This spring marks anthropology professor Harley Shreck’s 30th and final year at Bethel University.
By Alayna Hoy
Harley Schreck never expected to teach. He never wanted to join the ranks of stodgy, disgruntled professors that taught his anthropology classes as he pursued a Master’s from the University of Montana and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington.
“In grad school, I was appalled by faculty’s attitude toward students,” Schreck said. “They saw them as a bother. It was very negative.”
Now, as Schreck concludes his 30th and final year of teaching anthropology at Bethel, he never expected he would find it so difficult to say goodbye.
Schreck’s interest in anthropology began early in life. While completing an undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of Montana, Schreck participated in the Navy ROTC program. For the following four and a half years, he joined the Navy and navigated airplanes, spending a lot of time in Southeast Asia.
“God was calling me to pursue that love of cultures and learning about other cultures,” Schreck said. He began a career in anthropology, working as a senior researcher for World Vision.
Schreck first considered the possibility of becoming a Bethel professor while working 2,000 miles away. In 1986, World Vision sent Schreck to Mexico City to evaluate housing reconstruction in the wake of the devastating 1985 earthquake. Also on the team was Paul Wiebe, a consultant sociologist from Bethel.
From the start, Wiebe set about recruiting Schreck for the ranks of Bethel faculty.
Schreck didn’t know a thing about Christian colleges. He hadn’t even known Bethel existed. But something Wiebe said stuck with him: “They’re pretty good chaps at Bethel.”
So after talking and praying, considering and reconsidering the idea with his wife Janice, Schreck took a leap of faith and in 1988 joined Bethel faculty to teach Anthropology. Almost immediately he was struck by the realization that unlike his professors in graduate school, faculty at Bethel actually liked students.
“Teaching is a lot harder than I thought it would be,” Schreck said. “The first semester it was really easy because I just lectured. I thought I was wonderful and then I got my evaluations. The students did not agree.”
So Schreck quickly switched gears. He changed his teaching perspective to focus on student-learning, rather than strictly on subject matter. Almost weekly meetings with fellow professor and teaching mentor Marion Larson helped Schreck reinvent his teaching style.
“The thing that I appreciate most about Harley is his hospitality,” Larson said. She remembers Schreck and his wife, Janice, spontaneously inviting her family over for dinner with varied and pleasantly surprising groups of guests. Oftentimes the guests were included in meal preparation, allowing for even more time to talk and connect.
“This generous spirit and, especially, the casual and natural way that it was expressed encouraged me to see invitations to my own house as less of a big deal,” Larson said. “I didn’t need to plan far in advance or spend hours cooking before guests arrived. What was important was the opportunity to spend time together.”
Sociology professor Samuel Zalanga also experienced Schreck’s hospitality. He fondly remembers Schreck hosting a celebration for Bethel colleagues in his home when Zalanga officially became an American citizen.
“Nurturing an immigrant colleague like me from a lowly background costs him a lot in different ways,” Zalanga writes in a paper titled, “Reflections On My Time With Mentor, Senior Colleague, Friend and Brother: Professor Harley Schreck.”
“All this was done out of personal discretion and what I call a sense of “social responsibility” inspired by Christ’s love and humanistic considerations that cuts across the human race.”
That spirit of generosity has transferred over to Schreck’s teaching style. Over the course of his career, Schreck has led 18 interim study abroad trips to India and Amsterdam. His favorite part of the trip is talking with students as they engage and connect with the culture surrounding them.
Schreck sees his role as a coach for these courses, assigning work like going to a coffee shop enough times that the staff knows the students’ names and going on long walks to talk about cultural observations and life.
All reading for the trips is assigned well in advance.
“Any time you spend in the hotel reading, you’re wasting your time,” Schreck said with a smile.
He plans to lead one more trip to Dehli, India this coming January as an adjunct professor.
Back at Bethel, many of Schreck’s courses and studies have focused on Northeast Minneapolis. One integral aspect of Schreck’s Bethel legacy is his involvement with the creation of Bethel’s partnership with Frogtown Summit University. In fact, Schreck received Bethel’s Edgren Scholar Award last year while working in partnership with Rita Mercier to study the mutuality of the Bethel and Frogtown relationship.
Schreck looks forward to having greater freedom in his intellectual work during retirement, especially more time to read and think without deadlines. He eagerly anticipates more time with his wife and two young granddaughters, opportunities to travel and time to fly fish, although Schreck admits he often catches more trees than fish.
Though retirement holds many new and exciting adventures, Schreck knows that what he will miss most about Bethel is the students and colleagues.
“It’s a really rare day when I don’t wake up looking forward to seeing friends,” Schreck said. “Like Paul said, they’re pretty good chaps here.”
Many of those “chaps” would say the same of Schreck.
“One word to describe Harley: irenic,” said anthropology professor, Jim Herd. “This word means a cooperator, peacemaker, friend.”
“Thinking about Professor Schreck’s departure is truly an emotional thing for me,” Zalanga wrote. “My prayer is that just as he helped me succeed, I will help all around me.”