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2016, vol. 70

A Boat in a Tree; Limestone, Hedge, Prairie: Robert S. Kreider and the Fidelity of Place

by Brad S. Born

Brad S. Born is professor of English at Bethel College.

Editor’s note: The following essay is the text from an oral presentation presented by Brad Born at the opening plenary session of the 2016 Mennonite Higher Education Faculty Conference, a binennial conference that gathers the chief academic officers and representative faculty from all of the Mennonite institutions of higher education in Canada and the United States. The 2016 conference was hosted by Bethel College and Hesston College May 25-27, 2016. Together with the Mennonite Education Agency, the Marpeck Fund established by Robert S. Kreider and his brother Gerald Kreider in 1992 has been a coequal partner in funding this conference series, as well as funding the annual gathering of the North American “Marpeck Deans,” and the Marpeck endowment continues to provide financial support for faculty collaboration across these Mennonite higher education institutions, through mini-grants administered directly by the institutions’ academic deans. The photographic images of limestone, Osage Orange hedge trees, and prairie that accompanied the spoken presentation are not included here.

Welcome to Bethel College, and to central Kansas. For those of you who are first-timers here, let me share a couple of remarks about our state from some native Kansans. “Love a place like Kansas and you can be content in a garden of raked sand.” So says the central character in a Wichita-based novel by Earl Thompson (qtd in Heat-Moon 176). Or, as the book-stack graffiti discovered by a University of Kansas librarian puts it, “Living in Kansas is a contradiction” (qtd in Heat-Moon 180).

Although those comments say something true about the self-deprecating humor of many Kansans, they offer little insight into the realities of this place—which, like any place, merits our attention to detail and our appreciation for particularity.

Poets and naturalists have long known the importance of really seeing the particular forms present before us. The Victorian, Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called this God-created singularity “inscape,” which he first saw as a boy in an ash tree, which held, in Hopkins’ words, “its most simple and beautiful oneness up from the ground” (Journals 215).

Trappist monk Thomas Merton echoed Hopkins when he wrote, “The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like [God]. . . . No two created beings are exactly alike. And their individuality is no imperfection. On the contrary, the perfection of each created thing is not merely in its conformity to an abstract type but in its own individual identity with itself. . . . (29-30).

Merton’s fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry invokes that same philosophical tradition when he writes that “Love is never abstract. It does not adhere to the universe or the planet or the nation or the institution or the profession, but to the singular sparrows of the street, the lilies of the field, ‘the least of these thy brethren’” (200).

Or, as Annie Dillard puts it, when writing in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek of her mystical experience in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, when she saw a backyard cedar tree “transfigured” in light: “I never saw a tree that was no tree in particular” (81).

Robert S. Kreider belongs in that company of Christian mystics fully attuned to spiritual wonder because they are first attentive to the particularity of people and place. Listen to how Bob expressed his love for Bluffton College’s “wooded campus on the banks of the Little Riley [Creek],” which he had learned to love as a child, then returned to as adult when he took a teaching position there: “I recognized individual trees as old friends: a giant hackberry along the creek, a sugar maple near Krehbiel Bridge, a beech along the drive to College Hall, a dogwood by the library—good friends, all” (CH 11). After serving as a professor then academic dean, at his inauguration as Bluffton president Bob again echoed Hopkins’ inscape when he told the audience: “When we speak of a creative encounter with the particular we mean approaching with reverence and seriousness that subject in all its beauty and deformity” (LB 81).

Bob’s autobiographical writing is marked by such fidelity to places. From his childhood Bob remembered three places, all connected by the Lincoln Highway, U.S. Route 30: the Sterling, Illinois farm of his birth; Goshen, Indiana, from Bob’s toddler years, when his father taught Bible at Goshen College; and Bluffton, Ohio, where his father taught at the college then pastored a church, and where Bob spent most of his childhood and adolescence (MEY 17). Born in 1919, Bob was only two years old when his father began teaching at Goshen College, and he traced his earliest memories of neighborhood to the 1100 block of Eighth Street in Goshen, where next door north of the Kreiders lived the college’s Latin and Greek teacher, E.J. Zook and family, including daughter Mary Ruth whose play house was off limits to boys, a strike against her, but who promised to never serve tomato soup, a pledge that so charmed little Bob that he announced his plans to marry her. Next door south lived the Gerigs, and it was by their back door that Bob first witnessed the slaughter of chickens, a bloody enterprise performed—perhaps tellingly—by the academic dean, Dan Gerig (MEY 115).

