Bethel Remembers Dale Stephens

Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Dale Stephens, the “Father of the Chemistry Department,” left a lasting legacy in the chemistry department, the sciences, and Bethel through his teaching, leadership, and an endowment to support student research.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content writer

October 24, 2018 | 4 p.m.

Bethel Remembers Dale Stephens

Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Dale Stephens with his wife, Sharon.

Robb Stephens recalls his father, Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Dale Stephens, inviting organic chemistry students to their family home each year for a celebration.

The annual celebration became tradition—one that held a special spot in students’ minds, and the Stephens’, too. “I remember as a child thinking it was pretty neat that my dad had all of these students, and my dad was connected to them enough to invite them over to our home,” Robb says. 

Dale, 76, died October 14 of complications from cancer. But Dale’s dedication to students lives on in the tone and personality of Bethel’s chemistry department.

“He will be remembered as a leader; mentor of students and employees; in my mind the father of the chemistry department; a man of integrity, and a man who lived and modeled a Christ-like life,” says former Vice President for Information Technology Services Bill Doyle. 

Dale came to Bethel in 1968 and quickly became a leader in the Department of Chemistry, serving as department chair from 1978 to 2000. Colleagues credit Dale with helping grow Bethel’s science departments into proven, nationally recognized programs. “Dale Stephens was one of the critical professors who built up Bethel’s science programs,” says Professor of Chemistry Rollin King, who now serves as chemistry department chair.

Dale’s influence extended across campus, and he served in many leadership roles. He was faculty moderator—the equivalent of faculty senate president today—and was heavily involved in campus issues and faculty governance. Many recall Dale’s ability to lead during challenging situations, and he was known to bring fresh ideas and insights to administrators. Robb says Dale would occasionally butt heads with the administration, but he maintained positive working relationships across campus because he challenged things for the good of the students. “He believed that it was his job to make [Bethel] a better place,” Robb says.

“He will be remembered as a leader; mentor of students and employees; in my mind the father of the chemistry department; a man of integrity, and a man who lived and modeled a Christ-like life."

— Bill Doyle, former Vice President for Information Technology Services

For years, Dale strove to improve science facilities for students, and he helped lead Bethel to institute lab fees so departments could purchase essential equipment. “It allowed us to have a sustainable source of income to support lab work,” Professor of Chemistry Ken Rohly says. “And now today we have what I would say is a very sound foundation in equipment—and this is across the sciences. 

Despite his dedication to teaching and campus leadership roles, Rohly remembers Dale still took the time to mentor him and help him acclimate to life at Bethel after Rohly was hired in 1987. Professor of Biological Science Patricia Paulson agreed, calling his mentoring and friendship one of the reasons the program is so strong today. “Dale was one-of-a-kind and a valued colleague,” she says. 

Rohly credits Dale with modeling for the department what shared leadership, collaboration, and dedication to students could look like. “I think Dale really defined the personality of our department,” Rohly says. “Dale’s example was one of hard work. It was one of strong commitment to the institution and to our classes and to our students. Dale also had very high standards, very high academic standards.”

Dale loved teaching and specialized in organic chemistry. Many describe him as a challenging professor, but he was also supportive and dedicated. “He had a reputation as kind of a tough professor, but in his mind that was all about looking out for the future for his students and making sure they were ready for what came next,” Robb says. 

Robb says his father loved serving his students. Dale felt fortunate to have received an education, and Robb says this inspired a lifetime of ensuring young people received the same opportunity. Dale and his wife, Sharon, even kept a spare bedroom where students could stay if they needed help. “That’s something that my dad really felt strongly about: making sure everyone had access to education,” he says. “He really believed in the tools that education can provide.” 

When he retired in 2007, Dale and Sharon donated a $100,000 matching gift to fund a summer student-faculty research endowment for chemistry and biochemistry students. Rohly says the President's Science Initiative - Chemistry Endowment has grown and inspired other similar donations. Dale continued teaching part time until 2012, and he and Sharon continued to support Bethel in many ways over the years, including through an IRA rollover. 

In 2008, Bethel’s organic chemistry lab was named the “Dale Stephens Organic Chemistry Lab” in honor of his service. Dale also served Bethel athletics for many years as the official scorer for the men’s basketball team, he ran the scoreboard for the football team, and served as Bethel’s faculty representative to its conference, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). 

Friends and family remember Dale’s boundless energy and his surprising sense of humor. Rohly called Dale a father figure and friend to many at Bethel, with relationships continuing long after his teaching days. He was also dedicated to his family, spending days each week with his grandchildren. 

Robb described his father as a scientist at heart, with an analytical mind and a love for solving problems and learning. He loved being outside and led a faculty trip to the Boundary Waters for many years. An avid gardener, Dale built a greenhouse on their property and studied water quality on a sabbatical. He even built their family home in 1980 while still working full time. After working on the house until 11 p.m., he finished up school work. “He loved working on things, and he loved trying to figure things out,” Robb says. “The scientist in him really gave him a curiosity to understand the world around him.” 

Through it all, Dale maintained a steadfast faith. Robb says his father felt fortunate to teach at Bethel, where he could combine his faith and his love of science. “You can be a Christian and a scientist, too,” Robb says. “That’s something that dad was very passionate about.”

His Bethel colleagues say they will miss Dale, but they will strive to carry on his legacy in their work. “He fully committed his life to the Lord's hands,” Doyle says. “We miss Dale, but the saints in heaven are rejoicing with him because of a life lived robustly and well.”

Memorial Service for Dale Stephens

A memorial service will be held at noon on November 17 at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota. Visitation will be at 11 a.m.

Read his obituary