1950s Graduates Lay Physical and Spiritual Foundation at Bethel

Year: 1957
Enrollment: 282
Majors Offered: Bible, Biblical literature, Christian Education, Education, English, History, Music, Speech
Major accomplishments: Construction of Goodman Gymnasium and Shupe Hall

Don and Alice Severence during their college years

Don and Alice (Sahmel) Severance in their college yearsDon Severance ’57 felt God’s call on his life at the young age of 15. It was a memorable summer day at one of his favorite places: the pitching mound of the softball field at Brown City Camp in Brown City, Mich. Between every pitch he threw, he felt in his heart the simple question: “Will you preach my gospel?”

He answered that call by coming  to Bethel in 1950 to study biblical literature and  Greek. At that time, Bethel was a growing campus, still in its earliest years as an institution. New buildings were being erected, laying the foundation for the Bethel College that exists today. In his seven years at Bethel, Don would witness the construction of the Huffman Administration Building, Goodman Gymnasium and Shupe Hall — three buildings that are still fundamental to Bethel’s campus today. In fact, Don, along with other students enrolled at the time, played a major role in this process, volunteering countless hours to help with construction.

Huffman Administration Building under construction in the 1950s.

Huffman Administration Building under construction in the 1950s.

“The lawn that you see in front of the [Huffman Administration] building, I did. Long hours of labor doing that … No machines to do it; we did it by hand. And I’m proud of the fact that it looks really smooth today,” he says.

Don also helped lay the first timbers on the roof of Goodman Gymnasium, a structure foreshadowing Bethel’s eventual involvement in athletics. (Intercollegiate teams still did not exist at Bethel, and just three intramural teams were representing the Pilots in 1957). Don assisted in constructing the original helm — the iconic monument embodying the college motto: With Christ at The Helm.

It was also at Bethel that Don met his wife, Alice (Sahmel) Severance ‘52.  Alice was a history major, with minors in both Bible and music. The two courted under Bethel’s 1950s dating regulations: double dates only, with the ladies being picked up at the door of the women’s residence hall under the watchful eye of the dean of women: Frances Shupe (for which Shupe Hall is named).


Students volunteer to help build the Goodman Auditorium (now known as the Goodman Gym)

Remarkably, Don managed to volunteer his time for construction at Bethel while working full time throughout his college years, taking 12 credit hours a semester. Due to his ambitious work schedule, Don had to take private tutorials with faculty members to fulfill his class requirements, including a memorable private Greek tutorial with Dr. J.A. Huffman, where, instead of translating one verse into Greek (like he had to do in class), he had to translate entire passages (as the only student).

It was not merely the physical foundation or academic traditions that were laid by Bethel’s early students, but the spiritual foundation as well. Held in the basement of today’s Huffman Administration Building, campus revival meetings cultivated a Christ-centered spirit on campus that was promoted by the close-knit community of both students and faculty. It permeated from that small space to every part of the institution, becoming a legacy that has been maintained by the Bethel community: a focus on spirited fellowship and Christian education.

Don and Alice Severence, visiting campus in 2016.

Don and Alice Severance, visiting campus in 2016.

More than 60 years later, Don recollects the profound impact of these events.

“The power of the Holy Spirit was evident in those meetings that were held … and that spirit continued through many years … there was both a joyous and a solemn respect for God that was evidenced in those early days that I think probably still has prevailed later.”

Alice further stresses the preservation of what had been planted during Bethel’s first years. “I believe that is the only reason that Bethel is continuing — because of the spiritual emphasis.”

To this day, Don and Alice have maintained strong connections with Bethel. Four of the Severance’s five children attended Bethel: Valinda (Severance) Colyer ’74, David ’77, Phillip (attended ’77-’78) and Carol ’84. The Severances regularly attend Bethel sporting events, the annual Christmas concert and the Bethel College Theater Department productions, among other events. Recently, the two attended Bethel’s Hoops and Hotdogs event, and they fittingly won the door prize for the night!

When asked what words of wisdom the two might have for current Bethel students walking the path they once walked, Alice smiles, and simply says, “Keep Jesus.”

Don adds, “Many people come to a college for wisdom, and that’s good. But the fear of the Lord, or the respect for God — his house, his word — is the beginning of wisdom.”

The Severances used their education at Bethel to faithfully serve the Missionary Church for over 50 years, dedicating their time and ministry to more than 10 churches throughout the United States.