Legacy of the Honorary Alumni Association Lives On

By Carol (Knight ’81, MA ’08) Best

At the age of 91, Dr. Otto Theel is still raising money for scholarships at MNU. Recently he challenged the MNU community by offering a dollar-for-dollar match of up to $50,000 for funds raised during the President’s Scholarship Challenge at President’s Honors. Then on the evening of the event, he increased his gift to a total of $75,000. That portion of the April 11, 2014, gala resulted in $137,235 raised through generous gifts of patrons and the matching gifts from the Theels.  

Dr. Theel and his wife, Beulah, have made generous matching gifts before. One such gift to the University Fund in 2011 was also a $50,000 match. In fact, Dr. Theel can claim an idea that has garnered more gifts than any other: the Mid-America Nazarene College Honorary Alumni Association (HAA). 

Officially organized on April 17, 1969, when the fledgling institution had no alumni, 114 individuals met in the Campus Center to hear a presentation by Assistant to the President Bill Draper and Dr. Theel. Ninety-five responded and became “honorary alumni.” The group would go on to raise thousands of dollars through the years with varied activities and an annual banquet. By 1978 membership had grown to 1,000. 

The HAA promoted MANC, assisted with admissions recruitment and provided scholarship funds. According to MidAmerica Nazarene College: The Pioneer Years 1966-1991, a book by the late Donald S. Metz, PhD, professor and dean emeritus, “It was, in the early years of the College, the primary source of financial assistance for students, aside from government loans. When the HAA merged its activities with the Autumn Auction, its financial contributions became identified with the results of the auction.”

Jon North, vice president for university advancement, says that the HAA continues now in a new form—The President’s Honors.

“Dr. Theel's leadership and passionate support helped create a culture of generosity that has continued for nearly 50 years,” North says. “Today’s President’s Honors was inspired by Dr. Theel’s original vision. His continued dedication to the cause of MNU has impacted the lives of thousands of MNU students and will continue to benefit the university for generations to come.”

Generations of Pioneers owe a debt of gratitude to the Theels for their generosity and stewardship.

Dr Otto Theel 

Dr. Otto Theel pictured with MNU President, Dr. R. Curtis Smith in 1969 and again with MNU President Dr. David Spittal in 2014.