Heart & Mind

A Legacy of Leadership

Five men have served Bethel in the office of president over the years, but how much do you know about their predecessors...?


Volume 22 No 2 | Spring 2009

Bethel’s origins date back to 1871 in Chicago, when John Alexis Edgren founded Swedish Baptist Seminary with one student. The seminary existed for 43 years before it was officially named Bethel, and during those years was led by three gifted and committed presidents. In 1914, the seminary moved to St. Paul and joined with Bethel Academy to become Bethel Academy and Theological Seminary. Jay Barnes’ recent inauguration as Bethel’s president marks just the fifth time since then that Bethel’s highest position of leadership has changed hands.

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John Alexis Edgren
Founder 1871

Born in Sweden in 1839, Edgren began what eventually evolved into Bethel Seminary, the foundation of today’s Bethel University. A decorated veteran of the Union Navy during the Civil War, Edgren was a noted scholar, scientist, and painter as well as a respected theologian who was said to be fluent in 32 languages. He trained at Princeton Seminary and the Baptist Theological Seminary in Hamilton, N.Y., and was a missionary and pastor in his native Sweden before returning to the U.S. to serve at First Swedish Baptist Church in Chicago in 1871. That same year, he began Swedish Baptist Seminary, where he served as sole instructor and dean, and where Christopher Silene became the seminary’s first student. Within 10 years, the seminary had grown to 28 students and had more than 50 graduates who were serving churches in the thriving Swedish Baptist Conference. After a dozen years of growth and change, the conference voted to establish a seminary in Minnesota, and in 1884 Edgren moved his students to St. Paul.

George W. Northrup
President, Baptist Union Theological Seminary 1867-1892

In 1867, Northrup, a noted preacher and professor of church history at Rochester Theological Seminary, was appointed as the first president and professor of systematic theology of Baptist Union Theological Seminary in Chicago. Four years later, in 1871, John Alexis Edgren began the Swedish Baptist Seminary, but the Great Chicago Fire burned down the seminary’s meeting location. Edgren’s seminary was invited to hold classes at the Baptist Union Theological Seminary and later became that seminary’s Swedish department. The arrangement provided classrooms, a library, and an eventual salary for Edgren, and lasted until 1884, when Edgren resigned and opened an independent seminary, the Swedish American Bible Seminary, in St. Paul. A year later, the seminary moved to donated land in Stromsberg, Neb., and was renamed Central Baptist Seminary. Dwindling enrollment and Edgren’s declining health convinced the fledgling seminary to return to its association with Baptist Union Theological Seminary, so Northrup again resumed a leadership role. In 1892, Baptist Union Theological Seminary became part of the University of Chicago, and Northrup stepped down from the seminary presidency.

William Raney Harper
President, University of Chicago 1892-1906

Harper joined the faculty of Baptist Union Theological Seminary in the late 1870s, teaching Hebrew. He taught at Yale University, his alma mater, from 1888-1890, when he was appointed president of the newly founded University of Chicago. Harper envisioned a university that would combine an American-style undergraduate liberal arts college with a German-influenced graduate research university. The university quickly fulfilled Harper’s vision, becoming a national leader in higher education and research, and welcoming women and minority students at a time when many universities did not.

Harry Pratt Judson
President, University of Chicago 1906-1914

Judson, a professor at the University of Minnesota, was recruited by William Raney Harper to teach at the new University of Chicago, and joined the university in 1892 as professor of political science and head dean of the college. In 1894 he also became dean of the faculties for arts, literature, and sciences. When Harper’s health began to decline, Judson became acting president in 1906 and was appointed as president in 1907, presiding over a period of consolidation and expansion that saw construction of new academic buildings for geology, classics, and a library. Judson was president when the Swedish Baptists voted to disassociate with the University of Chicago and move their seminary to St. Paul in 1914, merging with Bethel Academy to become Bethel Academy and Seminary.

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G. Arvid Hagstrom
President, Bethel Academy 1914-1941

Hagstrom graduated from Bethel Seminary in 1892. When the seminary merged with Bethel Academy and relocated to St. Paul in 1914, he was named the first president of the combined schools. His dynamic career included pastoring influential churches and serving as a missionary and administrator with the Baptist General Conference. Less than nine months after beginning at Bethel, he had helped raise funds to purchase two city blocks, a total of eight acres, on Snelling Avenue, and on November 22, 1914, a two-story seminary building was dedicated. The academy building was completed in May 1916, and later three dormitories, a library, and a gymnasium were added to the campus.

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Henry C. Wingblade
President, Bethel Academy; Bethel College & Seminary 1941-1954

Wingblade had a long association with Bethel, teaching English at both the academy and junior college. After pastoring Addison Street Baptist Church in Chicago, he returned to Bethel in 1941 to assume the presidency when Hagstrom retired. During Wingblade’s tenure, the school’s name was changed to Bethel College & Seminary, and the college transitioned to a four-year program.

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Carl H. Lundquist
President, Bethel College & Seminary 1954-1982

Lundquist attended Bethel Junior College and earned a bachelor of divinity degree from Bethel Theological Seminary. He went on to complete a master of theology degree at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of theology degree from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. With Lundquist’s vision and leadership, Bethel moved from its eight-acre campus on Snelling Avenue to 213 acres in Arden Hills. Both the college and the seminary were accredited, and the annual budget more than tripled. Enrollment grew from 536 college and seminary students to 2,670 by 1982. After his retirement, Lundquist’s legacy continued as he served as president of the Christian College Consortium.

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George K. Brushaber
President, Bethel College & Seminary; Bethel University 1982-2008

Brushaber served Bethel as a dean for seven years before his election as president in 1982. He became just the fourth president of the schools that combined to form what is now Bethel University, and his tenure was longer than any other current college or university president in Minnesota up to the time of his retirement in 2008. With his strong advocacy of Christian higher education focused equally on three goals – academic rigor, spiritual enrichment, and personal maturity – Brushaber was instrumental in Bethel’s rise to regional and national prominence. Under his leadership, the number of undergraduate and graduate programs Bethel offers grew from 57 to more than 140; enrollment tripled to more than 6,300 across four schools; and 19 major building or remodeling projects enhanced the campus facilities. In 2004, he initiated Bethel’s identity and organizational change from Bethel College & Seminary to Bethel University. His most vital legacy, however, was in keeping Bethel growing in spiritual vitality, true to its Christ-centered mission and values.

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James (Jay) H. Barnes III
President   

Barnes has been a leader in Christian higher education for more than 30 years, dedicating his career to the fusion of student development with rigorous academics and spiritual transformation. As executive vice president and provost of the College of Arts & Sciences, College of Adult & Professional Studies, and the Graduate School for 13 years through June 2008, he preserved this vital integration at Bethel during a period of unprecedented growth. Beyond Bethel, Barnes has advanced a holistic approach to Christian higher education across the country. He is past president and vice president of the Association for Christians in Student Development; has led workshops and task forces for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; and has served as a member of the Collaboration for the Advancement of College Teaching and Learning Board. He has also served as an evaluator for student life, campus ministries, and academic departments at many Christian colleges.