Bethany Lutheran College Professor Emeritus Rudolph (Rudy) Honsey (98) was called to his eternal home shortly after noon on May 11, 2017, in Mankato, Minnesota.
When Honsey arrived at Bethany Lutheran College as a student in 1938, he was eager to learn and eventually study to serve the church as a minister of the Gospel. After his time at Bethany, Honsey enrolled at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, where he earned both a bachelor of arts degree and a bachelor of divinity (today’s equivalent is a master of divinity). Honsey graduated from Concordia Seminary in 1945 and set out to become an ordained pastor, but a change in plans occurred before he was called to the parish, which affected his life and possibly hundreds, maybe thousands of others as a result.
S.C. Ylvisaker, Bethany’s president at the time, needed new faculty members to teach the growing numbers of students on the Bethany campus. More and more young men were returning from serving in the United States military during World War II and were looking for educational options. Ylvisaker recognized Honsey’s talent and personality and thought it would be a good fit for the Bethany campus. So, before Honsey could deliver his first sermon at a Synodical Conference Lutheran church, Ylvisaker convinced him to accept a temporary call to teach at Bethany. The call was made permanent in 1946. During his years in academia at Bethany, Honsey also studied at University of Chicago, Mankato State College, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin where he earned a master of arts in Scandinavian Studies in 1955, and Brandeis University where he earned a master of arts in Mediterranean Studies in 1962.
Honsey taught an array of courses at Bethany including history, Greek, Latin, Norwegian, religion, and Hebrew at Bethany Seminary. In those early years of the College, it wasn’t unusual for professors to be in the classroom for nearly twenty hours each week—that’s just in the classroom and does not include preparation time, advising time with students, or preparing sermons for daily chapel, which Honsey did weekly.
It was also during this time that a young woman named Elizabeth (Betty) Lillegard began teaching at nearby Mount Olive Lutheran School in Mankato. The two met and were united in marriage in 1950, and were blessed with five children: Judith, Carole, Philip, Ellen, and Ralph.
Honsey had a special connection to his students. That connection hasn’t gone unnoticed over the years. When his health allowed, there rarely was an alumni reunion or event that Honsey hadn’t made it a point to attend. At those few events that he and Betty didn’t attend, there would have been several people asking, “How is Professor Honsey?”
Perhaps that special connection to his students came about because of his educational philosophy, which he softly stated for an interview in 2009, “The subject matter was important, but the students were more important.”
That approach explains why the former Chair of the Bethany Lutheran College Board of Regents, John Moldstad Sr. once said, “Taking away nothing from the others, of all the faculty that I’ve known down through the years, [Professor Honsey] was probably the most loved by the students.”
Professor Honsey served Bethany Lutheran College forty-seven years.
When Bethany’s largest and most prominent academic building (Rudolph E. Honsey Hall) was named for him in 2009, Honsey, upon learning of the news, couldn’t believe it. “I don’t deserve it,” he said. “I hope there won’t be too many protests.”