Homecoming 2009—a Living the Vision centennial gathering

A crowd gathers in Hesston Mennonite Church for homecoming chapel

“Would it advance the cause of Christ to establish a school somewhere in the West in which Bible work is made a specialty?”

Hope Weaver, Herm Weaver and sophomore Chloe Weaver sing and share during Friday morning’s Centennial Homecoming Chapel.
Hope Weaver ’09, Herm Weaver ’79, and sophomore Chloe Weaver, all of Nederland, Colo., sing and share during Friday morning’s Centennial Homecoming Chapel.

That was the query, crafted by Anna Smith King, and posed to delegates of the Mennonite Church’s Kansas-Nebraska district conference held in Cheraw, Colorado, on October 18, 1907. The answer to that question was celebrated by more than 1,000 people at Hesston College’s Centennial Homecoming Sept. 25-27.

Herm Weaver was one of the celebrants. Currently the conference minister for the Mountain States Conference of Mennonite Church USA, Weaver was back on campus to tell his story—the story of a young man who showed up at Hesston in the fall of 1977 because a high school advisor told him he should go to college.

Jen LeFevre and Jan Roth West unveil "Prairie Cloister"
Paul Friesen’s daughters, Jen (Friesen) ’84, faculty, LeFevre and Jan (Friesen) ’75 former faculty Roth West unveil Prairie Cloister. The sculpture is on permanent display in the Friesen Center for the Visual Arts.

“I watched my brother’s car leave, and I realized I was all alone. Literally,” Weaver recalled. “There were no cars in the parking lot, and no students walking around. It seemed odd. This was a college campus—I thought there would be kids here.”

Weaver found his way to the administration building, and there he discovered that he was three days early and that most prospective students register before they arrive. He hadn’t.

“For the next few days Bill Mason patiently walked me through the process of entering college,” Weaver said. By the time the other students arrived, he had completed an aptitude test, filled out a schedule of classes, and found jobs both on and off campus. “When the real students arrived, I was all set, and I almost felt like a real student myself,” he said.

Weaver and his daughters Hope, a 2009 Hesston grad, and Chloe, a sophomore, shared their dreams for Hesston College during the opening chapel service. Also introduced at the service were the newest emeritus faculty members Jim Mininger, Jake Rittenhouse, and Gerry Sieber. The Centennial sculpture by Paul Friesen, “Prairie Cloister,” was unveiled.

Paul Friesen speaks at homecoming chapel
Emeritus faculty member Paul Friesen Ac42, ’44, speaks at the unveiling of Prairie Cloister, a sculpture commissioned by Hesston College and created by Friesen to mark the college’s centennial.
Jubilee Transfer sings at the worship service
Jubilee Transfer—Calvin Yoder, Willard Yoder, Darla (Slagell) ’74 Zook, and Renee (Slagell) ’78 Almos—performed several selections at the gala and at Sunday’s worship service.

Friesen, Hesston alumnus and emeritus faculty member, was commissioned by the college to create a work of sculpture celebrating the Centennial year. He chose to work with a red cedar log because red cedar trees were some of the first trees to be planted on the campus. Of the cloister theme, Friesen said, “Each of us should yearn for a cell where in silence we can hear God’s call to a life of service, where we can begin to contemplate the richness of a servant life in the economy of God. The cloister of Hesston College has sent countless students out to serve in needy places around the world… In the silence of the cloistered cell, students are still given strength to move mountains, and when they do so, the cedars clap their hands.

Peter Wiebe speaks at the worship service
Former Interim President Peter Wiebe, also a former pastor of Hesston Mennonite Church, offered a meditation on the theme, “Back to the Future: Century II” during the Centennial Homecoming Worship Service.

“Rather than asking of others what this piece says, ask what it is calling forth from within you,” Friesen said. “Enter the silence of your cell within your cloister and breathe deeply the inspiring wind of truth which will encourage you to spread your wings, to soar with the wind of truth that sets you free.

“It is my wish, my hope, that each viewer when interacting with the prairie cloister will be challenged to seek the experience of the attributes of truth, joy, and freedom; to flow with the prairie’s tall bluestem grass as it dances freely to the rhythm and spirit of the great wind; and join the free and frolicking tumbleweed as it shares its joy and presence with all inhabiting life on God’s vast prairie, the world.”

Sisters Lana Dale and Luann Southern speak at the alumni banquet
Sisters Lana (Yoder) Dale and Luann (Yoder) Southern, both members of the Hesston College class of 1981, shared the dais at the Alumni and Friends Banquet.

Friesen received a standing ovation after his remarks, and President Howard Keim commented, “When I stand with you or one of your pieces of art, I feel I am standing on holy ground.”

Lana (Yoder) Dale and Luanne (Yoder) Southern, sisters who graduated from Hesston in 1981, returned to Hesston to share as keynote speakers atthe Saturday evening alumni banquet. “We’re not here to see through each other; we’re here to see each other through,” Dale said, summarizing their college memories and how Hesston’s emphasis on service to the church and the world has impacted their lives and careers.

Following the banquet, the Centennial Music Gala took center stage, featuring alumni from across generations, current college music groups and individuals, and the Centennial Choir. “We assembled some of the best and brightest of Hesston students and alumni for a special evening,” said Dallas Stutzman, Hesston’s vice president of Alumni and Church Relations. “We had barbershop harmony, opera, bluegrass, chorales, Ethiopian and Celtic dance, and everything in between. It was an amazing evening, and we were excited to share it with the Hesston area community and all of our guests on campus.”

The rich variety of music continued through Sunday morning’s worship service, as Tim Shue and the alumni band gathered people in, bluegrass style; followed by artist-in-residence Tony Brown’s moving rendition of “Prepare Ye the Way” from Godspell. The Centennial Alumni and Student Choir shared several numbers, as did the popular Jubilee Transfer quartet.

Peter Wiebe, former Hesston College Interim President and Hesston Mennonite Church Pastor, shared a message titled “Back to the Future: Century II.” He briefly recalled the contributions of Hesston’s eight presidents, then took a phrase from Eugene Peterson’s translation of Hebrews 12:1-2.

“Let’s get on with it,” Wiebe said. “Let’s get on with helping young people discover their talents, so that after their passion and talents work together, they become a gift to the church. We are tied to the larger vision of the church. At this place, many people are called out. That’s why we need Hesston College. Since it’s a two-year school, our students immediately become leaders. We need to get on with the original vision—help people prepare themselves for ministry.”

Herm Weaver couldn’t agree more. “Several years ago, while teaching at Eastern Mennonite University, I got a package in the mail,” he said. “It was a giant framed certificate that had my name on it and noted that I had earned a Ph.D. I sat that day in my office, remembering and giving thanks for Ernie Martin, my high school counselor, and remembering my first days at Hesston College. (I gave) thanks for such a place as this that could receive and nurture such a person as I.

“Last week found me in Southern India working on a peace-building adventure with Buddhists from Sri Lanka, Hindus from across India, and Christians from Bangladesh. I was the only American. My dream is that Hesston College would continue to be a place where a simple person like me can be welcomed totally unprepared, and nurtured, and helped to find meaning and purpose.”

“Would it advance the cause of Christ to establish a school somewhere in the West in which Bible work is made a specialty?”

Yes! For thousands of lives, and a hundred years, the answer is yes!