After Goshen temporarily closed in 1923, caught in modernist/fundamentalist crossfire, Bob’s father received teaching offers from Hesston, Bethel, and Bluffton colleges, and was offered a return appointment to Goshen upon its reopening in the fall of 1924. He chose Bluffton, first commuting, then in 1926 moving the family there. The Bluffton area would thus become a powerful place in Bob’s formation. Of their first rental house on Spring Street, Bob fondly recalled the Little Riley that flowed at the lower end of the lot, “with its trees, thickets, muskrat holes, a mighty river flowing over a bed of limestone” (MEY 139). Another house, at the corner of Jackson and Vine, held even more memories. The sugar pear tree in the backyard, the chicken coop by the alley where the Musselmans raised rabbits, and out front the smoothest sandstone sidewalk, perfect for roller skating (LB 239). The college’s hip-roofed, barn-framed gym was the place where Bob first heard a large chorus sing Handel’s “Messiah,” which he recalled in all its incarnated glory: “Ah, the mingled sensory memories of that space: the sweaty aroma of locker rooms, the sound of pounding feet on the basketball floor, the glorious strains of the Hallelujah Chorus” (MEY 141). Beyond the town’s boundaries, abandoned limestone quarries filled with spring water offered many a swimming hole. And in the wooded places surrounding Bluffton Bob earned his merit badge in forestry, collecting the leaves and buds of every species of tree, even a rare Ginkgo. Between two beech trees just west of campus on the Cyrus Schumacher farm, Bob and his brother Gerald and friends built a grand tree house, complete with cellar window and pot-belly stove—a tree house once visited and praised by E.G. Kaufman, who would years later be serving as President of Bethel College when Bob arrived as a freshman in 1935, when the family made another move and Bob’s father began teaching here (MEY 163-64).

Because his father was attending a church conference in California when the family made the move, 16-year-old Bob was allowed to do most of the driving from Ohio, so he was at the wheel of the family’s new Ford V-8 when they entered Kansas on U.S. Highway 50 along the Santa Fe railroad line through the Flint Hills, experiencing then a first love for that region that would last a lifetime. He described that first sighting of tallgrass prairie this way: “all around us limitless space, wide horizons, big sky country. This to us was, wow, the West” (LB 286).

In that same essay, Bob’s description of arriving to Newton and to Bethel’s campus captures his typical response to place, with both honesty and wonder. Recalling that he brought with him lofty expectations of a wonderland, he remarks: “But no garden spot did we find. The campus was dry, brown, dusty, and hot. . . . People were still talking of the dust storms of that spring and Black Sunday . . . when the sky was dark like the night.” Even so, he goes on: “And yet we liked it. We delighted in this place. . . (LB 286).

Decades later, when Bob returned to central Kansas to work at Bethel, and then lived his final 40 plus years here, he nurtured a deep love for the Great Plains, especially the tallgrass prairies of the Flint Hills. He would write often about his place on the Great Plains, and it was one such rumination in the summer of 2014 that seeded the idea for our theme at this conference. The subject line of his email to me that summer day was “an awakening.” In his attached essay he wondered whether Mennonite institutions of higher education might awaken to a greater educational, ecological sense of place. In his closing paragraph he asked: “Is there not an invitation, wherever one is placed, to see one’s locale as one of particular worth to be sought and treasured?” In gathering here, we accept Bob’s invitation.

If Bob could be with us tonight, he would invite each of you to sing a hymn for your place, which for Bob would mean first to really see it. And he would suggest that such perception makes demands of us. As he noted in a 1978 newspaper piece he called a “Hymn for Kansas”: “Driving west [across Kansas] in late June is not a monotonous test of endurance across a flat surface of boredom,” he wrote. “It is a journey of infinite delights for those with eyes to see and the senses to receive” (LB 173).

