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McPherson College Honors 3 Couples With Citation of Merit for First Time

posted Jun 03, 2013 in ALUMNI

With 125 years to its name, McPherson College has spent this year focused on remembering the past, celebrating the present, and anticipating the future.
To celebrate as the MC campus passes this historic milestone, they have done something unprecedented in awarding the highest honor given by the college - the Citation of Merit Award.

Traditionally, the college selects three individuals for the Citation of Merit, but this year that was doubled, as the college recognized three couples - David ’61 and Bonnie ’68 Fruth; Phil ’65 and Pearl ’67 Miller; and Bill ’65 and Lois ’64 Grove.

David, Pearl, and Lois are also siblings, but the couples have more in common than their family connection. These six encapsulate the values at the roots of the college, based in the Church of the Brethren. And these are values that still grow at MC today. These Citation of Merit recipients are all that McPherson College stands for and strives for: a commitment to quality education, to serving others, to building community, to promoting peace, and to living with simplicity and humility.

David and Bonnie Fruth

One of the first facts to stand out about David and Bonnie’s time at McPherson College is that their graduation years - 1961 and 1968 - would not appear to have any overlap on the McPherson College campus.

And that appearance is an accurate one. While both are alumni of McPherson College, they first met in 1963 during Brethren Volunteer Service training - far from the MC campus. They were in the same training group and found themselves drawn together as they discovered their common beliefs rooted in the Church of the Brethren. It was an intense experience, they said.

“We were confronted with questions about peace, about our faith, about service,” David said.

Although they soon departed for their different appointments in the organization - David to the training center in New Windsor, Md., and Bonnie to Harrisburg, Pa., to work in inner-city after school programs - they continued to deepen their relationship via mail and telephone. It was that relationship that led Bonnie to enroll at MC in 1964 and to marriage between her junior and senior year.

“I figured if we’re going to be in a relationship, I better get to McPherson College,” she said.

And it was her experience in Brethren Volunteer Service working with children that led her to pursue an elementary education degree.

David had already earned an MC degree in economics and business administration, with teaching certification. Later he earned a master’s degree from Emporia State to become a school counselor and started his career in that role at Marion High School. From there they moved to Abilene, where they spent most of the next three decades - David as a counselor at Abilene High School and Bonnie as a fourth grade teacher.

“We had a very good teaching situation,” Bonnie said. “We loved our jobs.”

David worked with the conviction that every student can graduate from high school and succeed. One of his favorite parts of the work was when students would return and let him know about their accomplishments. It was like having hundreds of nieces and nephews every year, he said.

“Some people look for the bad in kids,” he said. “I was always looking for the good in kids.”

Bonnie took to heart advice from McPherson College professor Dayton Rothrock, who encouraged her to get to know her students’ parents and work with them. So before the first grades came out every year, she would go to visit each student’s parents in their home.

“Children need a very good beginning,” she said. “Being successful when they’re younger helps them when they’re older.”

Today the Fruths remain active in the Church of the Brethren, which first brought them together. They enjoy planning events at The Cedars Village where they live. They often visit campus for college events, and travel across the U.S. and Canada as they direct bus trips for Prudent Tours.

Phil and Pearl Miller

The start of a Phil and Pearl’s relationship at McPherson came down to who got to the phone first - Pearl or her roommate. At the time, visitors had to call up to a phone in the hallway, which someone would pick up and then shout down the hall for the recipient of the call. Phil asked to speak with Pearl or her roommate, deciding he would go out with whoever answered.

It was Pearl.

“She would have been nice, too,” Pearl said, smiling at Phil. “But I’m glad you didn’t go with her.”

After that first date, their relationship deepened as they, too, discovered their common Church of the Brethren roots.

“That was an important connection,” Pearl said. “We had a lot of similar experiences and values that grew out of that beginning that were very compatible.”

Those similar experiences and background built the groundwork for a strong relationship.

“One thing I certainly appreciate was she was a very good listener, and I could share personal things with her, and she was very intelligent,” Phil said.

“Ah,” Pearl cut in, smiling. “So I could help you with your homework.”

A year after Phil graduated and a year before Pearl did, they were married in 1966.

