Ever wondered why the parking lot is filled in front of the Luyken Fine Arts Center on Bethel College's campus each Wednesday morning during the fall and spring semesters? It is because of the nearly 200 people who attend the Life Enrichment program, which is about to start its 43rd year of bringing speakers in for the public to hear.
"In 1974, in that school term, there was a sociology class that surveyed the neighborhood to see what they had a need for, and that fall was the first session of Life Enrichment," said Susie Wickiser, chair of the Life Enrichment committee. "It was sort of grassroots."
Each session typically includes three speakers talking about subjects like technology, current events, music, photography, agriculture, social issues and local history.
"People who come have an engaging curiosity," Wickiser said. "They don't just come for coffee and cookies...it gives them a destination, an opportunity to see people they've known for 50 years and to make new friends."
Topics can be educational, emotional and entertaining.
"This audience really has a heart for national and international ministries," Wickiser said.
Though Life Enrichment is held at Bethel College and primarily designed for seniors, Wickiser emphasized the program is open to all.
Life Enrichment sessions are still largely shaped by the requests of the people who attend. Each year, attendees are given the chance to request specific speakers or topics.
"I'd say about half of the programs come from suggestions from the audience," Wickiser said. "We try to pay attention to the audience and what they may be interested in and we try to include some Bethel College programs."
Also volunteering on the Life Enrichment committee are Gloria and Gary Rediger, Helen Nachtigal and Wendell Wiens. It is their task to line up speakers for each week and substitutes who can fill in if needed.
Presenters may come from the Kansas Humanities Council's Speakers Bureau or from a conversation with a person they met as they talk to people around the area, Wickiser said.
The topics set for the fall semester, which starts on Aug. 30, include "A Child's View of War in 1940s England," "Germans to Germans: The Story of the P.O.W. Camp at Peabody, Kansas" and "The Quiet Demonstration in 1950s and 1960s Mississippi." "Fifty Years in Radio and Music," "Steel Drum Band, Year 2" and "Don't Touch That Dial! Remembering Old Time Radio" will also be featured.
November's speakers will present "Japanese Gardens Through the Year," "Harvey County's Foulest Crime and Legal Battle" and "Black and White Together."
This year, Life Enrichment will not skip Bethel College's Fall Fest week as it has in the past, in order to complete 12 weeks of speakers before Thanksgiving.
There is a cost of $20 per semester or $2 per week to attend Life Enrichment. First-time attendees can listen for free. Life Enrichment starts at 9:30 a.m. and ends around 12:15 p.m. each Wednesday.
A van runs to Bethel College, 300 E. 27th St., North Newton, from Kidron Bethel Village each week. Those who are able to walk a short distance are encouraged to park at Kauffman Museum, 2801 N. Main St. in North Newton.
For more information about the Life Enrichment program, visit https://www.bethelks.edu/life-enrichment or call 316-283-2500.