Long-time director of Pensions and Benefits for the Church of the Nazarene, Dean H. Wessels, 91, passed away December 18 in Olathe, Kansas. He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Roxie (nee Moore); two children, Vickie Morsch and Mark Wessels; six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Wessels was the first full-time director of the pension and benevolence work for the Church of the Nazarene, starting in 1955 as an assistant to M. Lunn, executive secretary of the Department of Pensions. He was first elected executive secretary of Ministerial Benevolence in 1956, and retired as director of Pensions and Benefits USA in 1994.
Under Wessels’ leadership, the denomination’s ability to assist ministers was transformed from a benevolence arrangement that offered assistance in emergencies and at death, to a financially sustainable model. In 2014, the program he worked to create distributed $44 million to some 14,000 active and retired ministers, widows, and church-employed laypersons in the form of retirement benefits, life and disability insurance, emergency medical assistance, and other services.
“The legacy and impact of Dean Wessels has been widespread, and continues to make a difference in the lives of his fellow ministers and their widowed spouses,” said Don Walter, Wessels’ successor as director of Pensions and Benefits USA. “He was a man who looked at things the way they were, decided they could be better, and then went to work to make it so. While others could get caught up in endless deliberation and debate about what to do and how to do it, Dean went to work and did it.”
A native of Dallas, Wessels planned to be an accountant, but changed plans to follow his high school sweetheart, Roxie Ann, to Bethany Nazarene College. He left in his junior year to join the war effort, training to be a pilot in the Naval Air Corps, but the war ended before he received his assignment.
Upon returning to civilian life, Dean and Roxie were married, and he completed a degree at Bethany, graduating magna cum laude in 1946. He subsequently worked for General Motors where he was invited to participate in an elite management development program, but declined the offer. Instead, he accepted God’s call to preach. Soon thereafter, Dean and Roxie moved to Kansas City to pursue ministerial training at the newly opened Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS).
During his seminary years, Wessels pastored Canaan Hill Church of the Nazarene in Lawson, Missouri, and also worked as assistant to John Stockton, general treasurer of the Church of the Nazarene. He was ordained in 1948. Upon graduation from NTS in 1951, he accepted the pastorate at Coffeyville Central in Kansas, before moving on to First Church of the Nazarene in Abilene, Texas. He had served only a few months in this assignment when, in 1955, general church leadership asked him to return to Kansas City to assist M. Lunn. Because of Lunn’s significant responsibilities with the Nazarene Publishing House, most of the benevolence work was turned over to Wessels almost immediately.
When he first came to Nazarene Headquarters, Wessels started out promoting ministerial involvement in the Social Security program. He went on to use his administrative gifts to establish qualified plans such as the Nazarene Tax-Sheltered Annuity (TSA) in 1963, which allowed churches to contribute to their pastor’s retirement on a tax-free basis; the Nazarene Individual Retirement Account (IRA) in 1982, which allowed a tax-advantaged way for ministers to save additional money for retirement; and the Basic Pension Plan (1971), which offered monthly retirement benefits for all qualified ministers based on years of service dating back to the church’s beginning in 1908.
The Basic Pension Plan created an immediate unfunded liability for the denomination. Wessels devoted himself to the promotion of a program of apportionment payments by churches and districts into a “Pensions and Benevolence Fund.” In 2014, Nazarene churches and districts in the USA paid $13.4 million to what is now called the Pensions and Benefits Fund.
“Dean’s vision, constant attention to detail, and a tenacity for the mission of ‘Serving Those Who Serve’ laid foundations which have impacted the lives of thousands of parsonage families, retirees and widowed spouses.” Walter added. “Our ministers have lost a true friend.”