Campus News

Hundreds travel to make history on Bethel’s stage

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Thousands traveled from all over the United States on Oct. 25 to celebrate the anniversary of Bob Ham’s 25 years here at Bethel College. Spanning a quarter of a century, the Everest-Rohrer Auditorium exceeded capacity. People were turned away at the doors and sent to the Weaver Rotunda and Sufficient Grounds Café where the concert was streamed live. Emotions ran high all evening—beginning with laughter from the evening’s host Dr. Shawn Holtgren, a 1995 alumnus. Lyrics from favorite songs sung throughout the college’s history were changed to incorporate the infamous choir inside jokes, trips, truths and, of course, phrases from Ham’s directing. The current choir performed, as well as the ensemble Voices of Triumph—a jazz a cappella group—and, finally, the complete alumni choir reunion. Alumni embraced the opportunity to perform on Bethel’s stage once again. “I thought I was done—that I had already sang in my last concert,” said recent graduate Christian Wegener. “To have this again is amazing.” Mark and Amber Schwing, 1993a alumni, returned for a couple of reasons. “Seeing people you haven’t seen in years is amazing," said Mark Schwing. "We have friends from Washington State that flew out here to sing tonight. If I had to weigh my reasoning … I would say I came back 40 percent for the people here and 60 percent for Bob Ham.” Amber Schwing felt a little differently. “I would say a much bigger percentage was to come for Bob and be a part of this celebration," she said. "Talk about just … such a man of grace and a man that walks with God.” Holtgren soberly reflected on the moment while hosting the event. “I don’t think people realize that history was made here tonight,” he said. “Not just a choir director being here for 25 years. Over a third of all the students he’s ever taught here came back for this. A third of a professor’s students coming back. It’s unheard of.” The echoing sounds of famous songs from the past were not the main reason many decided to stand on stage again. As former choir member Andrea Deloins put it, she couldn’t help but come. “This is a family,” said Deloins. “And when it becomes a part of you, it’s takes up a place in your heart and then you’re separated from it for this long time. But it calls you back. And even if we weren’t here singing tonight I would have come just to see everyone be able to talk to them and hug them. That’s more than I could ask for.” Family seemed to be a resounding theme that described the choir ensemble, from first-year members to the 20-year alumni. “Bob has been a father figure to every one of us,” said Mark Schwing. “He’s not just a director; he’s been a counselor, a mentor, a friend and such a personal figure in my life to me and my wife.” Deloins said, “I was standing next to complete strangers tonight, but it felt like I was singing with people I’ve known my entire life." Moa Son is in her fifth year at the school, but experienced her first time in choir at the concert. “I watched the choir for the past four years in awe, and finally decided to try it out," said Son. "I can’t explain what an honor it’s been just for this short amount of time to be a part of this. It’s an honor to know Bob and Marilynn. Even if you don’t sit down and talk to them one-on-one, you know them and they know you." Amber Schwing agreed. “He remembers everyone," she said. "Every single person and there are hundreds of us up there. Hundreds of us. And he wants to make sure he gets to talk to every single person.” Holtgren said, “He impacts lives, sharing this experience that bonds people together creating a family.” From across the Midwest, to the East Coast of Carnegie Hall, churches in the South and right back here at Bethel, this family brought the audience near and far to their feet. The reminiscing, tears, applause, photos and laughter wrapped up as Ham gave his signature wave after inviting all former choir members onstage to sing his favorite piece to introduce: the “Hallelujah Chorus.” “There’s not enough that I can say to describe what this has been like,” said Son. “Just to be in Bob’s presence and know everything his family has done for this school is a blessing. There aren’t words that I can find. The vocabulary does not exist to describe Bob Ham.”
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