As is evident in that quotation, Bob loved both to travel and to live in place; his was a mind that wandered to explore out-there possibilities, even as it delighted in the present-here. Bob could hold together both sight and vision, faithful perception and fanciful projection. An image of that bi-focal capacity comes from a story told by Bob’s daughter Joan at his memorial service this past January, when she described the boat in the tree in the back yard of the family’s home next to Bluffton’s nature preserve, just a stone’s throw from the swinging bridge over the Big Riley Creek. When I asked Bob’s son David for more details about that childhood playhouse, his first comment was, “Dad had lots of zany ideas, lots of creativity.” When a wooden rowboat washed up on shore during a spring flood on the Big Riley, Bob thought it was just the thing to put in a tree, so there it went, becoming both a fixed memory of home for his children, and for me an emblem of Bob’s dual vision, seeing the sacred inscape of particular place, even while envisioning possibilities elsewhere. That boat had washed down the Big Riley from somewhere, and that same waterway, in Bob’s words, “flowed on a thousand miles to the great ocean” (CH 51). In that boat in a tree, one was both at home, in place, and restless.

For someone who could be so rooted in his sense of place, Bob was an avid traveler, across both geographical land and conceptual space. Let me offer a very condensed itinerary of his wanderings.

In the summer of 1936, right after his college freshman year, he and brother Gerald hired on with the Chrysler Motor Company to drive a new DeSoto sedan from Detroit to San Francisco (MEY 222-23). He spent the next summer in a Quaker work camp in Appalachia (MEY 225-229). In the summer of ’38 he worked at an International Voluntary Service for Peace camp near an English Shropshire mining town, from which he also hitchhiked and rode bike across the continent, including through Germany, where he encountered swastika flags and uniformed Hitler Youth cycling and hiking (MEY 229-239).

Following his graduation from Bethel in 1939, Bob spent two years at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Drafted in the spring of 1941 as he was completing his M.A. in social ethics, Bob, still just 22 years old, took a leadership position with Mennonite Central Committee’s newly created educational program in Civilian Public Service camps for conscientious objectors. Bob served first at CPS camp #5 near Colorado Springs, Colorado, then at Akron, Pennsylvania headquarters. In 1943, an ill-fated mission for Bob to work in China alongside the American Friends Service Committee was aborted, but not before he had embarked on a ship that took him through the Panama Canal, months of delay in Cape Town, then on a return voyage with naval escort, with a stop and fleeting romance in Rio de Janeiro, and harbor in Guantanamo Bay (MEY 323-351). Back in the U.S. and with MCC, Bob then spent 1944-46 in the CPS hospital section, working with other peace church pioneers in the emerging mental health profession (MEY 353-393).

When the war ended and President Truman authorized American relief agencies to work in Europe, Bob went to Germany and spent 1946-49 as an administrator of relief efforts, while also laying the groundwork for MCC’s mission to rescue Russian Mennonite refugees in peril inside the Soviet zone (MEY 409). Bob loved the MCC Jeep Willy on which he put tens of thousands of kilometers while tooling about Germany and beyond. In a letter home he wrote, “I am developing an attachment to this jeep. It does 15 miles to the gallon and purrs along at 60 miles an hour” (MEY 445). Outside of Stuttgart he rolled that Jeep, suffering only bruises and a gashed hand when thrown from it. Months later, when giving Bob Zigler, leader of the Church of the Brethren, a ride out of the British zone, he rolled the Jeep again, again without serious injury (MEY 457-58).

While in Europe Bob began doctoral study at the University of Basel in 1948, but chose to return to the University of Chicago, where he completed his Ph.D. in history in three years, then took a teaching position at Bluffton in 1952. He would spend the next twenty-four years there, as professor, academic dean, and president, before making another journey back to Kansas, where at Bethel he was a professor of peace studies, director of the Mennonite Library and Archives, editor of the Mennonite Life journal, and served a stint as interim academic dean.

