By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now
Wearing a plaid jacket and throwing kettle corn at the audience, 87-year-old North Newton resident and Bethel College alum Loren Reusser doesn’t look like most cheerleaders.
But he has their enthusiasm.
He leads cheers during Bethel College home and away games, as well as tossing bags of kettle corn he’s made to those cheering. He even throws it to the audience of the opposing team. During the years, Reusser’s figured he’s thrown out 125,000 cups of popcorn, which equals 7,812.5 gallons. If one was to put all of that popcorn on the Bethel basketball court, it probably would fill the court and then some.
“People have to earn it,” he said about them getting kettle corn. “Can’t buy it. How do they earn it? By cheering real well.”
Reusser goes to games prepared with his kettle corn, jacket and a megaphone. He said his wife, Peggy, doesn’t like the plaid jacket.
“One time, I wore a pair of blue pants with it,” Reusser said. “Helen Nachtigal asked [Peggy], ‘How did he get out of the house?’ Peggy said, ‘He got off the chain.’”
When throwing kettle corn, Reusser said if he’s back 12 to 15 yards from the recipient, he likes to throw it right at the person’s stomach. He said if he’s closer, he uses a soft underhand toss.
Their youngest granddaughter had printed on a long-sleeved maroon-colored T-shirt for her grandpa, “It’s kettle corn. How dare you call it popcorn?” on the front, and Reusser said a Bethel grad who was a basketball player made a shirt for him with “Loren is my home boy” and a picture of Reusser on the front.
Reusser goes to football, men’s and women’s basketball, softball and volleyball games.
The Reussers had their own kettle corn business, and they sold the tractor and trailer for that in 2016.
“When we sold the tractor and trailer, that was it,” Reusser said about their business.
For a number of years, the Reussers sold kettle corn during Bethel College’s Fall Fest.
Reusser’s kettle corn throwing at games started in 2006, and not just at home games.
“We have been to York, Neb., a new school in Kansas City—Avala– and a school in Oklahoma,” he said.
The cheerleading and kettle corn throwing came after Reusser’s grandson, Reed Hamond, mentioned something to Reusser. Hamond and a couple of his buddies, when they were seniors in high school, were invited to stand on the sidelines of a Bethel College football game. Hamond mentioned to his grandpa that Bethel didn’t seem to support their team like Hesston High School does.
“At that time, Bethel had no cheer squad,” Reusser said, adding guests from other KCAC schools also mentioned the Bethel crowd was quiet. “I didn’t like the sound of that when Reed said that. I did some things all on my own.”
Reusser said his first megaphone was a 2-liter pop container, and after the first two games, Reusser said a man from Mulvane brought him a construction cone he could use as a megaphone.
“Later that same year, a dear woman from California, she had a megaphone manufactured and about 100 pom-poms in boxes,” Reusser said. “She had all the football boys that year sign it. I use it at football games, yet.”
He said that megaphone is too big for basketball.
Even though he still leads cheers, Reusser said Bethel now has a cheer squad and a band for games. He does some cheerleading at home and more away.
One of his cheers goes like this. He says, “We are,” and the crowd yells, “Threshers!” They do that five or six times, he said. Another cheer is “Roll on, Threshers, roll on,” which addresses the threshing stone. Another cheer emphasizes different words in the chant: “WE love our team. We LOVE our team. We love OUR team. We love our TEAM. WE LOVE OUR TEAM.”
“It’s more fun to yell it toward the end of the game when our team is winning,” he said.
Peggy made a sign for the “We love our team” chant, and then the cheer squad had some signs manufactured with that chant on it, as well. The coach then told Reusser the cheer squad wanted to use the chant, since it was Reusser’s original cheer. However, at first, the chant used the word “like” instead of “love,” and one day a women’s basketball player asked why they didn’t use the word “love.” It was changed.
Reusser does this for one reason.
“Because of my commitment to Jesus and Bethel College,” he said. “Even though I was a card-carrying Mennonite for 10 years after being baptized and because of meeting Jesus while at Bethel College and because of the work I did from 1958 when I was a student at Bethel.”
The revival meeting was in Walton and it gave him and his wife a relationship with Jesus, Reusser said.
“That gave Peggy and me a 180-degree turn in our life,” Reusser said, adding he hadn’t planned on teaching before that, but ended up instructing business courses and being a track coach at Hesston College.
Then, a call came from the church office to go to Taiwan for three years, where he taught conversational English and was a business manager, doing this through Mennonite Church USA.
“That was a good experience,” he said. “I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for a good relationship earlier.”
Bethel College, he said, helped bring him closer to Jesus. While he was in class as a student, his instructor said there are more writings about Jesus outside of the Bible than about Christopher Columbus, and what child doubts the existence of Christopher Columbus? That got Reusser to thinking, and then he was asked to teach Sunday school class at Walton.
“That was a meaningful step,” Reusser said. “As a result of that, I quit smoking except for one cigarette after that.”
Paul in the Bible wrote to treat the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, Reusser said.
“I want Bethel College students to know things that make life meaningful and purposeful,” he said. “I know these things wouldn’t have happened without Bethel College.”