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Supporting the Bethel "Common Spirit"

Gloria Nelson and Larry Rodgers offer prayers and financial support to uphold Bethel values.

By Katie Johnson '19

July 03, 2018 | 10:45 a.m.

Supporting the Bethel “Common Spirit”

Gloria Nelson (center) and Larry Rodgers (right) with Aidan Tollefson ’19 (left), a student recipient of the Larry Rodgers and Gloria Nelson Scholarship. (Photo credit: Gio Hanson '21)

“He’s got to be someone like me.”

This was Gloria Nelson’s prayer five years after her husband Steve passed away. After spending significant time on her own, she longed for companionship, second to the Lord’s will for her life. “I had just been praying, ‘God, if this is what you want from me, I’m okay, but, I would really like to find somebody,’” Nelson says. “But, I also put some stipulations on it. I said, ‘He’s got to be somebody like me. He has to have some of the same interests, but also some of the same background as me in his faith.’”

When Nelson visited her cousins in Florida winter 2007, she spotted a picture of a man in their guestbook. “Who’s this?” She asked. Her cousin-in-law Glen responded, “Oh, you wouldn’t like him. All he does is play ball and travel for his work.”

“She managed to set that aside,” says Larry Rodgers, the man in the picture whose best friend happened to be Nelson’s cousin-in-law. “Glen introduced us, and we got married July of that year.”

“Our paths had crossed so many times,” Nelson adds. Rodgers’ first wife had attended spiritual formation classes at Bethel Seminary, as did Nelson after her first husband died. They had been part of neighboring churches for many years, so they had probably been at the same weddings and funerals without even knowing it. On top of it all, they found they shared a heart for Bethel. “He supported Bethel, and I supported Bethel,” Nelson says. “It was amazing how God answered that prayer for me and brought our families together. That in itself is a good story.”

Their similar faith and desire to support Bethel connected Nelson and Rodgers, though they appreciate Bethel for different reasons. Nelson started the Stephen F. Nelson scholarship for physics students in memory of her late husband, and this year, she has also created a nursing scholarship. She recently added both scholarships as well as Bethel Seminary to her will. “Bethel has shown over the years that they have been true to the commitment of good education, but it’s also the spiritual part—that kids can find and grow in their faith,” Nelson says. “That’s what impressed me a lot.”

“Bethel has shown over the years that they have been true to the commitment of good education, but it’s also the spiritual part—that kids can find and grow in their faith. That’s what impressed me a lot.”

— Gloria Nelson, donor who created nursing and physics scholarships

Since the classes she took at Bethel touched her deeply, Nelson wants to make sure that Bethel has an opportunity to continue facilitating intentional spiritual growth for students. Nelson says, “In my will, I see Bethel remaining constant to its values and goals, and I believe after I’m gone that it’s going to continue.”

While Rodgers never attended Bethel, he has formed many deep relationships with Bethel graduates. “Quality people. Those are just the ones I know,” he said after listing some of the pastors he’s connected to as well as the Bethel alumni he played with on a recreational softball league. “We want the institution to continue to produce the quality of people we’ve come to expect.”

Nelson says, “It’s refreshing to know people who have graduated. You kind of meet people, and right away, you know [they went to Bethel].”

“A common spirit,” Rodgers adds.

This common spirit has connected them to some of their neighbors, who happen to be Bethel alumni, along with the students they love to meet at the annual Scholarship Recognition Dinner. “We got to meet both of the recipients last year,” Rodgers says, who was excited he could attach faces and personalities to the names of the students they sponsored. “We got to sit at the table with them.”

“One of the neat things to me is being able to meet the kids that are getting the scholarships that I started and find out what’s happening, so I can stay connected to Bethel,” says Nelson. “I think as somebody who supports Bethel, that encourages me too—knowing that [my financial contribution] is being passed on.”

However, Nelson wants to pass on more than money, for both Bethel and her own family. “It’s not always the financial aspect,” she says. “It’s the prayer that’s part of our legacy as well.” Though, if Nelson had it her way, she wouldn’t have a legacy at all. She’s ultimately grateful for all God has given her and finds it a great joy to be part of what God’s doing at Bethel. “I don’t want it to be about us. Our joy is just seeing what’s happening at Bethel,” she insists, though she can’t help but include: “That, and my granddaughter is there.”

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