The inaugural class of the Tabor Arts Hall of Fame has taken its place in history.
The Aug. 28 ceremony was a welcomed celebration after being postponed last fall. Nearly 100 family and friends of the inaugural class came to campus to celebrate the accomplishments of their loved ones.
The Arts Hall of Fame gives recognition to alumni and former faculty who have excelled and contributed in extraordinary ways in their field of music, theatre, or art. They have also exemplified the mission of Tabor – preparing people for a life of learning, work, and service for Christ and His kingdom.
“Each of the men and women [in this class] have touched a multitude of lives,” Dr. Greg Zielke, arts director and director of choirs, said at the start of the ceremony. “Truly they represent what is best about Tabor College; excellence, generosity, and service. I thank God for blessing Tabor with these supremely talented and gifted musicians and artists.”
Each of the inductees and/or families received the “Seed of Hope” as their award. The sculpture was designed and built by Shin-hee Chin, professor of art at Tabor.
“The design of this award represents a tiny germinating seed which carries the future,” she said in the commemorative program. “The Seed of Hope is meant to signify a state of wholeness, aspiration, and talent which God endows within us through art. My wish is that this award would recognize artists’ calling to create art – music, theatre, and visual arts – for glorifying God and witnessing God’s grace.”
NOTE: The biographies below were included in the commemorative Arts Hall of Fame program that was given during the ceremony.
A look at Tabor’s eight Arts Hall of Fame inductees
Carl Gerbrandt, opera/voice
Carl Gerbrandt earned his Bachelor of Music Education from Tabor College in 1962 with advanced degrees from Wichita State University and Peabody Conservatory of Music. He made his professional debut as an opera director with the staging of Mendelssohn’s Elijah at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. This began a career of directing over 40 operas in his lifetime. In addition, he helped begin the Sacred Music Drama Department at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His monumental book Sacred Music Drama: The Producer’s Guide was published in 1993.
“[After starting in 1962] Carl said working with the Tabor faculty gave him the stimulation to stay the course of music performance,” Marilyn, his wife, said. “More importantly, to continue his work in church music through his lifetime. I want to thank all those in the Tabor community who made contributions to Carl’s career.”
A.R. Ebel, visual arts
Artist, humorist, and educator, that is how A.R. Ebel has been described. He began teaching at Tabor College in 1911, organizing the Art Department during his tenure. After his degree at Tabor, he continued his education at the University of Kansas receiving his Master of Arts. Other notable professional training included work at the Chicago Art Institute and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. His many chalk talk programs and lectures are well-remembered where he utilized color illustrations of favorite songs and poems entertaining the audience while also being instructive. He is perhaps most well-known for his presentation “The Rose-Colored Glasses”.
“On behalf of Grandpa Ebel’s family, I would love to say thank you and it’s quite an honor for us to receive this,” Margaret Lawellin, Ebel’s granddaughter, said. “Great appreciation from all of us.”
Malinda Nikkel, theatre
Malinda Nikkel began teaching at Tabor College in 1955 after receiving her M.S. degree from Emporia State University. She has the distinction of directing the first play at Tabor, David Copperfield. Throughout her tenure, she directed more than thirty plays ranging from The Miracle Worker, The Cup of Trembling and The Wizard of Oz to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and Midsummer Night’s Dream. She also wrote two musical dramas centered on Christian themes. Under her leadership, Tabor’s drama ensembles toured the Midwest performing at various constituencies. A lover of travel, she visited many countries including Mexico, Greece, the Holy Land, South America, Australia and New Zealand.
“She was a very warm person,” Virgil Thiessen, Malinda’s cousin, said. “She loved to visit and loved family. I’m sure that many of you experienced that. Tabor, I want to thank you for all that you did for her and for this award. It’s wonderful.”
Jack Braun, theatre
A native Canadian, Jack Braun came to Tabor College as a student not knowing it would lead to 36 years as a faculty member and senior administrator for the college. He earned his M.A. degree from University of Kansas and later earned his Ph.D. from Kansas State University. Among the many shows he produced while director of drama included his own show The Anna Barkman Story, a centennial celebration drama featuring the Mennonite migration story based on Bliss Isely’s account. A strong supporter for Christian liberal arts education, he has presented and led conferences on the subject.
“I’m privileged to be included in this initial group of inductees,” Braun said. “I’ve known and had a connection with all the other people being recognized and being inducted into the Tabor College Arts Hall of Fame.”
Lonn Richards, music/band
Lonn Richards’s education began at Emporia State University followed by his Master’s degree from Wichita State University. He accepted the position of assistant professor of music education and director of bands at Tabor College in 1975. During his tenure, the band grew in prominence. He founded the German Schniggle-Fritz Band as an outgrowth of playing German music for Tabor’s annual German dinner at homecoming. His “disappearing clarinet” was certainly a crowd-pleaser!
“He enjoyed his 23 years of teaching at Tabor,” Brad, Lonn’s son, said. “He was passionate about his music and strived for excellence. To his credit was the building of the concert band and the pep band.”
Herbert C. Richert, music/choral
Herbert C. Richert joined the Tabor College faculty in 1935 as the choral director, a role he filled until his retirement in 1966. He is especially remembered for his performances of The Holy City and Messiah and as the director of the prestigious Tabor College Choir. An accomplished composer and arranger, he published under the name “Richert Publications”. In 1948, Richert was appointed by the Mennonite Brethren General Conference to organize a committee to publish a denominational hymnbook, The Mennonite Brethren Church Hymnal, which appeared in print in 1951. In May 1990, the decision to name the future worship and performing arts auditorium the Herbert C. Richert Auditorium was announced.
“Grandpa would say, ‘thank you, I just what God wanted me to do,’” Ed, Herbert’s grandson, said. “That was it. He was called to do what God asked him to do and that’s what he did.”
Paul Wohlgemuth, music/choral
Paul Wohlgemuth, or “Dr. Paul” as he was affectionately called, came to Tabor College as a student after hearing the Concert Choir directed by Herbert C. Richert. Paul earned his M.S. degree at Kansas State Teacher’s College followed by his doctorate of musical arts from the University of Southern California. He taught a total of 19 years at Tabor, leading the department to full accreditation with the National Association of School of Music as well as leading the Concert Choir on multiple tours including international tours to Canada and Romania. He was the chairman-editor of the Worship Hymnal for the Mennonite Brethren Church as well at the Worship Hymnal Concordance. In addition, Wohlgemuth authored a book titled, Rethinking Music. He was an avid collector of hymnals, amassing a collection of over 3,000 volumes, currently housed in the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies.
“The Tabor choir was his joy and privilege,” Steve, Paul’s son, said. “He put all of his energy into it. His dedication to his students was his highest priority. He mentioned many times of students writing to him years after graduating, thanking him for what they learned. He took much satisfaction in this.”
Jonah Kliewer, music/choral
Jonah Kliewer joined the Tabor College music faculty in 1975. As a Tabor graduate, he taught, performed and conducted in California while earning his D.M.A. in choral conducting. His 23 years of service at Tabor led to serving as the music department chair and choral director, building on the legacy of those before him and taking multiple groups on tours across the country. Among his professional appearances were singing with the Robert Shaw Festival Chorus in Souillac, France and at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He also sang with Conspirare in Austin, Texas and with On With The Show.
“When Tabor needed a new song to rally students, faculty, and administration, he wrote it [Redeemed of God], Jan, his son, said. “It’s an example of the service that fell out of the contractual or professional duties of a teacher. Dad loved Tabor College.”