At the encouragement of Dr. Bittinger, after Pearl’s graduation they traveled to Nigeria through the Church of the Brethren to use their degrees in math and secondary education - Phil - and English and secondary education - Pearl. They both taught children and trained new teachers in the country for three years, and Pearl helped them with their developing school library. It was a critical job, as at the time only about 3 percent of children ever made it past elementary school.

Registered as a conscientious objector, Phil still felt the pull to serve there in Nigeria.

“I decided that it was important to me as other people were risking their lives in other ways,” he said.

Upon returning to the states, the moved to Central Iowa, where they worked for the rest of their careers. Phil was a school counselor, coach, and sometimes math teacher in BCLUW Community Schools in Conrad, Iowa. Pearl worked in public libraries, then became the library media director for BCLUW Community Schools.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping connect students, literacy, and learning,” Pearl said. “In a school library, you had a broader view of the school and the students.”

Today retired in Warrensburg, Mo., they continue to live out the values impressed upon them by their families, McPherson College and the Church of the Brethren - simple living, peace, social justice, and service. They are active participants in the Warrensburg Church of the Brethren. Pearl works at a local food center, chairs a city bicycling and pedestrian task force and is a trained Children's Disaster Services volunteer. Phil advocates for environmental responsibility with Citizens for Environmental Action, teaches 4th graders healthy living through gardening, and helps people be more energy efficient in their homes.

“The Brethren value of simplicity has always been important to us,” Phil said. “Live in harmony with the earth, rather than subdue it.”

Bill and Lois Grove

It took the encouragement of an ex-girlfriend’s older sister for Bill to ask Lois on a date. The difference in age intimidated him at first, though.

“I told her, she’s older and she’s not going to pay attention to this young freshman whippersnapper,” Bill said.

But with a small, friendly $0.50 bet on the line - and with Bill betting against himself - he screwed up his courage and asked Lois out.

She accepted. They played table tennis.
“She wasn’t very smart and beat the pants of me,” Bill said. “So she showed she had some gumption and it progressed from there.”

Early on, Lois and Bill got to spend time together thanks to a basketball hoop cranked down two inches too low and Bill’s unexpected dunk during a pick-up game as a result. It was so unexpected that he fell on his right hand after the dunk and broke it, and Bill is right handed.

“So I couldn’t write,” Bill said. “Guess who came to my rescue for all my study. We spent a lot of time in Beeghly Hall together when it was the library. I think the relationship got cemented there.”

“He was and still is very handsome,” Lois said, and laughed. “He was beholden to me, so it did help.”

In his sophomore year at a Christmas party for couples - held a Professor Ikenberry’s home, Bill handed out gifts to all the women. Lois opened hers to find the engagement ring.

Their time in class helped to shape their life direction and their worldview.

“We had great professors,” Lois said. “Many of them pushed the envelope. For being a small town Kansas girl, I had to challenge some of my deeply held beliefs.”

Following their graduation - Bill in mathematics and Lois in elementary education - they taught in Buhler schools. At the encouragement of their professors, they also went to Africa through the Church of the Brethren. Bill spent five years as a teacher and school principal in Nigeria. Later, after they had children, both taught in Kinshasa, Zaire (or Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Returning to the United States from Nigeria, Bill attended graduate school to earn his degree in school administration. A year later, he took his first administrative position in the states as assistant principal at Algona High School in Iowa. Later he would serve as principal at Dike High School and Webster City Middle School, both also in Iowa. He would eventually become superintendent of two school districts in the area.

During much of this this time, Lois arguably had the harder job - full-time mom to their three children for 12 years.

“There were discouraging times. There were times when I thought all I’m going to do is take care of these diapers all day long,” Lois said. “But it was definitely worth it.”

When the children had grown older, Lois worked as the catalog department manager for a mail-order hatchery selling chickens, ducks, geese and quail. It was a great job, she said, with tremendous employers, and she worked there 14 years.

Today, Lois works for FEMA with survivor disaster assistance, helping them to start the process of recovery. She’s an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and works in leadership development for their districts - identifying people with gifts and talents and encouraging them to use them in the church.

“At this time in life, I’ve tried to discard the things that don’t bring joy, that don’t bring meaning,” Lois said. “And try to do the things that are truly life-enhancing.”

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