In addition to a liberal-arts and practical education—in nursing and economics, respectively—Lois ’60 and Richard Reimer ’57 gained some lifelong values at Bethel.
After raising three children and completing careers in their fields (health care for Lois; teaching economics for 34 years at the College of Wooster, Ohio, for Richard), the Reimers are now encouraging other Bethel graduates to think about those values when they invest their money.
The Reimers, natives of south-central Kansas who recently retired to North Newton after four-plus decades in Ohio, made a six-figure gift to Bethel to set up its first socially responsible investment (SRI) fund.
“There are many socially responsible groups” to be found in investment portfolios, Richard says, those “that choose screens for how their money is invested. When you buy stock in a company, you become a part owner. Most of us don’t want to be part owners of companies that mistreat the environment, or women, or manufacture munitions.”
The Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) holds and manages Bethel’s new SRI fund in consultation with Everence, a financial services organization connected with Mennonite Church USA.
A distinctive characteristic of this fund is its focus on what Everence calls “stewardship investing”: finding investment areas that promote positive changes around environmental, social and governance issues; screening out investments that do harm (tobacco, and firearms or weapons production being only two examples); and doing shareholder advocacy in some areas (an example of this might be a call to divest from fossil-fuel production).
“The SRI Endowment aligns with Bethel College’s mission and values and provides an investment alternative for alumni who value the type of screens represented by MEA and Everence,” says Pam Tieszen, vice president of institutional advancement, adding that Bethel funds also remain invested in the Common Fund as well.
To give an endowed gift, contact Bethel advancement staff Matt Hein ’09, director of development, Rob Schunn ’86, annual fund director, or Tieszen.
“A lot of people argue that the socially responsible investment funds aren’t as profitable,” says Richard. “That’s not necessarily true. Right now, socially responsible funds do about as well as others.”
“For a long time, [socially responsible investing] was just what we did,” he goes on. “That was reinforced when I was on the board at Mennonite Mutual Aid, now Everence, when they started Praxis Mutual Funds. At the time, it was part of the process of divesting from South Africa [and its apartheid government].
“That experience was fun, challenging and educational,” he continues. “As a college economics professor, I learned to apply some of the things I was teaching—the knowledge of what makes profitable companies, how to deal with management to some extent.
“I always paid attention to what companies were doing. I’m not sure when mutual funds started. Back then, there weren’t so many conglomerates and it was easier to keep track.
“For example, Winchester made rifles—so no, we wouldn’t invest there, even though I had a student who went on to work for Winchester. During the Vietnam War, we knew GE was making [equipment for war].”
For the Reimers, socially responsible investing is “working through a process of your own personal values and how you express those,” Richard says. “Even when the socially responsible investment fund doesn’t produce as much as some others, there’s a principal at stake here.”
He also points out that when groups of shareholders cooperate, they can make a difference. “If a company’s hiring policies are discriminatory, for example, [the group of investors] can say they will divest. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.”
“Even if it doesn’t ‘work,’ it’s brought an issue to public light,” Lois adds.
Thinking back to their time at Bethel, the Reimers reflected on the people who had influenced them. For Richard, that was Lloyd Spaulding, professor of business and economics, and both of them cited J. Winfield Fretz, professor of sociology who also served as interim president.
“Dr. Fretz would put his money where it didn’t always pay dividends,” Lois says. “He bailed people out even when there wasn’t much hope of return. The [early racial] integration of his restaurant [in downtown Newton] showed he lived what he believed. That was the overall culture of Bethel.”