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Oak Hills Christian College: Music director retiring after more than 40 years

Ken Wold is retiring after more than 40 years as music director at Oak Hills Christian College. A community retirement party and service is planned for 1:30 p.m., Saturday, June 26, in the Fellowship Center Chapel on the campus. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

K en Wold grew up on a farm north of Tenstrike.

Although he did not come from a musical family, he said his family was supportive of his interests in continuing his studies. Ken's first experience with Oak Hills was in 1948 when he attended the summer camp.

"At that time, my friends all got married at 18 or 19 and then started to work with dad on the farm or wherever, but I went on to the Oak Hills to complete a two-year Bible education program after graduating from Bemidji High School in 1958," said Wold. "In the early years of Oak Hill Christian Training School, which started in 1946, it was a six-month program with two quarters and we were here for three years to attain a two-year education."

He said Oak Hills appealed to the rural populations of Northern Minnesota and North Dakota. The farm kids could finish harvesting in October, come to school until April and then go back home to plant. The goal of the school was to train people for Christian ministry.

After completion of his studies at Oak Hills, Wold transferred some of his credits toward a degree in music education at St. Cloud State College where he was certified to teach K-12 music and then taught for three years in Mora, Minn. In the years between teaching in Mora and returning to Oak Hills, Wold married his wife, Bonnie, in 1961. They have three children: Robin Wold, who is the director of Hope House; Jon, who works for IBM in Rochester; and Brian, who is a website designer in California. After retirement, they hope to be able to travel more and visit their children and two grandchildren, the younger one just graduated from high school.

In 1968, Wold received an invitation to teach at his Oak Hills alma mater. In 1974, Wold took a sabbatical and became minister of music at First Presbyterian Church in Duluth. He said he had been teaching church music and wanted to experience actually doing the job at a church.

In 1985, Oak Hills became a four-year institution - Oak Hills Bible College - and required all teachers to have a master's level degree to teach. So the Wolds all went to Portland, Ore., where he finished a master's degree program. In 1998, Oak Hills then became Oak Hills Christian College. The pull of Northern Minnesota was strong, and Wold returned time and again to this area but as he explained, "The thing I have said repeatedly is that I enjoyed working with my colleagues and the good administrators, but it is the students who have kept me here. I just enjoy that investment in their lives, to watch them grow and change, and sometimes even after they've gone."

Wold said he is proud of the relationships he has had with students for the past 42 years as teacher, choir director and mentor. There always seem to be students who need a masculine influence in their lives, Wold said. He said he is aware of how important it is for an adult to treat young men and women with respect.

"I never call them girls or boys," he said. "Every semester, I have a hiking group called Hike and Pray for the male students and we hike no matter the weather. There are 168 acres of land on the campus and I pick a different trail each time. I prompt them on by saying, 'Let's go men!' We climb trees and walk miles on Wednesdays and we bond as a group."

At the last choir concert this year for Oak Hills Christian College, many of the members spoke to the audience about how much having Wold as a teacher and choir director meant to them. One student, who is hearing impaired in both ears, was accepted into the choir the second time he auditioned because he had improved so much over the summer months by singing in his local church choir. He cited the time and effort Wold gave him the encouragement needed to continue to sing. Another student is severely sight impaired and could not read the music because the scale was too small. He spoke about the faith Wold had in him and how much singing in the choir supported him psychologically. Wold said they printed the words in the largest print available so that student could study them.

A recent graduate, Nicole Harthan who just received her associate degree in arts and biblical studies, said students think highly of Wold.

"Mr. Wold has definitely had a big impact on my life; he encourages us to live the right way in The Word and he is really like a grandpa, and we can go to him for anything. He really cares about us," she said.

Although Wold is retiring from Oak Hills Christian College at the end of June, he will continue with his duties with the concerts of the Bemidji Area Church Musicians, which began in 1988 when some organists from local churches got together and decided that playing background music before, during and after church services was not really fulfilling. They wanted people to just sit and listen, so they decided to start a summer series of concerts at local churches. The concert series now runs the whole summer season and is attended by upwards of 100 people weekly. The free will offerings support music scholarships for local students. Wold was asked to take over management of the series when the original founder left the Bemidji area about five years after its inception.

"We have maintained the instrumental portion of the series and added some vocalists, like Joe Vene who sang a couple of pieces last summer at Joe Henry's recital," said Wold. "I will continue to have private music students, both vocal and instrumental. I have been thinking about joining the Bemidji Chorale for some time but never had the time to do so. I would also like to take some short mission trips, another thing I have wanted to do but couldn't fit it into my schedule."

Colleagues, students and friends will be on hand to wish Wold well at his community retirement party and service starting at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, June 26, in the Fellowship Center Chapel on the campus. All are invited to launch him on his next career path - whether here in Bemidji or in the jungles of some far-away country.