Bethel College names building for Halstead banker

10/26/2012 2:55 PM

10/26/2012 2:55 PM

A long-time Halstead banker who died nearly a year ago had his name placed on a building this month on the Bethel College campus in North Newton.

The James A. Will Family Academic Center is the new name of the former Science Hall at Bethel, which was renovated for $5 million.

College officials said in a news release issued this week that the school received a “seven-figure gift” from Will’s estate. Will, who retired as a vice president from the Halstead Bank, died on Nov. 25, 2011, at the age of 77.

Will’s former boss, Halstead Bank chairman Larry Williams, said he was not surprised by the gift Will’s estate left to the college. Will attended Bethel for two years before finishing his business degree at the University of Kansas.

“He was certainly a credit to our community in many ways,” Williams said.

Williams hired Will more than 30 years ago to work at the Bentley Bank, which in addition to the Halstead Bank was owned by Williams.

He knew Will because he resided in Halstead, and for a time Will owned his own bookkeeping business there, before he went to work for the former Halstead Hospital as an accountant.

Will was personable, Williams said. And he was an accountant by training.

So “I had meeting with him at local café one evening and asked him if he would be interested in working in banking,” Williams said. “He had this accounting background, and at that time I really thought that would serve him well” as a banker.

Williams said during Will’s nearly three-decade-long tenure as a loan officer and credit analyst at the bank, he was active in local and civic groups, including the Halstead Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club. Williams said Will never married and had no children, but he did have time “to devote to civic affairs as a result.”

Will was the last of his immediate family to die, the college and Williams said. Will had one other sibling, a brother, who preceded him in death, and who also had not married or had children.

School officials would not provide the specific amount of Will’s gift for the building. Bethel spokeswoman Melanie Zuercher said the gift was not $5 million, but was at least $1 million.

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