For most of those 40 plus final years, Bob was pleased to live on a remnant farmstead just west of campus, literally on the Chisholm Trail where cowboys once drove cattle up from the Red River valley of Texas through Newton and on to the railhead in Abilene, from there to be shipped to cattle yards in Kansas City, Chicago, and beyond. Much as he had loved his house in the woods on the Big Riley, next to a waterway to the world, he loved being on a farm place on the Chisholm Trail—at home, but a traveler.

For the remainder of my presentation, I want to ruminate on three features of this place, Bethel College, and our place in Kansas and the Great Plains: limestone, Osage Orange hedge trees, and prairie.


One. Limestone underlay the Little Riley that Bob played in as child in Bluffton, the quarry pits in which he swam. At the house on the Big Riley he laid limestone walkways. In Kansas, one of his beloved places was Teter Rock, a slab of limestone on a high promontory of the Flint Hills.

Two. Flint Hills limestone is at the very center of Bethel’s campus, the 1888 cornerstone and building material for the first Mennonite college structure to be erected in North America, and in front of this Administration Building, a threshing stone, fashioned from limestone in 1874, when newly arrived Russian Mennonite wheat farmers duplicated the threshing implements familiar to them from their former home in the Ukraine.

In choosing to make the threshing stone or thresher its mascot, Bethel chooses a very singular story, unique among all the Mennonite migrations to North America. Only here in central Kansas, in only four counties, did a single group of immigrants fashion these stones, for only one year, from a single source, the Ft. Riley limestone strata in the Flint Hills. I love the singularity of that story, as told so well by Glen Ediger in his book Leave No Threshing Stone Unturned.

Three. J.B. Jackson says this about the meaning of stone for building our monuments: “It is the mysterious power [of] stone, the manner in which it linked the cosmic order with our own inner search for order that accounts . . . for its architectural importance. Stones . . . to be understood, must be dreamt about . . . , stone demands that we think of origins.” (qtd in Heat-Moon 139)

But origins can be over-rated, and even the most comforting of tools can grow archaic. The threshing stones that those immigrants forged from Kansas limestone were defunct the very year of their fashioning. When a new farm implement dealership opened in Newton the next year, those Mennonite farmers bought new threshing machines, and they turned their threshing stones to other uses: turned upright with one end hewed out, they could become 700-pound flowerpots; or art objects; or, my favorite, as reported by the Reverend John K. Siemens, who as a boy had seen the stones used that first year in Kansas. As he recalled, “[the new Mennonite immigrants soon rolled their stones into gullies to stop erosion and turned to better methods of threshing wheat” (Ediger 112). So our threshing stone is not so much a fixed monument as it is a rolling stone.

Four. The cherty or flinty limestone that gives name to the Flint Hills was formed as sedimentary rock 250 million years ago when Kansas was a shallow sea, when the calcium carbonate debris of marine shells and skeletons settled on the sea floor. As a sedimentary rock limestone almost always forms with a mix of sediments, and thus is rarely found in pure white form. Limestone is by nature impure.

Five. The properties of Flint Hills limestone make it ideal for building structures and monuments, even while reminding us that something else preceded our story, that something else will outlive our story, and that there are many stories to be told.

Six. Long before those Mennonite wheat farmers lay the Bethel cornerstone in 1888, the grain-like flecks to be seen in much of Flint Hills limestone were fashioned by Fusulinids, single-cell creepers of the sea now fossilized in the rock. As Kansas paleontologist Christopher Maples puts it, Fusulinids were “incredibly abundant—the housefly of the Permian: they came along, went bonkers, then got snuffed in the Permian Extinction” (in Heat-Moon 114).

Seven. According to the Wichita Eagle newspaper, the last wild bison of Kansas was killed in April 1887, just days before the Bethel College Charter of May 11, 1887 that would lead to the laying of that 1888 cornerstone.

Eight. Because limestone is relatively soft when first quarried, it is easily shaped, making it ideal for cutting into building stones and carving into sculpted forms (Ediger 44-45). That characteristic made it the right choice for shaping the Mennonite Settler monument of Newton, a WPA Federal Arts Project completed in 1941 shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor (Janzen). Standing 17 feet tall, the tallest Mennonite in the world, the sculpture commemorates “Entry into Kansas from Russia of Turkey Red Hard Winter Wheat by Mennonites.”

