Viets feted for her evangelism work

Pastor John Goering of Eastmoor United Methodist Church in Marion wasn’t surprised to learn that Ruth Viets, one of his parishioners, had earned the highest honor the Kansas West Conference can bestow on a lay person this year

After all, she had dedicated her life to Christian evangelism, he said.

Viets herself said she was surprised, but added that if she were to receive an award, then getting the Harry Denman Evangelism Award would certainly have been the one she wanted because she knew of Denman’s dedication.

“Harry Denman was really a unique lay person,” Viets said. “He was head of the board of evangelism for the church in Nashville. He traveled all the time, and brought Jesus to people. So, coming after him, I appreciate this award.

“I think I might have gotten it because I’ve spent my whole life from high school on telling people about Jesus and what a difference he can make in their lives.”

Goering said Viets goes beyond verbal witnessing to work with people in a “kind, loving way.”

“She is gentle in spirit and outgoing,” he said. “She is supporting, encouraging and non-judgmental. Her sweet presence and good spirit are deeply appreciated.”

She is paired with her husband, Don, who shares much of the same reputation as a pastor at Eastmoor from 1981 to 1984.

They shared many experiences during 38 years in the pastorate, including two stints when he was senior pastor at college churches at Winfield and Salina that Ruth remembers with special fondness.

“I enjoyed it a lot being with college kids,” she said. “I like the college campuses.”

The couple’s daughter, Dona Rhu Coleman, the mother of “three very sharp grandchildren,” stayed with the college environment at Friends University in Wichita, where she has spent 21 years teaching education.

Viets herself graduated from Friends, then went to work as a library assistant and personal secretary to the assistant manager of the Federal Public Housing Association at Planeview, Texas.

She was married to Don, who was a navigator on a B-29 airplane before he went to Perkins Graduate School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Ruth began her 65 years of church service as a Sunday school teacher in high school and college. Later, while Don served as a pastor, she worked in Christian education, and, for more than 15 years, led seminars on the subject.

She said a high point of her church-service career that helped identify her with Denman came in 1968, when the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist denominations merged, and Don was appointed editor of adult publications at Methodist Publishing House in Nashville.

“I got to write for Cokesbury there,” she said. “I wrote articles and book reviews, things I really liked to do.”

Eventually Ruth and Don decided he should return to the pastorate and the Kansas West Conference, where they served in several churches.

While at Wichita, Ruth was regarded as “instrumental” in starting new programs such as the University of the Spirit Conference, adult council and quest groups. She earned an associate degree in Christian education and attended national meetings on the topic.

After their pastorate at Eastmoor, the couple moved to Asbury UMC in Wichita before retiring to Marion County Lake. But they weren’t able to stay retired. Ruth said Don was called back twice to full-time ministry, and they served several congregations.

Ruth also became memoirs secretary of the West Conference archives and history commission.

When they entered retirement again in 1997, Ruth’s service to the conference continued. She is now Kansas West Conference historian, and has edited a book, “Milestones of Ministry: The History of Kansas West Conference of the United Methodist Church, 1932-2002.”

She also is education chairperson at Eastmoor, church librarian, and is leading the committee planning Eastmoor’s 125th anniversary celebration.

“I do appreciate the award,” Ruth said. “I appreciate it all. It’s been an interesting life. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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