Bethel Bids a Fond Farewell to Jay and Barb Barnes

As Bethel University experiences just the fifth presidential transition in its history, we gratefully acknowledge the lasting legacy of President Emeritus Jay Barnes, who retired June 30, 2020, after 25 years of leadership at Bethel.

By Michelle Westlund '83, senior content specialist

June 30, 2020 | 4:30 p.m.

Jay Thanks

A grateful Bethel community expressed their appreciation with a socially distanced parade and handmade signs as Jay and Barb Barnes took a final golf cart ride through campus.

An era ended on June 30, 2020, and the Bethel community wasn’t about to let it go unnoticed. After 25 years of Bethel leadership, Jay and Barb Barnes marked the last day of Jay’s presidency with a final trip to campus—and were joined by a surprise gathering of Bethel employees and friends cheering them on. The Barnes, in a golf cart, made an emotional trip down 3900 Bethel Drive while supporters lined the route into campus, waving and cheering. It was a fitting reversal of roles: The campus entrance where Jay and Barb welcomed hundreds of new students starting their Bethel journey became the site of a fond farewell as the Barnes end theirs.

Jay and Barb Barnes have called Bethel home for the past 25 years. They arrived in Minnesota in 1995 when Jay became Bethel’s provost, and in 2008, Jay became the fifth president of Bethel University. His quarter-century of leadership has been marked by an unwavering commitment to serving students, increasing diversity, and investing in the lives of all members of the Bethel community.

Under Jay’s guidance, Bethel has continued to set a standard as a leader in Christian higher education for the 21st century. The university has strengthened academics, investing in science and research and expanding business and economics. Bethel has reshaped its campus, acquiring the Anderson Center and adding the Wellness Center, a new business center, and expanded spaces for the sciences.

During Jay’s presidency, the Bethel community has grown significantly more diverse. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of students of color at Bethel rose by about 50%. Bethel’s Act Six program, part of a national initiative to equip young Christian leaders from urban communities, began in 2014. The BUILD program—an integrated two-year postsecondary, residential program for students with intellectual disabilities—launched in 2015. And in 2019, the Office of Military and Veteran Services was created to serve military-affiliated students and families.

“We have seen God more clearly, richly, and deeply as a result of being at Bethel, and Bethel will remain in our hearts.”

— President Emeritus Jay Barnes

Beyond Bethel, Jay advanced a holistic approach to Christian higher education across the country. He has been actively involved in numerous educational organizations, including serving as board chair of the Council of Christian Colleges & Universities, and worked tirelessly to develop relationships with senators, members of Congress, and others in government leadership to extend Bethel’s connections and influence. 

On June 30, President Jay Barnes retired. While COVID-19 radically changed Bethel’s spring semester, including various planned retirement events honoring Jay and Barb, it has not changed the university’s spirit of gratitude and celebration of the Barnes for their faithful service. There’s still an opportunity to send Jay and Barb a note of thanks for their impact, and a full slate of rescheduled retirement events is planned for fall 2020.

As Bethel University experiences just the fifth presidential transition in its history—in a year of historic significance nationally and globally in its own right—we gratefully acknowledge the lasting legacy of President Emeritus Jay and Barb Barnes.