Nine. Another monument in Newton tells another story of another people and their connection to Kansas limestone. La Vida Buena, La Vida Mexicana, a mural painted by Ray and Patrice Olais, celebrates Mexican American community life in Newton. That mural is currently part of a special exhibit on display at Kauffman Museum. Prominent on that mural is a laborer standing in front of a Santa Fe locomotive, telling of the Mexican immigrants whose work on the railroad opened the state to Mennonite and other European immigrants. About 50 miles east of here, near Matfield Green, sits a low stone building, one of the last of its kind, what Anglos called Mexican bunkhouses but what their inhabitants called las casitas, structures without plumbing or insulation built by the Santa Fe to house its workers. This one, now rebuilt into a B&B, appears to be limestone, what one might expect in a railroad structure, for it is said that Flint Hills limestone built a hundred bridges on the Santa Fe line between Chicago and Albuquerque. But this casita was built only of concrete cast to look like limestone (Heat-Moon 231).

Ten. For all of its durability and attractiveness as a building material, even the best limestone is somewhat porous and absorbent, and thus susceptible to erosion and weathering. It wears. For many years when speaking to incoming Bethel freshmen, campus pastor Dale Schrag would end his presentation with an image from about 30 years ago of the limestone threshold at the front entrance to the Administration Building. A century’s wear and tear of people’s crossing that threshold deeply scooped out its center. Dale would tell newcomers something like this:

This is what the limestone step into the Ad Building looked like after 100 years (before it was turned over).This stone asks no questions. It's not concerned about whether you are Mennonite or Catholic, Baptist or Muslim; it doesn't differentiate if you are planning to major in chemistry or history; if you play football or sing in the choir. It is there to provide a place for you to step up into the building, and each of your steps will have an effect on it.


One. The northern boundary of Bethel’s primary campus, just beyond Thresher Stadium, is marked by a row of hedge, trees also called bow-wood, for their popularity among the Osage and Comanche for making strong and flexible bows; or, for their large round, bumpy fruit, also called Osage orange, horse apple, or monkey ball.

Two. Hedge arrived to Kansas as an immigrant species in the 1870s, and together with the Mennonite immigrants entering at the same time, it helped enact an American, rationalist project to plot a grid of lines onto the wilderness prairie and subdue it for agricultural civilization.

Three. Thomas Jefferson first learned of the Osage orange tree in a letter from Meriwether Lewis in 1804, and just two years later Jefferson imagined the possible use of the plant for hedge fencing (Heat-Moon 282). In 1843 a U.S. Senator would speechify to colleagues: “You cannot civilize men if they have an indefinite extent of territory over which to spread. . . . Civilization can best be effected when the country is hedged in by narrow boundaries” (George McDuffie, qtd in Heat-Moon 262). As the transcontinental railroad stretched westward and advanced such civilization, Osage orange was popularized by the magazine The Prairie Farmer: planted in a tight straight row, the thorny, brambly plant formed a “living fence,” as it was called. Joseph Turner, in praise of hedge, wrote in The Prairie Farmer: “I was led to see the utter impossibility of a proper social organization of society, so long as the want of fencing material compelled the people to form broken and scattered settlements on the margins of groves and streams. . . . I then thought that the greatest moral, intellectual, social, and pecuniary benefactor would be the man who should first devise some feasible mode of fencing” (qtd in Heat-Moon 262-63).

Four. Biologist Paul G. Jantzen, in his book Prairie Wanderings, wrote of hedge rows in Kansas: “In the mid-1870s, after the demise of cattle drives to Abilene, ambitious Baptist, Lutheran and Mennonite immigrants tamed the land with their planting of Osage orange hedge rows” (57).

Five. Most hedge in Kansas is still to be found in straight lines and grids, a legacy of Jefferson’s dream. According to cultural landscape writer J. B. Jackson, “Our national grid system, devised by the Founding Fathers, represents the last attempt to produce a Classical political landscape, one based on the notion that certain spaces—notably the square and the rectangle—were inherently beautiful and therefore suited to the creation of a just society.” Our planting of hedge has defined the landscape of Kansas, and landscape, writes Jackson, “is where we speed up or retard or divert the cosmic program and impose our own” (qtd in Heat-Moon 261).

