Editor’s note: Rev. Don Conrad, Ph.D. ’50, a beloved Bethel alumnus and professor, went to be with the Lord Mon., May 22, 2017. A visitation will be held at Bethel College on Thurs., May 25 from 5-8 p.m. in the Everest-Rohrer Chapel/Fine Arts Center. A funeral service will be held Fri., May 26 at 10 a.m. (with visitation one hour prior to the service) at Chapel Hill Funeral Home (10776 McKinley Highway, Osceola, Ind.).

Dr. Conrad was the first graduate to have completed all coursework at Bethel College. Below is his first-person reflection on his life at Bethel, published in the fall 2007 issue of Bethel Magazine and reposted in remembrance.

In 2007, Don Conrad (front, center) stands surrounded by his children and grandchildren (including in-laws) who are Bethel graduates. Since this photo, even more grandchildren have graduated from Bethel!

by Don Conrad as told to Joy Noel Lightcap and A. P. Wagler

Don Conrad in 2007

Don Conrad’s college portrait

I started as a Bethel student in 1947. I had just gotten out of the Navy and been admitted to another college. However, that summer I attended Prairie Camp and was approached by Vernon Yousey and Ray Pannabecker. They asked me to consider going to a school they were starting that fall, so I packed my bags.

My sister was one of the first three students to register. I was number 21. Because of help from the GI bill, I was able to join the 92 other students for only $425 for that year—that included room, board and tuition. Of course, to the dismay of some students, board consisted partly of canned goods provided by local churches.

I practically majored in ping-pong while taking 20 credit hours of classes per semester so I could finish my requirements in three years. We also played baseball, softball and football on the president’s front lawn, where the McDonalds restaurant is now located. 

And then there was track. Stanley Taylor, our physical education instructor, converted some of the original horse bridle trails into a two-mile track course and we almost killed ourselves running it because we weren’t in any shape to do so.

Our music professor, David Hoover, put together a men’s glee club, which consisted of about 17 fellows. Over the spring break of 1948, we went on a whirlwind tour around Michigan singing in 21 services in 10 days. We looked pretty sharp in our black suits and ties, even the time we rushed from Detroit to Brown City and got stuck in the mud and had to push in our suits.

By 1950, the student body had grown to 200, so there was an urgency to create more space. Thus began construction of the second and third floors of the administration building. I was part of the crew that prepared that building and was pleased years later to also work on the construction of Oakwood Residential Hall. 

In those early years, student organization was huge. We formed clubs, such as the photo club, the radio club, the missions and ministerial clubs, an ambassadors club and we wrote a constitution for the student body. We also started the Beacon – our student newspaper – and competed to sell the most subscriptions. We sold 750 that first year to people in the churches and community curious about the new school.

Don and Ruth Conrad at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration held at Bethel.

The most popular hangout in town was just down the street, the White Spot restaurant. We weren’t allowed to buy anything on Sundays but sometimes a fellow got hungry. One Monday morning, I received a slip in my mailbox from President Woodrow Goodman. My only demerit. It seems I had been caught at the White Spot the previous night grabbing a meal without permission.

When I returned to Bethel as a faculty member in 1962, I saw it as a real ministry opportunity. As one of 25 full-time faculty members, we all had to fill multiple roles. For quite awhile, I was teaching three or four classes while working as the registrar and the director of admission. Faculty members went out speaking in churches, and student gospel teams traveled promoting what Bethel was doing. Even my dear wife, Ruth, became involved in the Women’s Auxiliary to promote the school and help raise financial support.

Three generations of Bethel graduates pose at commencement in May 2015. Left to right: Andrew Conrad ’07, ’15; Don Conrad, Ph.D., ’50; and Gregg Conrad ’81, ’05.

A good education is just the beginning of what Bethel has given me through the years. I also spent 35 years as a faculty member. My children attended and most found their mates here. At present, there are third–generation Conrad students. To this day, our family gathers together every Sunday and I credit Bethel for much of that continued closeness.

As long as the Bethel community remains true to the original mission of the founders, we will survive as a Christian college. It is critical that we have people like those currently in administration who are determined to keep this place on fire for the Lord. Though enrollment has grown, the spirit of the school remains the same. It is the community I joined back in 1947 and the one I hold dear to my heart today.