Family photo of man, woman, daughter, son

Black History and Bethany Lutheran College

Each week, a newsletter is sent to the employees of Bethany Lutheran College. For the week that included the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the following prayer was published.

Dear Father in Heaven, You created all people in Your image. We thank You for the amazing diversity of races and cultures in this world. We ask that You bless our campus and students with ever-growing circles of friendship created by the many cultures represented here at Bethany Lutheran College. We also humbly ask that You show us Your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of Your love is made perfect in our love for all Your children; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Not long after the MLK Day holiday, Bethany observed Black History Month with a variety of events across the campus.

While black students have attended, and graduated, from Bethany Lutheran College for many decades, it was in 2005 that the first black graduate earned his bachelor’s degree from Bethany. His name is Jerome Wardlow. Wardlow came to Bethany from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after being recruited by Art Westphal to join the Vikings basketball program.

“I learned of Bethany through Art Westphal. Basketball attracted me to Bethany, but my growth was fostered by many others. There was a moment after a game at Anoka Ramsey Community College when my best effort was not on display. Coach Jeddeloh made me practice alone with an assistant coach for close to an hour. Because of this moment, I know he loves me. Giving your best effort, and not relying on others all the time, was a lesson I needed to learn.”

Growing up, Wardlow mentioned that his environment was, at times, challenging. He specifically acknowledged the mentoring and welcoming environment at Bethany for playing a key role in setting his life and career on a path to success.

“The peaceful environment. I never really had a place prior to Bethany that allowed me to escape the problems that people around me had.”

Wardlow’s basketball teammate and roommate at Bethany was Jesse Pfeifer. Pfeifer is the son of Bethany President Gene Pfeifer and Professor of Education Carrie Pfeifer. Long before the Pfeifers ever thought of coming to Bethany as employees, they were living and teaching in New Ulm, Minnesota—Gene at Martin Luther College and Carrie at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School. In what now seems like a serendipitous set of circumstances, the Pfeifers got to know Wardlow, invited him into their home, and helped him in various ways on his path to graduation from Bethany. Wardlow explained their positive influence on his life and education.

“They were the most influential in my growth because they recognized my shortcomings, accepted me despite them, and nurtured me to process things more effectively. Over the years, I have been able to process many of the lessons that I learned from being in and around their home for four years.

“When I reflect on my time at Bethany Lutheran College, I think of friends and the people that guided my growth the most.”

Since earning his degree from Bethany, Wardlow has returned to Milwaukee and is now a mentor to youth in the city where grew up. He continued his collegiate education at Rockford University earning his certificate in special education. Wardlow currently teaches at Nathan Hale High School in the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District in both special education and English.

Wardlow and his wife, Angela, are parents to Jerome Jr. (7) and Leigha (10). Angela also teaches math and is department chair at Nathan Hale High School. Wardlow is an active community volunteer in the Milwaukee area. He currently coaches youth sports for Wilson Premier Youth Baseball, Greenfield Youth Baseball, and Nathan Hale High School football. He is also a board member and event communications chair for the Greenfield Girls Basketball Club.

As BLC’s first black bachelor’s graduate, Wardlow helped to pave the way for Bethany’s increasingly diverse student body, and Bethany is proud to be Jerome Wardlow’s alma mater. We wish him continued success mentoring the youth of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.