Retirees: Centuries of service, immeasurable commitment

Pick your image—turning the page, ending an era—all fall short when describing these faculty who retired in 2023 with 200 years combined service and an incalculable contribution to FPU.

Greg Camp

Greg Camp, Ph.D. (1984) 

Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Associate Dean of the School of Humanities, Religion & Social Sciences

Greg Camp (M.Div., ’87, BA ’82) loves teaching the Bible and was willing to try facilities and administration. The Visalia native comes from a “complex” tribe of siblings, half-siblings and Friends (Quaker) and Methodist relatives—many were ministers, but none were Mennonite Brethren. Pastor Al Kroeker led Camp’s immediate family to Neighborhood Church, “a church plant by people from Dinuba MB that had fewer ‘ethnic’ Mennonites,” Camp says.  

Following a year at College of the Sequoias, Camp studied biblical and religious studies and philosophy at Fresno Pacific. “I was always drawn to the church and the study of the Bible, which made me a bit of an odd child,” he says.  

After working in facilities and directing financial aid, Camp became full-time faculty in 1995 and associate dean of the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences in 2019. Teaching kept Camp at FPU. “One can study Scripture, pursue other intellectual passions and spend hours in pastoral care for young adults,” he says. “The last years in administration saw that shift to caring for faculty and staff.” 

Camp loves the flow of generations. Henry Schmidt and Vernon Janzen, pastors who would serve what became FPU, shaped Camp, who later taught with Schmidt’s daughter, Laura Schmidt Roberts, and Janzen’s son, Rod, and grandson, Chris. “I was able to come alongside my teachers and mentors as one of their colleagues. In turn, I have also seen my own students become my colleagues,” he says.

Steve Varvis

Steve Varvis, Ph.D. (1985)

Professor of History, Administrator Extraordinaire  

Summarize Steve Varvis’ roles at FPU? Well, he was featured in a 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education series on people having different positions within higher education, while teaching nearly every semester since 1983. He reckons administration, faculty leadership and full-time teaching have each taken about a third of the last 40 years.

Varvis describes himself as “almost a native” since his family moved to Fresno from Southern California 55 years ago. In college he was captured by the Late Middle Ages after reading thinkers who argued the period was the root of either the worst or best of the modern world. “I have been more-or-less working on that kind of question since then,” he says.  

Returning to Fresno with wife Teri after graduate school in 1983, Varvis taught adjunct at FPU while working in computer software. In 1985 President Rich Kriegbaum tapped Varvis for seven years as business manager. “After that I went on the faculty,” he says, though his administrative work didn’t stop. He has been undergraduate dean, director of business and civic relations, vice president for enrollment management and provost. 

Whatever he did, Varvis enjoyed good colleagues, students who became friends and working with the FPU Board of Trustees. “Colleges and universities are endlessly complex and fascinating,” he says. “I have been given many opportunities to work in many university areas, and I am grateful for all of them.” 

Today Varvis leads FPU Alumni and Friends Tours:

Tim Geddert

Tim Geddert, Ph.D. (1986) 

Professor of New Testament, Interim Dean of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary 

Tim Geddert (M.Div. ’78) discovered his passion at home in Hepburn, Saskatchewan. “I always oved the Bible; I spent many years studying it and fell in love with the New Testament,” he says. 

That left one choice for his education. “MBBS (Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary) was the only MB graduate seminary anywhere,” Geddert says.  

A decade after becoming a student in 1976, Geddert returned to teach. “I stayed because it was always wonderful!,” he says. (Though, he points out, his “stay” did include five years of partial leaves of absence to live in Germany.) “It has been a really, really great ministry calling.”  

Geddert appreciated the collegial relationships between faculty, staff and administration and the diverse, engaged student body. “I got to do all the things I love…teach, write and travel,” he says. 

Retirement promises a relaxed version of the same, plus his longtime sideline of house painting. Then there’s time with the very extended Geddert family. As a widower with two children, he met wife Gertrud when she came from Germany as a seminary student. “We had four more children together, then adopted our seventh,” he says. “Our children range in age from 11-44, and we have five grandchildren.”

Rod Janzen

Rod Janzen, Ed.D. (1989)

Professor of History, University Distinguished Scholar

Rod Janzen (BA ’75) was raised at FPU. “When I was very young my father (Vernon Janzen) studied at the seminary. In later years he was an administrator and teacher.”

While Janzen considered leaving Fresno for Eastern Mennonite, he had a full-tuition scholarship for an in-state school. “Once I moved on campus, I was glad I was here,” he says. 

Paul Toews was influential. “After taking one class with Paul I changed my major to history,” Janzen says. Luetta Reimer and Larry Warkentin were also important.

Janzen’s career began at Freeman College and Academy in South Dakota, where he also served as academy principal, continuing at Iowa Mennonite High School, where he was principal while wife Deb (McKenzie BA ’75) studied library science at the University of Iowa and they began their family; oldest child Chris would join FPU’s faculty.

Freeman spurred an interest in Hutterites. “They were right next door,” he says. Janzen would later edit the Communal Societies journal. Among
his nine books would be The Rise and Fall of Synanon, a new edition of which was published in October by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Returning to FPU in 1989, Janzen started teaching in 1990. In 2003 he was appointed Distinguished Scholar, and started Pacific Journal, the university’s research publication, which he still edits. With regard to research, “I’ve always thought it was important to do the same thing you ask your students to do,” he says.

Allen Carden

Allen Carden, Ph.D. (1997)

President, Professor of History

Allen Carden’s life took two turns in high school. First, his family moved from Wheaton, IL, to La Mirada, CA, when his professor father went from Wheaton College to Biola University.

Second was an honors American history course. “That class made me fall in love with the idea of becoming a history teacher,” Carden says. Proving his devotion with a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in history, he served at Biola 1971-1987, then spent a decade in roles, including president, at Spring Arbor (MI) University.

Carden, wife Denice and their two daughters happily returned to California in 1997 when he became FPU president. He was familiar with both the university and one of its signature programs as part of a Spring Arbor team that marketed degree completion to FPU in 1988.

Returning to the classroom in 2000, Carden found much to appreciate. “The academic rigor, Christian commitment and philosophical basis of the university as embodied in the Fresno Pacific Idea are impressive,” he says.

Best memories for Carden center on helping launch the liberal arts degree completion program, developing curriculum, teaching and serving as director. “It has been gratifying to see students who thought perhaps they would never complete their college education do so,” he says..

Fay Nielsen

Fay Nielsen, Ph.D. (1997)

Director of Student Success and Retention, Associate Professor of Kinesiology

Before coming to FPU, Fay Nielsen lived in Visalia with no idea the university existed. Once she got here, however, scholarly research turned up a connection. “Paul Toews found out that my father had been Peter Klassen’s doctoral dissertation advisor,” she says. “I guess I was meant to be here.”

While Nielsen began as director of student success and retention, she kept her hand in teaching as a physical education instructor, leading the Dance Movement class for 20 years. For the last five years of her tenure, she taught full time as the physical education specialist in the kinesiology department. “During my time in kinesiology we were able to send quite a few more PE students to our credential program,” she says.

“It has been wonderful to watch the expansion journey of the university over the last 25 years,” Nielsen says. “I have always appreciated the camaraderie among the faculty and their genuine care and concern for our students...this is why students come to FPU.”