Six. Although Osage hedge quickly flourished on the Kansas prairie, its utility as agricultural fencing soon ended with the invention of barbed wire. Indeed, it was in Robert Kreider’s birthplace of Sterling, Illinois where Northwestern Barbed Wire began operation in 1879 and became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of barbed wire fencing. As Bob once wrote: that was “wire that helped western farmers establish their territorial control against nomadic bison and Indians and the grazing claims of cattlemen. This new technology contributed to the triumph of the tillers-of-the-soil Abels over the pastoralist Cains” (MEY 53).

Seven. Although as a “living fence” hedge was displaced by barbed wire, hedge wood remained an important source for fence posts, being 2.5 times as hard as white oak.

Eight. One hundred and thirty years after Jefferson learned of Osage orange, another President, Roosevelt, turned to the hedge tree to provide windbreaks and prevent further soil erosion in the wake of the Dust Bowl. FDR’s “Great Plains Shelterbelt” WPA project launched in 1934 spurred another round of hedge row plantings in Kansas.

Nine. The hedge row north of Thresher Stadium dates to that Shelterbelt era, planted sometime in the late 1930s, very likely during Bob’s undergraduate days at Bethel. That hedge row is still a boundary but not a fence, a “living boundary,” one to be walked and enjoyed as a path forming the middle spur of the Sand Creek Trail, a public trail open to all visitors and guests.

Ten. A final note on hedge. It burns slow and hot. In the family room at the Kreider house on the Chisholm Trail, Bob liked to burn hedge wood. According to his son David, in the final month of hospice care, Bob turned often to the glow of burning hedge, asking family members to return him to that room and its stove. “I want to go back to the fire,” he said.


One. Prairie is both east and west on the Bethel campus: east, the prairie restoration study of Biology professor Jon Piper; west, the prairie exhibit that fronts Kauffman Museum.

In a Bethel convocation address five years ago Bob urged students to contemplate this place as “in the very middle of the Great Plains, a vast 12-state area stretching from Texas to Canada’s western provinces, from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. Once a sea of grass, and eons of time ago, an ocean.”

Two. As Jon Piper recently reminded me as we walked through his prairie restoration plot, the last remnant of true tall grass prairie, as we know it in the Flint Hills, is “very young geologically speaking,” populated by what we should call immigrants rather than natives. Within the last 10,000 years, following the last glaciers, transient, immigrant species have moved in, some from as far away as the central Carolinas (Reichman 20-21).

Three. This young, immigrant prairie exhibits tremendous diversity. For example, the Konza Prairie Research Natural Area of the Flint Hills has over 610 plant species, of which 92 are grasses (Piper). In his book titled Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie, Richard Manning writes: “If one can find an ungrazed stretch of native high plains, one can identify as many as 250 species of plants inhabiting a single site. On a site that had been grazed that count would drop to about 40 species. With work, a plow, and chemicals, a wheat farmer drops the count to one species” (19).

Four. Even lovers of prairie might look only for the glorious big bluestem, but if so, in their uniform gaze they miss much of the prairie’s real beauty: the patches where variation in soil, moisture, and other disruptions engender rich diversity. For example, a shrub patch of buckbrush, choke cherry, plum and sumac hosts tent caterpillars, which in turn feed the black-billed cuckoo, one of the few birds that will eat those foul-tasting caterpillars (Reichman 46). As O.J. Reichman observes in his book Konza Prairie: A Tallgrass Natural History: “It is not until one peers into the prairie, rather than at the prairie, that its major components become obvious. Patches are evident up close. . . . The patches, and the heterogeneity they engender, are where the action takes place on the tallgrass prairie” (38, 40).

Other lovers of prairie might project upon it romantic notions of nature’s balance, but ecologists who really see it know that the real story is one of disruption and disequilibrium. As shown by studies on the Konza Prairie, the right amount of disruption is critical: a fire every two to four years results in the highest diversity in a grassland community, but if disturbance rates are too high, diversity suffers. Grassland biologist Reichman concludes: “As humans, we are probably more comfortable maintaining the status quo, which makes the understanding and acceptance of natural periodic perturbations difficult; but it is now clear that such events are more natural than is their absence” (51).

