who has also taught at Hesston College and authored several books and plays, moderated the discussion.
Joe Miller, pastor of Mellinger Mennonite Church, Lancaster, Pa., and the author of Beyond the Mystic Border, a centennial history of the Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston, spoke first. He said one can find an institution’s DNA in its origins. Hesston College came into being when Kansas Mennonites were very much in danger of losing their original Anabaptist theology and practice to the “radical holiness” movement. Hesston’s faculty can be credited with reintroducing the Anabaptist Mennonite perspective and preparing Mennonites to face the challenges that World War I had on their faith.
John Sharp, author of Hesston College’s Centennial history book and a history instructor at the college spoke on the influence of the Mennonite Church on the college during the administrations of Presidents Milo Kauffman, Roy Roth, and Tilman Smith. He reported that the Mennonite Board of Education ordered Kauffman to appear at the Elkhart, Ind., office to inform him he was appointed president of Hesston College. Kauffman accepted the church’s calling and led the college through the Depression and World War II during which time he encouraged the church to pay for the Civilian Public Service alternative service program.
Sharp noted that the MBE micromanaged the college during Roth’s years as president, as it tried to turn back the tide of acculturation. Smith, a public school administrator before coming to Hesston, saw enrollment grow as he determined “not to major in minors.”
Jim Mininger, director of special projects for Claremont School of Theology in California, and a former president of Lithuania Christian University and dean and interim president at Hesston College, talked about the college during the administrations of Laban Peachey, Kirk Alliman, and Loren Swartzendruber and the era in which the Mennonite Church went from being a distinctive people to a largely indistinguishable part of the low church, evangelical, Protestant middle class. He challenged Hesston College to lead in the present post-Christian age in openly prophetic ways.
Tim Burkholder, associate director of Mennonite Education Agency expressed gratitude to Hesston College for finding practical ways to serve the church.