April 13, 2016 | 1 p.m.
By Monique Kleinhuizen '08, Communications Strategist
You’d need several cups of coffee and a full afternoon with Paul Bierhaus ’65, and you’d still only scratch the surface of his Bethel College stories—and the variety of places life has taken him since.
A storyteller through and through, Bierhaus recalls his time growing up on the south side of Chicago—in a culturally and economically diverse neighborhood—and how it shaped his outlook on life and ability to relate to others. His friends—many of them immigrants, some Jewish like his own mom—were strong influences in his life. “My relationships with kids from diverse backgrounds shaped my life then and have had a huge impact on the trajectory of my life,” he says.
When it was time to start thinking about college, Bierhaus “knew he wanted to sprout his own wings,” he says. A friend at Bethel suggested he visit the Twin Cities. A campus visit and a men’s Bible study later, Bierhaus was moving hundreds of miles from home into Edgren Hall on Bethel’s Snelling Avenue campus in 1961.
One of his favorite professors was W. Robert Smith, who taught ethics, philosophy, and Bible courses and was known to his students simply as Dr. Bob. “If Jesus came back in the form of a human, he would be Dr. Bob,” says Bierhaus, who majored in history. “I took every class that man taught. The freedom he and other Bethel professors gave me to express and explore where I was in my faith was very important. Sometimes after attending a Christian school, you get into the real world and you’re not ready for it. But a Bethel experience doesn’t teach you what to think...it teaches you how to think.”
Bierhaus married his wife, Donna ’66, after graduation. He served in the U.S. Army for 25 years; was a detective in the Sedgwick County, Kansas, sheriff’s department vice division, focusing on narcotics and homicide; and spent decades in sales at two Fortune 100 companies. Now retired, the couple—inspired in part by the unifying presence of a playground in his tough childhood neighborhood—build playgrounds for kids in developing countries through the Illinois-based non-profit Kids Around the World (KATW).
Bierhaus joined the KATW Board in 2000 and has traveled to six continents with the organization, which repurposes playground equipment and works with community partners to install it in cities around the world that wouldn’t otherwise have the means to purchase it. Through the installation of a tangible fixture like a playground, the teams can meet and influence community leaders, present the gospel, and impact families.