From testing prototype tractors to developing innovative education programs, Silas Bartsch lived as an innovator.
That life was honored October 22 as about 150 friends, colleagues and former students gathered in Ashley Auditorium at Fresno Pacific University to pay tribute to Bartsch, who died October 18.
While a teenager in his native Minnesota, Bartsch drove experimental tractors for relatives of Wendy Wakeman, dean of the FPU School of Professional Studies (SPS). "I can't think of a more fitting first job," she said.
As the first SPS dean, Bartsch was always building programs to better the work of teachers and the lives of students. "If you scratch the surface of any major educational development in this valley, especially those with a strong Christian influence, you will find Si Bartsch" said Arthur Wiebe, former university president.
SPS today includes the Center for Professional Development (CPD), which provides continuing education for educators and other professionals, and the Center for Degree Completion (CDC), which helps working adults complete their bachelor's degree. Bartsch spent 31 years at the university, teaching sociology and education, helping expand both the teacher education program and the graduate school and serving as interim president.
Wiebe remembered the telephone call where Bartsch offered, not just to serve on a board or advisory committee as Wiebe had thought, but to leave his post as superintendent of Kings Canyon Unified School District to teach at FPU. "He said, ‘During the past few years I have been increasingly convicted that the greatest need in education is for an infusion of Christian teachers.'," Wiebe said.
Bartsch put his passion into practice by working with the schools he strove to improve. While others promoted preconstructed programs to districts, Bartsch asked educators what they needed, said Edmund Janzen, faculty and former president.
In improving education, Bartsch brought honor to the university. Janzen recalled giving talks to community groups about FPU and finding Bartsch's reputation preceded him. "People said, ‘You represent the school where Silas Bartsch is.'," Janzen said.
Once begun at FPU in 1970, Bartsch worked tirelessly until shortly before his death. Along the way he earned, according to Wiebe, the record for the number of retirement parties given any one person. "Si would celebrate his retirement on Friday and on Monday would show up, ready to be involved in some new way," he said. "A few days ago God gave Si a retirement—we'll see if it holds."
What's sure is that Bartsch's influence will endure in the lives and classrooms of the more than 10,000 teachers served each year by the CPD. "The center was founded on his ideas," said Larry Perryman, university vice president for business affairs and former CPD associate dean. "Si will still be here."
Bartsch was born May 13, 1926. He is survived by his wife, Nadine; son, Doug; daughter, Kris; daughter-in-law, Susie; and son-in-law, Tim; as well as four grandchildren, two brothers and five sisters.