President's Banquet


Distinguished alumni, donors recognized

BLUFFTON, Ohio—Bluffton University presented alumni awards on Oct. 4 to two distinguished graduates who said Bluffton has given them much more as well.

William Herr, a 1961 alumnus, received the Lifetime Service Award at the President’s Banquet on Homecoming Saturday, while Bethny (Ricks ’06) Brown accepted the Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

In addition, the university recognized donors for their charitable giving, and Bluffton President Dr. James M. Harder outlined several donor-supported projects, including one that will fund enhancements to Salzman Stadium.

Herr’s award honors alumni who have dedicated their lives to heartfelt service to people, community or church. The recipient “has made a difference in the lives of others,” noted Joe Sehlhorst, president of the Bluffton University Alumni Association, reading from the award description. “That fits Bill Herr to a ‘T,’” he added.

Herr has followed 30-plus years as a high school teacher with 18 years—and counting—as chaplain at Bluffton’s Mennonite Memorial Home. He taught mathematics at Bluffton High School for nearly 20 years after 11 years at Riverdale, where he taught physics as well. A math major and physics minor at Bluffton, he holds master’s degrees in teaching from Bowling Green State University and in religion communication from United Theological Seminary in Dayton. He and his wife, Gloria, have also farmed for 44 years just outside Bluffton.

Referring to the university’s biblically based motto, “The Truth Makes Free,” Herr said he believes it means that “if we are obedient to Jesus, his perfect truth will set us free to make us everything God wants us to be.” Seeking truth means following in Jesus’ footsteps, which requires service, he continued, and “the university has always encouraged students to follow this path.”

Representing the second of three generations of Bluffton alumni in his family, Herr cited people and spiritual experiences as among his biggest influences as a student.

Drs. Luther Shetler and J. Richard Weaver, now professors emeriti of mathematics and physics and chemistry, respectively, were “master teachers,” said Herr.    

He also recalled attending chapel in Ramseyer Auditorium, and the impact of speakers such as Frank Laubach, a missionary who developed literacy programs used worldwide.

The Outstanding Young Alumni Award recognizes a graduate from the preceding 10 years who is either distinguished through service or has made significant professional contributions.

Brown, this year’s recipient, is executive human resources director at the Marysville, Ohio, headquarters of Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. She majored in sociology and criminal justice at Bluffton, but became interested in human resources through her work during college with a construction company and, after graduation, with a law firm. En route to Scotts Miracle-Gro, she held HR positions at Bluffton’s DTR Industries; Gap Inc., where she supported all domestic and international call centers and distribution centers; and Express Inc., as senior HR generalist with responsibilities in the eastern U.S.

Brown’s “commitment to helping others is at the forefront of her work,” said Sehlhorst, adding that she also volunteers at her church, in her community and at Bluffton, on mock interview nights for students.

Noting that she changed her major after starting college, Brown said she appreciated that “Bluffton provided me the leeway to figure it out.” She expressed gratitude, too, for several faculty and staff members, including current professors Perry Bush (history) and Jeff Gundy (English). Of Gundy, she said “I had a love for writing, but he taught me to write well.”

Also as a student, she learned about servant leadership and “how to be a voice and not an echo.” Her parents had introduced her to servant leadership, and “Bluffton watered that seed,” she explained. She described being “a voice and not an echo” as “a platform for being who I want to be”—someone who keeps ethics at the forefront of her work in the corporate world.

“It makes my heart glad that I can say I graduated from Bluffton,” she said.

The Alumni Association Board of Directors chooses the award recipients from nominations submitted by alumni, faculty and friends of the university.

Also during the evening:

  • President Harder and Dr. Hans Houshower, vice president for advancement, recognized donors for their annual and lifetime contributions to the university. Thirty-six new members of the President’s Society—annual contributors of at least $1,000—were recognized along with 21 members of the Heritage Society, which includes donors with lifetime giving of $25,000 and more. Special recognition went to Tom ’58 and Helen Reichenbach, Bethesda, Md., and Greg ’77 and Donna Wannemacher, Lima, Ohio, for surpassing lifetime giving levels of $500,000 and $250,000, respectively.

    Houshower thanked donors for contributing $2.7 million to the university during the 2013-14 fiscal year, including more than $1.1 million for the Bluffton Fund. That fund supports the total educational program and student financial aid.
  • Harder discussed several projects that have received donor support “above and beyond” the Bluffton Fund, including one that aims to replace the turf, upgrade the track and add lights at Salzman Stadium.

    About $450,000 has now been raised privately for the $1 million Alumni Field project, which includes replacement of the stadium’s grass field with FieldTurf, lined for soccer as well as football; resurfacing of the stadium track and field event areas; and installation of lights for night usage.

    The alumni-initiated project is expected to dramatically increase the stadium’s use not only by intercollegiate athletic programs—for some baseball, cross country and softball practices, in addition to football and men’s and women’s soccer and track and field—but also by students in intramurals.

    FieldTurf provides greater flexibility for use by multiple teams and intramurals during all seasons and inclement weather, and would reduce annual maintenance costs. The resurfaced eight-lane track and field event areas would allow Bluffton to host the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference meet. Adding lights would enable the stadium to host high school games and expand opportunities for use by Bluffton students in intercollegiate athletics and intramurals.

    Organizers hope to reach the $1 million goal by next March 31 so the planned improvements can be in place for the fall 2015 sports season.

Other donor-supported projects cited by the president included the new Collaborative MBA program—a joint initiative with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College—and the “Swords to Plowshares” children’s book recently published by The Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center. He also noted that initial concept planning is underway for a new science building to support growing enrollment and program expansion.