Dr. David Hershberger: Registrar and Renaissance Man


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The most pressing item on Dr. David Hershberger’s retirement agenda is what to do first.

“I have a pretty broad range of hobbies,” Maranatha’s veteran Registrar admitted.

Perhaps he’ll build custom furniture. Perhaps he’ll add to his collection of hundreds of history books. Perhaps he’ll write his own book on apologetics or theology. Perhaps he and wife Barbara will bike across Wisconsin. Perhaps he’ll prepare a series of lectures on financial planning for ministries or young adults.

Hershberger will hang up his spreadsheet this summer after 38 years at the College, 35 as Registrar. Associate Registrar Steve Carlson will assume Hershberger’s title.

“He has always been exceptionally careful with the details of the work in the Registrar’s Office,” Carlson said of Hershberger.

“Whether that work is the college catalog or calendar, or the wording of a new policy, or an important email, the detail and accuracy has always been primary. Additionally he has always been very vocal with his appreciation for the work of those in the office.”

There is plenty to appreciate Hershberger for, especially when one considers the impact of his work on Maranatha’s academic structure.

Making an impact

He came to Watertown as a faculty member in the fall of 1974 and was told that he should become familiar with academic advisement. By the fall of 1977, Hershberger had been named Registrar while retaining a 12-hour teaching load that included Greek, Hebrews, and Pauline Epistles.

David Hershberger teaching“Dr. Cedarholm called me into his office and asked, ‘How would you like another job?’ ” Hershberger recalled. “Then the phone rang, and he left the office for 15 minutes. I thought perhaps what he meant was that I should be looking for another job somewhere else.”

The additional duties Cedarholm had in mind included creating the class schedule and college calendar as well as printing the first versions of the catalog. From 1979-84, only a “mini-catalog” was produced to save money on printing costs.

A more serious concern than the catalog budget appeared on Hershberger’s horizon in the early 1990s. Maranatha had begun to mull regional accreditation, and Hershberger and Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. John Brock were the primary sources of information on the issue.

“There were hundreds of hours of work by our office and thousands of hours campus-wide that went into that process,” Hershberger said.

The Higher Learning Commission approved Maranatha for regional accreditation in 1993. Not everyone in Baptist fundamentalism approved, however.

“We took a lot of flack for it,” Hershberger said. “But, it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. God used accreditation to preserve the school. People attacking Maranatha were making statements based on ignorance of the facts. They used the ‘slippery slope’ argument, but the truth was exactly the opposite. If you step outside of your educational mission, you will be held accountable. That’s the true nature of accreditation.”

Embracing the spreadsheet

Hershberger helped develop processes and documents that made life easier for students, faculty, and academic staff.

The document that will remain the cornerstone of the Hershberger legacy is the Course Sequence and Faculty Planning spreadsheet. This intensely complex merging of macros, buttons, color codes, and sorting options is Maranatha’s academic roadmap as well as its master roster of bus drivers. Hershberger began to develop the current version in 2003.

“Our office at one time used nearly twice as much paper as the rest of the campus combined—reams and reams of it,” Hershberger said. “Had we persisted in that direction, we would have run into huge storage problems. Now I can develop spreadsheets for teaching loads, course sequencing, you name it.

“I find spreadsheets to be liberating. I’ve embraced them from the beginning.”

Loving students for 38 years

When Hershberger becomes liberated from his office, you’ll often find him and his wife on their bicycles. David Hershberger estimated the couple will bike 1,500 to 2,000 miles each year. After numerous “scouting trips” across the country for potential retirement locations, the Hershbergers settled on remaining in the Watertown home they built in 1984.

“We came to the conclusion that we really like Wisconsin,” David Hershberger said. “It’s a cycling paradise.”

Hershberger says Maranatha students haven’t changed all that much since 1974, at least not in ways that really matter.

“Some of the faculty members at lunch the other day started a conversation with, ‘Well, back when I was in school …,’ ” Hershberger said. “I just told them, ‘Hey, you’re forgetting what it was like.’ I believe in their (the students’) depravity, just like I believe in yours and mine. They may do something silly that they’ll never do again. But, by the time they walk across the graduation platform, sometimes I wonder how we’ll ever replace them.

“If people think our students aren’t ministry-minded, they’ve got their heads in the sand. If I thought our students were representative of the whole movement, I’d be more than encouraged. Right now, many of them are still working on who they are. But God has a place for them, just like he had one for me.”