Giving Back: Opening Students’ Eyes to World-Class Theatre
When John Gardner first retired from his career in accounting and finance in the early 2000s, he decided he should develop an interest in Shakespeare. So, he and his wife, Therese, attended a play at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. The next year, they went back and began going each year after that — staying for a week or more to see all the festival had to offer.
The Gardners were so impressed with the production quality and professional acting that they thought it would be a wonderful educational opportunity for Bethel students.
John, who has served on Bethel’s Board of Trustees since 2007, spoke with Theatre Department Chair Richard Young about the possibility. With funding from the Gardners, The Stratford Experience launched in the summer of 2013. It gives students the opportunity to visit the festival for a week of world-class performances, backstage tours and workshops. Students submit an application, which the Gardners review, and the only cost to those selected is their passport and food during the trip.
“It started as something nice to do for Bethel students,” says Therese. “But we get a lot out of it. The students are top-notch, and we’ve seen them apply the knowledge gained from the experience.”
Though neither of the Gardners are Bethel alumni, they’ve developed a love for the college through meeting so many Bethel faculty, staff and alumni at their church, St. Mark Missionary in Mishawaka, Ind.
“All the people we’ve met associated with Bethel are great people,” John says. “Bethel is producing graduates who are making a difference in their fields.”
The Gardners choose to give to Bethel because they know their gifts make a direct impact.
“We could give to IU — I graduated from there — but we give to Bethel because of the people,” John says. “It’s a small college, and we can make a difference here.”
The Gardners have given to a number of specific projects on campus, but John says that usually they desire their gifts to go where they are most needed. They encourage others to give to Bethel, too.
This summer, the Gardners are looking forward to investing in the lives of 15-16 students who will go with them on the Stratford Experience to see a dozen shows, among them “Carousel” and “Sound of Music.”