“It meant that I’d be able to continue school"

After her mother died, Ann Lees CAPS '16, S'27 wasn’t sure how she’d continue her education. But then Lees applied for two scholarships to help her continue to pursue her Master of Divinity (M.Div.) to become a chaplain. She is one of many students who receive scholarships to help pay for school. This spring, Lees and other students got to meet many donors responsible for scholarships and share their stories with them.

By Aiden Penner '27, student writer

May 14, 2024 | 12 a.m.

Ann Lees

Ann Lees CAPS '16, S'27 shares the story of her mother and the impact she had on Lees' journey to Bethel. After her mother passed away, two scholarships made it possible for Lees to continue attending seminary.

Ann Lees CAPS‘16, S’27 never would have gotten where she is today without her mother. She paid for Lees’ college education and supported her call to attend Bethel’s Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program. But when Lees’ mother died on June 15, 2021, the grief was too much. With support from her advisor, Lees took time off from the program. When she felt it was time to return and finish her seminary degree, she wasn’t sure how to pay for it. Then she learned of scholarship opportunities for seminary students. She applied and received two. The Victor and Elna Larson Memorial Scholarship and the Walter R. Anderson Memorial Scholarship covered Lees’ entire tuition for the 2023-24 school year. “With all the stresses in our families and the financial burdens, I cannot emphasize enough how this was a huge gift,” says Lees. “It meant that I’d be able to continue school to fulfill the calling set before me by God.” 

Lees is one of many Bethel students who receive financial gifts from generous donors to support their education. And she recently got to meet and thank some of the donors who make Bethel scholarships possible. Each spring, Bethel hosts an annual Scholarship Celebration, a dinner where recipients share how scholarships are impacting their education. Lees was one of the students who shared their stories.

Ann Lees

Ann Lees CAPS‘16, S’27 presents her story to numerous other scholarship donors and recipients at the annual scholarship celebration this spring.

"[My mother] is the reason that I work in a long-term care facility today, where I get to go and just be with people and hear their stories, and many of them don't even remember, but in that moment, they know that they're being heard.”

— Ann Lees CAPS '16, S'27

Lees’ late mother was central to her education and journey. Despite thinking a college education wasn’t possible, Lees’ mother stepped in and paid for her to attend Bethel. “She was one of those people who never, ever lost faith in me,” says Lees. “She was very proud of me and very supportive.” Lees graduated with honors in 2016 with a B.A. in Christian Ministry at age 48. She got a job as an administrator in Bethel’s Business Office, and later she felt called to seminary and the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program to become a chaplain. Along with paying for her entire undergraduate degree, her mother was incredibly supportive of Lees going to seminary. She also inspired Lees to pursue a career as a chaplain at an elder care facility. When Lees saw her mother treated poorly in a care facility, she realized the importance of being present and listening to older women, a demographic Lees says becomes invisible with age.

When she started the program, Lees was able to attend Bethel Seminary because she worked at Bethel and received a tuition benefit for employees. But then her life was upended. Shortly after her mother’s death, her daughters experienced challenges with their mental health, Lees took a break from the program, and she decided to leave her position at Bethel. Lees didn’t think she would have the chance of finishing her M.Div. degree.

But then Lees felt pulled to return to seminary and she accepted a job as a chaplain at Catholic Eldercare in Minneapolis, under one condition: Lees was expected to finish her M.Div. She wasn’t sure how she’d afford it, but then Lees received a message from Bethel calling for M.Div students to apply for scholarships. “So I did,” says Lees. “And to my amazement, I received two.” The scholarships gave Lees the chance to finish her degree at Bethel. Along with her familiarity with the community, she says the program is much more flexible than others. As she juggles work responsibilities and caring for her family, her flexible online classes allow her to balance her many obligations. If one of her daughters has an emergency, she doesn’t have to make a tough decision between missing class and being a mother. For Lees, her family will always come first. 

As Lees continues the M.Div program and launching into a new career, her mother’s influence is still close. “She is the reason that I work in a long-term care facility today,” says Lees. “Where I get to go and just be with people and hear their stories, and many of them don't even remember, but in that moment, they know that they're being heard.” And she’s thankful that generous support from her two scholarships is helping her continue to pursue a career where she can serve people like her mother.

Leave a legacy at Bethel.

There are so many ways you can leave a legacy that will impact Bethel students for years to come. If you’re interested in learning more about scholarships or other creative giving options, contact Bethel University’s advancement team at 651.635.8053 or click the button below.

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