An insider’s look into a new book on Bethel: “With Christ at the Helm: The Story of Bethel College”
Any institution or organization has a history. Therefore, it’s typical for members to desire to document its history. That story is no different here at Bethel; members of the college have wanted to document the interesting and diverse history of Bethel for many years, and within the past few years, that dream has become a reality. In order to make it a reality, someone who is extremely close and special to the Bethel community took it upon himself to research and write about Bethel's history. Dennis Engbrecht, professor of history at Bethel College, is the individual who has taken on the massive undertaking of collecting all of Bethel's history into one book. Engbrecht was probably the best person for the job due to his extensive history at Bethel, as well as, as anyone who knows him will tell you, he has a great love for the Bethel community. "I've got a long history with the college; my father came here in 1951, then I came in ’67,” said Engbrecht. “My two sisters went here, and my father served on the school board, so there's a family connection to the college. I'm also simply connected because I love the school. This is really a labor a love in many regards.” After asking him about his connection to Bethel, I asked Engbrecht to begin sharing the background of the book. "The college had a history written in 1970 as part of a doctoral dissertation,” he said, “and so it was due time for an updated history, and it will need another one in 20-25 years.” Engbrecht went on about the process of gathering information. "I started to do some research and I had students in research methods with me so they'd do research on the college as a part of their class; this was as far back as 10-15 years ago," he stated. Aside from having spent a large portion of his life studying Bethel and working at Bethel, the actual writing of the book was a project brought about by a past president. "Dr. Cramer, in his last year as president, about four years ago, commissioned me to write this book,” recalled Engbrecht. “He wrote me a contract for it. And so that's when I started in earnest to research (and) write it right. And so for the last three and a half years this is what I've been doing. I would say a concerted effort has really been the last three years or so.” Although Engbrecht has been the main individual writing and researching for this book, according to him, there has been a variety of individuals contributing to the effort. "I've had a lot of assistance from a lot of different people. I've had eight different proofreaders who have read the whole thing,” he said. “I'm more of a researcher than I am a writer, so I wanted to make sure that I had good people proofing it, which I have." Some individuals who've had a part in the writing of the book have had some connection with Bethel, or Engbrecht knew them personally. "Kevin Blowers, Tim Erdel, Maralee Crandon, Janice Bridges, Albert Beutler, Steve Aldrige, Jerry Jenkins and George Marsden," were a few of the individuals he mentioned in the interview. Aside from specific individuals associated with Bethel, there also has been a small group of students from Bethel who've played a role in the editing process. Jennifer Ochstein, assistant professor of writing, literature and language, has been the main individual heading up this student run editing process. She teaches an editing private tutorial, and has given her students the opportunity to read through a portion of Engbrecht's book and edit it. "We are currently looking at the introduction, chapter one and chapter two. We're mostly working on copy editing issues and readability," Ochstein stated. Aside from the obvious fact that having part in the editing process of this historical book, having the chance as students to interact with a "real-life" manuscript is something that is extremely valuable. "They get the experience of the part of the process before it actually goes to publication,” said Ochstein. “Editors at an in-house publishing house would be doing this kind of thing, and working with the writer as to how to make the piece as readable as possible. So in that way, I think it's so valuable for the students to actually have the opportunity to have this real manuscript that this real writer and historian has been working on for the college.” Along with the amazing opportunity the book has given her and her students, Ochstein also shared how wonderful she feel the entire project is. "I just think it's really exciting that Dr. Engbrecht is exploring the history of Bethel College,” she said. “To sort of give a big overarching understanding and cultural understanding just gives you a whole new perspective on the college itself and that's just a blessing. Although there's been a variety of individuals helping add grammatical input and historical data, eventually a concise outline for the book was able to be made. "It begins with the background,” Engbrecht stated, “every Bethel presidential administration throughout the years, then there's three additional chapters: one that deals with the spiritual aspect of the college, another that deals with athletics, and then the final chapter discuses Bethel's journey towards diversity. As the book obviously involves a large portion of Bethel and will obviously be of large interest to many individuals, I asked how soon the book will be completed as well as where one would be able to purchase or find the book. "I'm finished writing with the manuscript,” said Engbrecht. “Now it'll go through two editorial processes; a developmental editor will come in a look at it and then there's a copy editor for typos and such. Along with that, David Cramer, a Bethel graduate who works for Beacon Publishing, has also formatted the whole thing for me. So it's really ready to go to the publisher.” As far as what will happen to the book once it's published, Engbrecht shared that it will be available in a variety of manners. "It'll be in the bookstore,” he said. “A lot of this also depends on how Dr. Chenoweth wants to use it; he sees it as a promotional tool.” Although a direct date for the release of Engbrecht's new book was not mentioned, simply knowing that something extremely historical such as this project is occurring here at Bethel is exciting. No matter where one stands in regards to their views on Bethel's history or current state, understanding the social and cultural history of Bethel is sure to enlighten anyone. In order to understand who we are and where we could likely end up, we must begin with where we have been. It is for this reason that having the opportunity to read or write a book on Bethel's history truly is valuable.