Former Hillsboro optometrist heads up Bethel Fall Fest volunteers

Ken Neufeld, who was an optometrist for many years in Hillsboro, second from left, works with other volunteers on Thursday, Oct. 4, at Bethel College in North Newton. Also pictured, from left, are Byron Ediger, Ron Peters and Delon . Wendy Negent / Free Press
Ken Neufeld, who was an optometrist for many years in Hillsboro, second from left, works with other volunteers on Thursday, Oct. 4, at Bethel College in North Newton. Also pictured, from left, are Byron Ediger, Ron Peters and Delon . Wendy Negent / Free Press
Even though there was a 50-degree drop in temperature from one day to the next, volunteers for Bethel College’s Fall Fest went out anyway, donning jackets, hats and sweatshirts and setting to work, determined to get things done, get things set up so attendees to the annual event could enjoy themselves at the past weekend’s event.

A cold front swept through the area Wednesday night, changing temperatures in Newton/North Newton from 95 degrees Wednesday to 45 degrees on Thursday.

On that Wednesday before Fall Fest, with most main events on Saturday, they reported to work around 9 a.m., while they didn’t start until 11 a.m. on that chilly fall Thursday.

The group, which sets up a great deal of Fall Fest every year, is comprised of 14 to 18 guys, said Ken Neufeld, who’s been volunteer coordinator for 17 or 18 years.

Neufeld, who graduated from Bethel College in 1961, has been volunteering for Fall Fest for 25 years, he said.

The group has a variety of duties the week before Fall Fest, which include setting up some smaller 12-foot tents, as well as tables and chairs near the Luyken Fine Arts Center outdoor stage and under the big tent. In all, they set up around 310 chairs, from where folks watch performances and dine on a variety of food, including verenike and kettle corn. They also set up 28 tables under the big tent.

The volunteers, most of whom are Bethel College graduates, volunteer to help Bethel for a few reasons.

“If they had to hire somebody to do all this work, it would be a big bill for the Alumni Association,” Neufeld said.

Because they start working on Tuesday and go through at least Friday and on the following Monday, starting out at around 9 a.m. most days, they put in about a seven-hour day. With 14 workers, that’s about 520 man hours of work. Their afternoon break is about a half hour with lunch at around 45 minutes to an hour.

One of the other volunteers, Byron Ediger of Newton, has volunteered for Fall Fest for 15 years.

“Supporting Bethel College,” he said about why he takes part. “It’s a community event and definitely is a showcase for Bethel College, the whole Fall Fest.”

All the men are retired.

“The guys are teachers, physicians, former college professors,” Neufeld said. “I think these guys (pointing to the group working at that moment) were either teachers or professors. We’ve had some guys who are business owners.”

Neufeld said the group only works together once a year, and that’s at Fall Fest.

“We set up everything on the campus except the large tents,” he said. “The large tents are put up by a tent company in Wichita.”

They also had some Taste of Newton duties, which were on Thursday, and included loading up trailers going downtown for the Thursday night event.

“We set up the Bethel booth downtown and set up a dance ring at Sixth Street,” he said. “We set up three tents for Bethel for verenike sales. We set everything you see out here except the big tent,” he added while sitting under the big tent on Bethel College’s The Green.

Neufeld said one of their volunteers, Jerry Toews, retired Goessel music teacher, is quite handy.

“If we need something made, Jerry can make,” Neufeld said. “If something needed to be welded or whatever, Jerry’d take it home.”

Their work isn’t done, however, until after the festival is over.

“Monday, we put all this stuff away,” Neufeld said on Thursday morning. “If it rains, it’s going to be a terrible mess.”

He said yet on Friday, they still needed to put up the 12-foot tent tops and sides.

Although all of the men use some sort of skills in their volunteer work, they don’t necessarily use their career of choice skills, like in the case of Neufeld, who was an optometrist in Hillsboro and lived there from 1979 to 2010. He does use those skills somewhere else, though.

“The only place I use my knowledge is I volunteer at the Kansas State Lions Sight Foundation,” he said, adding they do blood pressure and blood sugar checks, as well as vision and hearing tests. “All those goodies.”

Wendy Nugent /Free Press