Reining kettle corn and Bethel spirit

It?s not every day a man in his 80s is given a Fan of the Year award at his alma mater, but it seems Loren Reusser deserves the honor. He?s spent years leading cheers and giving away kettle corn on the sidelines at a variety of Bethel College games, including football and basketball.

?It looks a little odd to have an old man cheerleader,? said Reusser?s wife, Peggy, sitting at their dining room table. ?It took a while to get used to it, but now I am.?
During the 2013-14 school year, the college?s athletic department had its first-ever THRESHSPY?s Awards show, modeled after the ESPY Awards hosted by ESPN.
Loren credits his great deal of enthusiasm and spirit for Bethel College to his college experience at Bethel, the life of Christ and a revival he and his wife attended many years ago at Walton Mennonite Church. The combination helped him change his priorities from materialism to people, and learning about other cultures by visiting other countries and living there, such as Taiwan.
Loren, class of 1959, came up with the idea about leading cheers through a series of events. It started when his grandson, Reed Hammond, and two other Hesston High School football players, Andy Schmidt and another player, called Cornbread, who weighed 325 pounds, were invited by the Bethel coach to watch a football game.
Reed indicated he?d like to see the Bethel community support the BC football team as enthusiastically as the Hesston community supports its high school program. At Hesston High, the Reussers bonded with other adults in the stands, and they decided to form a first-down club. A first-down club brochure, containing light-hearted rules and other humorous items, like stating the new board (there wasn?t a board) would be chosen during the last home game, was printed. Loren still has one of those.
When Loren and Betty?s grandson went to Bethel, Loren wanted to raise the enthusiasm of the crowd. A Bethel College First Down Club brochure eventually was printed.
About 1,000 Bethel College First Down Club hand banners were made, and people in the stands started bringing them to games and pointing them in the direction of a touchdown or first down. Loren said they used to distribute First Down Club handbooks, but they don?t have any left.
Loren decided he was going to start cheerleading at Bethel games, and John Sheriff, who was in his first term as interim Bethel president in 2005-06 recalled when Loren stopped by his office to discuss the matter.
?I do remember Loren coming to my office and sharing his vision of ?First Down Club? and making me a member,? Sheriff wrote in an email. ?It was the year his grandson came to college, and he wanted to do something to create more ?spirit? in support of our athletic teams, especially football.?
?I didn?t ask anyone?s permission (to lead cheers),? Loren said, smiling.
His first megaphone was a 2-litre bottle, and then he moved on to using an orange construction cone given to him by a BC parent.
?The thing was heavy,? Loren said.
Later, a football player?s mom brought Loren two boxes of gray and maroon (Bethel?s colors) pom-poms and a megaphone from California. Loren was inspired to attend away games when this woman and other football team?s relatives came from long distances, like Texas and Ohio, to see them play in Ottawa one year.
?I thought, ?If they can do that, we ought to be able to have commitment to them? ? as live human beings, Loren said, stating the players have feelings, and he wanted to attend games to support them.
Now the Reussers, who are Newton residents, go to football, volleyball, men?s and women?s basketball games, soccer, and softball games.
At the basketball, volleyball and football games, Loren throws 20 to 30 bags of kettle corn to people in the stands for free.
?(Loren) continued to lead cheers for sports teams and to give away free kettle corn after his grandson graduated,? Sheriff wrote. ?Loren became a fixture, a tradition, a legend in his relentless effort to wake up spectators to the joy and responsibility of supporting their teams.?
?At the home games, he gives a bag to all the players,? Peggy said.
Loren made a deal with one woman, Rosie Goering Brandt. The parameters of the deal are if Loren throws her a bag at a game, she owes $20 to Penny Power. During one game, Brandt received several bags, and at another game, Brandt didn?t attend because of illness, so Peggy sent a bag home to her.
?And she still paid for it,? Peggy said.
This kettle corn isn?t just any kettle corn ? it?s made by Loren and Peggy, who have been selling the delicious treat at the Bethel College Fall Festival since the late 1990s. They will sell it again this year, and, for a time in years past, they sold it outside of the Newton Wal-Mart. Fall Fest will be Oct. 16-19 this year.
When selling the kettle corn at Bethel, Loren jokingly said he calls it German Swiss Anabaptist Mennonite Bethel College Kettle Korn, and when they sell it at the Mennonite Central Com?mittee relief sale in Hutchinson, he replaces the words ?Bethel College? with ?MCC.?
?One year, we popped nearly 400 pounds,? Peggy said of the MCC sale, which was attended by more than 25,000 people.
When they first started, the Reussers had a wooden rowboat oar to stir the kettle corn, but now use a motorized stirrer. Peggy joked people get less fiber in their kettle corn now.
People from around the country purchase the sweetened grain at Fall Fest. The recipe includes popcorn, butter, salt, sugar and canola oil. For example, some people took the corn to Ohio, and a Newton mom who had a son attending college in Chicago mailed the tasty treat to him. Their cooking heat source is propane, which Loren said sounds like a hot-air balloon blast.
Now, the only time they sell kettle corn is during Fall Fest, and for that annual event, they donate about 80 percent of the proceeds to the college. For 12 years, they sold it at the MCC sale and gave proceeds to the sale. They have not, however, sold kettle corn at the MCC sale the past three years. They didn?t this year because they volunteered with Feeding the Multitudes at the sale. They also donate kettle corn to the local Crop Walk.
?We rarely sell it,? Peggy said.
Loren became interested in selling kettle corn after tasting a sample from Dewey Hochstetter at a church function in Wichita. Loren asked Dewey where he got the treat, and Dewey informed him he made it. Dewey purchased his first kettle corn rig for $25,000.
?He was my ?kettle corn father,?? Loren said.
At one point, Dewey said he was going to make a kettle corn rig to his own specifications.
?So he made one that he liked, and that?s what we bought ? the one that he made,? Loren said.
The Reussers, who have been married for 60 years and like to tease each other in a loving way, said they?ve given away or sold more than 2,000 pounds of kettle corn.
In addition to showing his spirit for the college, Loren likes to sell kettle corn at Fall Fest for a couple of other reasons.
?(I) have a good time,? he said. ?Learn to know some students because they help. We don?t get to enjoy the totality (of Fall Fest), but what I enjoy most is meeting some people I haven?t seen for 10 to 20 years.?
In addition to popping corn, the Reussers drove a semi truck together for a number of years. Peggy did that with Loren for 19 years, and now Loren jokingly says Peggy is ?semi? retired. Loren still drives truck. He?s also a former teacher, having taught business and accounting at Hesston College and Eastern Mennonite Univer?sity, and was business manager at Tabor College for three years.
Peggy said they?ve experienced many places during their marriage.
?So we?re moved a few times in our lifetime,? Peggy said. ?Last time I counted 22 times.?

Fall Festival
Bethel College has put on Fall Festival for more many years. For a list of events, visit www.bethelks.edu and type ?Fall Fest 2014? in the search box.
?Fall Fest is a celebration, not only for Bethel, but for the Newton area as a whole,? said Dave Linscheid, alumni relations director. The Alumni Office coordinates the event. ?Fall Fest has entertainment, food, college booths, arts and crafts, alumni reunions, sports, activities for children, and other features.?
Events will include Taste of Newton downtown on Oct. 16, the Fall Fest fair on Oct. 18 on campus and the musical ?The Man of La Mancha.?
Usually thousands of people attend Fall Festival events and activities.
?Everybody?s welcome,? Linscheid said.

Photos and story by Wendy Nugent