Getting to know Jon Gering: A chat with the president
Jon Gering, the 15th president of Bethel College, may appear to be quite a mysterious figure to many in the student body. Though he is often seen around campus and never fails to muster up a smile or a kind word, the nature of his work almost inevitably gives him a certain detachment from the rest of the college. However, the president was very forthcoming about his life when asked, and hopefully our findings will dispel some of that obscurity which surrounds him.
President Gering is, of course, a graduate of Bethel College, where he majored in biology. His love for ecology, which he described as the “defining course” of his life, began at a much earlier age. He grew up on a farm in rural eastern Washington, surrounded by both domesticated and wild animals. Gering was initially drawn to one specific animal, the desert short-horned lizard, which, to many might seem an unremarkable creature, but was an object of endless fascination for Gering. He described how this dust colored, tiny lizard survived in an area of the state that only received around eight inches of rainfall every year. His boyhood self went so far as to build a terrarium to house his lizards, and he soon discovered that they required almost no water at all in order to live.
Gering carried his love for ecology, which he defined as being the study of almost everything you see on earth, with him into high school. During his junior year, thanks to a particularly excellent teacher, Gering decided to pursue biology in higher education. Gering recalled one particularly formative assignment, undertaken in a combined English and Science class, where he was asked to write a paper on current world problems. Gering wrote at length on the issue of deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest. Gering went on from Bethel to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He later became a professor at Truman State University, Missouri, where he served as Biology Department Chair and, in 2009, became a founding Dean of the University’s School of Science and Mathematics.
Gering continued at Truman until 2017, his passion for Ecology remaining ever constant. Gering’s hobbies were not limited to ecology (though he did swap his lizard terrarium for a more respectable moth collection). His time at Truman also saw him become a self-described “foodie.” Indeed, it was not so long ago that our president was travelling from place to place across Missouri as a qualified barbecue judge. His interest in athletics, especially at the collegiate level, has continued unabated for much of his life.
“Football is probably the sport I know the most about, [though] I would prefer to watch college basketball,” Gering said.
One more unlikely passion of his is for the Tour de France; a road cycling race that travels across France every year. However, even this appears somewhat mainstream next to the president’s admitted passion for curling. The pandemic has unfortunately stifled one of Gering’s other passions: travel. He and his family had been planning a vacation to France, which was rendered impossible by the European Union’s travel restrictions, though they were able to get away to Albania in June of this year.
The departure of President Perry White in 2017 offered an exciting transition for Gering and the family.
“[It was] one of those opportunities in life that you don’t get very often,” Gering said.
It was an opportunity that he seized with both hands; his commendable academic career and his Bethel and Mennonite background made him a perfect fit for the position. Thus it was that Gering and his wife and children were installed at Goerz House in 2018. Aside from his inauguration as President, Gering has witnessed several other momentous occasions over the past few years. He and his wife (Bethel’s First Lady, Deborah), also a Bethel graduate, marked their 25th wedding anniversary in 2020. This year they sent their eldest, Benjamin (18), off to college, to study architecture at The University of Virginia.
“[Benjamin’s] social life might have become quite stilted once the students found out he was the President’s son!” Gering said.
Gering has three children in total: Benjamin (18), Emma (14) and Emerson (12), along with two cats and a Siamese Fighting Fish.
Gering certainly believes that his background gives him a unique perspective on the role of president. He described himself as a cultural Mennonite.
“Every Bethel student ought to articulate and own their own faith,” Gering said.
This is just one of the many principles that Gering is hoping to promote and instill within the college throughout his five-year term.