After the unification that created the Great Plains Conference, the Rev. Gary Beach considered himself a survivor.
Beach, who is retiring as treasurer and director of administrative services for the conference at the end of June, said laying the groundwork that united the Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West conferences in 2014 took its toll on his health.
In a meeting in March 2013, he began to feel uneasy.
“My blood pressure went crazy that night. I ended up in the ER and almost had a stroke,” Beach recalled.
After five weeks of rest, while he was splitting his time between the Topeka and Wichita offices, he returned to work.
Stress, he says now, took its toll on him.
“There was no doubt,” he said from his Topeka office. “I had had one day off in seven weeks, working 70 hours a week. The stress and tension in some of those meetings was pretty high.
“From the outside it looked like things came together real well – and in many ways it did – but getting to the decisions was not easy,” Beach added.
Beach credits his employees with filling in the gaps while he was gone.
“Fortunately I have two amazing staffs here and in Wichita for the Kansas conferences,” he said. “I can’t imagine how many hours some of them worked to cover me at that time.”
Now that the unification is behind him, Beach feels like he can smile and somewhat relax.
“Bringing the conferences together was quite a challenge when it came to money and property and technology and benefits,” he says. “It feels like we’ve pretty well got that accomplished.”
Beach’s retirement after 42 years of ministry draws to a close a career that has balanced both faith and financial obligations.
Born in Paola, Kansas – just south of Kansas City, but at the time farmland – 65 years ago, Beach went to Wichita State University, where he graduated with a degree in business and financial administration. While in college, he worked for the National Shirt Shop chain in Wichita, where he was promoted to assistant manager, studying during the time he didn’t have customers.
An offer came to make Beach a manager at the store, but he turned it down – he felt a calling to enter seminary.
“I thought, ‘I’ll never use that degree in business administration and accounting again,’” he said with a laugh.
After graduation from St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, he served churches in Pittsburg, St. Mary’s-Emmett-Belvue, Council Grove and Ottawa, all in Kansas. He became the Emporia-Manhattan district superintendent from 1995 to 2001, and was director of connectional ministries for the former Kansas East Conference from 2001 to 2010.
A vacancy in the treasurer/director of administrative services office of the conference led to his appointment in 2010. Kansas West was added to his duties in 2011.
Beach said his business background has been a benefit to the job.
“Having had theological education and being ordained brought a different aspect to the treasury side, and a closer understanding why we’re paying for some of the things we’re paying for – and understanding the structure of the United Methodist Church more fully, maybe, than some lay treasurers,” he said.
His successor, Scott Brewer, agrees.
“Gary has such a deep knowledge of this conference and the previous conferences, and such a commitment to doing it right and caring for all he’s been entrusted with,” Brewer said. “He’s got such a deep and abiding love for this work and this conference.
“Even as he’s wearing his green eyeshade, he still takes his role as a pastor very seriously,” Brewer added.
Brewer began working under Beach at the beginning of the year, and will become treasurer on July 1.
“I’ll get what I can as I drink from the fire hose” of Beach’s expertise, he said.
Beach and his wife, Betty, a retired educator, will remain in Manhattan where he plans to garden, read books, travel and deepen his interest in genealogy. Their daughter and son-in-law live in Wichita, and their son with them in Manhattan.
A longtime resident of Manhattan, Beach has made the 60-mile, one-hour commute daily. He was carpooling with a friend who worked down the street from the Topeka office until about a year and a half ago.
“I have four-lane interstate almost the entire way,” Beach said. “Just set it on cruise and go – nothing stressful about it at all.”
Contact David Burke, communications coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.