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Favorite Bethel Faculty Member Retires After 44 Years

Favorite Bethel Faculty Member Retires After 44 Years

G.W. Carlson attends a May retirement celebration in his honor.

Professor of History and Political Science G. William Carlson retired from Bethel University after 44 years of teaching. Faculty, staff, and students, as well as Carlson’s family and friends, gathered in the Bethel University Library at the end of May to pay tribute to his many years of service to Bethel and to wish him well in retirement.

President Jay Barnes said a few words at the beginning of the event before a special viewing of a 20-minute film in honor of Carlson that spoofed the classic movie “Citizen Kane.” Instead of searching for the meaning of the word “rosebud,” the film explored what Carlson means when he says “framework.”

“At one point we were going to do it in the style of a Soviet silent film, in homage to G.W.’s love for Russian history and the many years he's taught the history of communism. But then one of us came up with the idea of spoofing ‘Citizen Kane,’ so we shot the opening and closing scenes one Saturday morning at his office and produced a fake newsreel,” explains Christopher Gehrz, associate professor of history, who made the film along with Sam Mulberry, instructor in general studies. “Then that gave us the excuse to put in a bunch of brief interviews with faculty colleagues as we searched for the meaning of the word ‘framework.’” About 14 people were involved in making the film for Carlson.

After the film screening, Ruben Rivera, associate professor of history, read a poem he had written for Carlson, and John Lawyer, professor of political science emeritus, spoke about the many years he worked with Carlson. Lawyer reflected on the various historical and political changes that occurred during the nearly five decades Carlson was either a student or faculty member on Bethel’s campus. He mentioned how during the Vietnam War era, Carlson was helping one student write a letter to the draft board to be a conscientious objector while at the same time writing a letter of recommendation for another student who was applying for Officer Candidate School. He also mentioned the challenges Carlson faced teaching a course on communism at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union when everything was changing so quickly. “I don’t know if we’ve collectively impacted Bill,” says Lawyer, “but I do know that he has impacted so many people at Bethel.”

When Carlson took the microphone to say a few words during the event, he said he wanted to thank the many people who have been a part of his life at Bethel during the last 44 years. He thanked faculty, students, and staff members, and reflected on his time at Bethel as a student and instructor. Carlson graduated from Bethel in 1965 and returned to begin his teaching career in 1968. He also attended the University of Minnesota, receiving a master’s degree in 1969 and a Ph.D. in 1985.

As retirement gifts, Carlson was given a copy of the film Gehrz and Mulberry produced for the celebration along with a memory book with comments and signatures from alumni as well as current and former faculty and staff members. In addition, $2,600 was donated toward the Bert and Bernice Carlson Scholarship Fund, which is named after Carlson’s parents and supports academically excellent history and political science majors with financial need. The video was accompanied by a full-sized movie poster signed by those who attended the reception.

Gehrz recently wrote a tribute to Carlson on his blog, The Pietist Schoolman, in which he says: “G.W. has often said that he has four dreams for all of his students: 1. That they know and love Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and commit themselves to his gospel; 2. That they pursue a spiritual journey; 3. That they engage in lifelong learning; 4. That they serve others, particularly those who inhabit the margins of society. G.W. can dream those things in part because they describe him. It’s the rare person who does all four actions, but G.W. does. It’s the still less common person who teaches others to do them, but G.W. does.”