Five. Twenty-five years ago William Least Heat-Moon wrote PrairyErth, his deep map with thick description of a single county, Chase County, in the Flint Hills. By choosing to spend time in that place, walking all of its terrain, talking with all varieties of its people, he learned what he calls a “prairie secret”: “take the numbing distance in small doses and gorge on the little details that beckon” (27).


I began my remarks this evening by situating Bob Kreider in a line of Christian poets and philosophers who have emphasized the particularity of place. Bob liked to quote Gretel Erlich’s comments on landscape, “To see and know a place is a contemplative act” (“an awakening”). And for Bob, to see and know individual persons in community was also a contemplative act. Bob would agree with the poet Hopkins when he wrote: “Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / [It] Selves—goes itself, myself it speaks and spells.”

To contemplate each of those selves is to see God in particularity. Human beings enact their divine form by being true to their uniqueness, and by seeing in others their own, different form. As Hopkins put it, one “keeps all his goings graces” when one “Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is-- / Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his” (As Kingfishers Catch Fire). Bob expressed this same idea in a 1992 commencement address at Bethel when he told the graduating seniors: “Stated theologically, God incarnates, that is, wraps truth in persons.” (LB 271).

Thirty years ago, at a National Conference on Faith and Learning here at Bethel, Bob presented a paper titled “The Recovery of the Academic Vision,” echoing the title of Harold S. Bender’s famous address “The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision.” In Bob’s’ vision, he found comfort in knowing that each of us individually, working at different institutions, best express our educational mission when we selve ourselves, and see the divine self of others. At that conference Bob explicitly rejected “a universally acceptable academic vision” for colleges like ours. He said there is “no Summa Theologia everyone will embrace.” Instead, he said: “Christian higher education finds incarnation in a set of givens of a certain people and college, the givens of a particular history and place with its embedded values, and the givens of educational tasks peculiar to a particular community” (LB 228).

So, here we are again. And like the best of a tall grass prairie, we gather here as immigrants all, diverse, made richer for our disruptions and disequilibrium, enacting a divine presence in the world not in spite of our differences, but because of them, in all of our patchwork variety. I look forward to seeing that here, with you, in the days ahead.

Works Cited

Berry, Wendell. What Are People For?: Essays. Berkeley CA: Counterpoint, 1990.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. 1974. New York: Harper Collins Perennial Classics, 1998.

Ediger, Glen. Leave No Threshing Stone Unturned. Wichita KS: Glen Ediger, 2012.

House, Humphrey, Ed. The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1959.

Janzen, Reinhild Kauenhoven. “Art that Works: Newton’s Mennonite Settler Monument in its 73rd Year.” Mennonite Life. Vol. 68 (2014). Web. 4 May 2016.

Jantzen, Paul G. Prairie Wanderings: The Land and Creatures of the Grasslands. Hillsboro KS: Hearth Publishing/Multi Business P, 1993.

Least Heat-Moon, William. PrairyErth (a deep map). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

David Kreider. Personal Interview. 13 April 2016.

Kreider. Robert S. “An Awakening: On the Edge of the Great Plains—Our Evolving Awareness.” Message to the author. 9 July 2014. E-mail.

---. Coming Home: An Autobiography of My 1952-2011 Years. North Newton KS: CreateSpace/Mudcreek P, 2012. = CH

---. “Common Ground — A Search.” Bethel College Convocation Address. Bethel College, Kansas. 11 April 2011.

---. Looking Back into the Future. Newton KS: Bethel College, 1998. = LB

---. My Early Years: An Autobiography. Kitchener ON: Pandora P, 2002. = MEY

Manning, Richard. Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie. New York: Viking Penguin, 1995.

Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation. New York NY: New Directions, 1972.

Piper, Jon. “Prairie Facts.” 23 April 2016. Message to the author. E-mail.

Reichman, O.J. Konza Prairie: A Tallgrass Natural History. Lawrence KS: UP of Kansas, 1987.