Professor devoted his whole life to history


Keith L. Sprunger, Oswald H. Wedel Professor Emeritus of History, remembered by generations of Bethel students for the History of Civilization class, died April 24 after a short illness.

A native of Bern, Ind., Sprunger earned a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton (Ill.) College and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois. He began a 38-year teaching career at Bethel College in 1963.

In 1972, the Danforth Foundation awarded Sprunger the E. Harris Harbison Award for Gifted Teaching. Bethel College awarded him the Ralph T. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award in 1985 and the David H. Richert Distinguished Scholar Award in 1991.

Among Sprunger’s areas of scholarly interest were Puritanism in the Netherlands and Anabaptist-Mennonite studies, with particular emphasis on the history of printing and publishing by the two groups, as well as the architectural history of Mennonite churches.

He is the author of The learned doctor William Ames: Dutch backgrounds to English and American Puritanism (1972), Dutch Puritanism: A History of the English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1982), and Tower Trumpets: English Puritan Printing from the Netherlands, 1600-1640 (1994), as well as numerous articles, reviews and professional articles on English, Dutch and Church history.

He wrote two Bethel-related histories: the Centennial History of the Bethel College Mennonite Church, Campus, Congregation, and Community: The Bethel College Mennonite Church, 1897-1997and Bethel College of Kansas 1887-2012written and published on the occasion of the college’s 125th anniversary.

Also in 2012, Bethel College awarded Sprunger the Julius A. and Agatha Dyck Franz Community Service Award in special recognition of his work on Bethel history, which was the subject of the Menno Simons lectures Sprunger later gave. this year.

Along with other Bethel faculty and students, Sprunger was active in oral history, particularly in building a collection of interviews with conscientious objectors from the First and Second World Wars.

He has dedicated himself to local history through roles such as organizer and advocate of Kansas History Day programs, president of the Kansas History Teachers Association, director of the Harvey County Historical Society and chair of the Newton/North Newton Historic Preservation Commission.=

In 1996, he curated a special Kauffman Museum traveling exhibition, “Menno Simons: Image, Art and Identity.”

Generations of Bethel students remember Sprunger for the history of civilization class.

Keith and Aldine Sprunger are the parents of three children, all of whom graduated from Bethel College and have gone on to careers in academia: David, a recently retired English professor at Concordia College, Fargo, ND; Mary, history and political science, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.; and Philip, economics, Lycoming (Pa.) College.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for its academic excellence, Bethel ranks 15th in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” and #31 in US News and World Report, Best Regional Colleges in the Midwest, both for 2021-22. Bethel was the only college or university in Kansas selected for the 2021 American Association of Colleges & Universities Institute on Truthfulness, Racial Healing and Transformation, and was named the TRHT Campus Center. For more information see


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