“That’s What We Want for Our Grandchildren”

After their three children and their children’s spouses attended Bethel, Paul and Gretchen Sanders saw the value of Christ-centered education. Decades later, they remain dedicated Bethel supporters with the hope that their grandchildren will soon have formative experiences at Bethel.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, senior web content specialist

September 21, 2023 | 9 a.m.

Gretchen and Paul Sanders

Gretchen and Paul Sanders saw the positive effect Bethel had on their children—Deb (Sanders) Erickson ’95, Peter Sanders ’02, and Peggy (Sanders) Anderson ’02, GS’06—and their children’s spouses. With hopes that their seven grandchildren and others will have similar experiences, the two remain dedicated Bethel supporters.

Paul and Gretchen Sanders didn’t attend Bethel, but the couple hopes their ties to the university will only grow in the coming years. “I have seven grandkids who are going to go to Bethel,” Paul says with a big smile.

Paul and Gretchen don’t have to look far to see Bethel’s influence. As their three children and their spouses all attended Bethel, the two came to deeply appreciate that Bethel is a place where their kids experienced strong academics in a variety of areas—pre-medicine, biology, social work, education, and business—in a strong Christian environment. And Gretchen most values the relationships they forged. “The students really get to know each other there and do important things together and are encouraged in their faith and their dependence upon the Lord—and that’s what we want for our grandchildren as well,” Gretchen says. Because of the impact Bethel had on their children, it was an easy decision to give to Bethel. “We’re thankful for the effect that it had on our kids and the happiness they found there,” Gretchen says.

“The students really get to know each other there and do important things together and are encouraged in their faith and their dependence upon the Lord—and that’s what we want for our grandchildren as well."

— Gretchen Sanders

Both Paul and Gretchen grew up in strong Christian families. Though two of Paul’s brothers attended Bethel Seminary and his father was a Baptist minister in Chicago, he didn’t grow up with ties to Bethel. In college, Paul had a great academic college experience, but he missed the faith connections after growing up in the parsonage. Paul and Gretchen met while Paul was in medical school and Gretchen was a nursing student. They married 13 months later. The Sanders settled in Cambridge, Minnesota, where Paul worked for 40 years as a family physician, though he stepped aside from that role for several years to lead the Minnesota Medical Association.

Through Paul’s career and as they raised their family, the Sanders met many friends and colleagues with connections to Bethel. Learning more about the university, they were struck by Bethel’s blend of strong academics with a foundation in Christian values. “When I saw the campus and I saw the kids and the programming, I just thought, ‘Wow, this is where I want my kids to go,’” Gretchen says. Since their kids attended Bethel, Paul and Gretchen have loved seeing how the foundation formed at Bethel has equipped them for their lives. “They’re all good parents in part because of the spiritual foundation they got at Bethel,” Paul says. “We’re proud of our kids and their spouses, obviously.” 

Paul went on to serve about 15 years on the Bethel Board of Trustees under President George Brushaber. That time helped them see Bethel’s mission in a new way, and Paul witnessed how the administration and faculty strived to serve students. Paul is pleased that Bethel continues blending strong academics with a Christian worldview. “It’s very important to provide a Christian context for education,” Paul says. “If you can provide that in the context of academic excellence, you’re two steps ahead of the game. And Bethel continues to do that.” To Paul, that’s especially important for people who plan to go on to pursue medical, dental, law, or other graduate degrees. Since Paul’s time on the board, Bethel’s science programs have expanded with new programs and many new labs, including the 18,000-square-foot Nelson-Larson Science Center. Throughout his career, Paul saw students benefitting from a Bethel education. Serving on the University of Minnesota Medical School Admissions Committee, he saw highly qualified students from Bethel go on to medical schools. “They brought an academic credential that wasn’t the same as the other Christian colleges,” he says.


“It’s very important to provide a Christian context for education. If you can provide that in the context of academic excellence, you’re two steps ahead of the game. And Bethel continues to do that.”

— Paul Sanders

Since retiring, Paul and Gretchen have taken inspiration from Luke 12:48 (ESV): “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required…” After being blessed in their life, they are faithful givers to causes they care about, including Bethel, their church, and several ministries. They prefer giving to Bethel through an individual retirement account (IRA) rollover because it reduces their gross income with the goal of lowering their tax status. “For a retired person who is taking the required minimum distribution from their IRA, it’s a good way to give,” he says. For those considering giving to Bethel, Paul encourages that it’s a place where your money is well spent. “It’s a wise investment that uses your donations well to advance God’s kingdom,” Paul says.

Paul and Gretchen are also dedicated supporters of their church, First Baptist Church of Cambridge. Paul serves as volunteer pastor of adult senior ministries, which involves them visiting shut-ins and seniors. They maintain ongoing support of several mission groups that train doctors and leaders who serve abroad, and they often prefer to support groups that train leaders and medical providers to serve in their native country, feeling it’s a more sustainable and effective missions’ model for the future. Such groups include READ Ministries, MedSend, and Training Leaders International (TLI).

As Paul and Gretchen’s seven grandchildren—ages 10 to 16—approach college, they’ve talked with them about Bethel. “If all goes to plan, we’ll have four kids at Bethel at one time,” Paul says. With the family history, Bethel is on their lists, but Paul and Gretchen say they won’t push their grandchildren. But they will continue to deeply value a Christ-guided education. “We live in an age where Christian education is increasingly important—not less,” Paul says. “And anything that parents and grandparents can do to steer their kids toward Bethel, they can do it knowing that Bethel is a safe place to get a good education that’s well-founded in the Christian faith,” Paul says.

Leave a legacy through Christ-guided education.

There are so many ways you can leave a legacy of love and equip a Bethel student to change the world. If you’re interested in learning more about IRA rollovers or other creative giving options, contact Bethel University’s advancement team at 651.638.6990 or visit bethel.edu/giving.

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