Founder of Grace College’s music department was serial predator
To the outside world, Don Ogden, founder of the music department at Grace College & Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana, was a charismatic and beloved Christian leader, husband and father.
When he died at age 88 on June 27, 2015, a publication of the private Christian college known as 289 described Ogden as a passionate family man who “loved being a servant of the Lord” most of all.
The twice-married father of three who founded Grace College’s department of music in 1950 and served as its chairman through 1987, was so passionate about music he reveled in “promoting the understanding and enjoyment of the music of ‘the masters,’ both secular and sacred.” He also championed the “preservation and meaningful use of great Christian hymnody,” the college said at the time.
But Ogden, who fathered two daughters and a son, and served a combined 42 years at two area churches, including the Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church, retired in 1993 after signs that he was hiding an ugly truth began to emerge.
The man who had declared that he “loved being a servant of the Lord” was also a serial sexual predator who had an attraction for sex with young boys, which he once allegedly likened to a “dentist that eats candy.” Ogden’s addiction was so deep that even at the age of 80, eight years before his death, he was still allegedly actively engaged in his predation.
A six-page statement with supporting evidence recently shared with The Christian Post by Ogden’s adult daughters, Diane and Kathleen, said they discovered in February 2021 that, along with his legacy in music, their father left behind an estimated 100 to 200 male victims of his predation.
They also accuse officials at Grace College and the Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church of mishandling his abuse out of fear they would disrupt the funding of their operations if a scandal about Ogden’s predation was made public.
“It is with broken hearts that my sister and I are bringing our story forward. After speaking with many Christian experts that handle abuse in Christian institutions, we were told that if there is no public confession and help for the victims given, we must go to the media. After writing eight letters over the last 16 months, we both feel, sadly, that we have absolutely no choice,” the statement submitted by the sisters to CP reads.
“Our goal is to bring light to the darkness in our culture and in our world, and bring healing and closure to the many, many victims of our father, which experts estimate would number between 100 and 200. Unfortunately, without a public confession of the mishandling of the wrongs done years ago, there is no way to locate and give closure to the victims,” they said.
“Our father used his position, his power, his wit, and persuasion to gain the trust of young men, and later perpetrate crimes against them that would change their lives forever. We realize, looking back, that this was sadly still going on when he was 80 years old.”
The sisters allege that Ogden’s predation was an open secret at Grace College for years, but because of the strength of his name as a fundraising tool for the school, he was never confronted until 1993. At that time, he “was arrested in Kansas for sexually assaulting a minor while traveling as part of his work in Grace’s alumni department,” a statement from the college to CP said.
A March 15, 1993, report in The Hutchinson News reviewed by CP said Ogden, who was 66 years old at the time, was arrested on suspicion of aggravated sodomy in Wichita, Kansas. A 16-year-old boy alleged Ogden kidnapped him from the Hutchinson Mall, then drove him to a vacant area east of the mall and sodomized him. When he was done, Ogden reportedly took the boy back to the mall and released him.
Retired Sgt. Joseph Gimar, who was a detective in the juvenile department of the Hutchinson Police Department, transferred Ogden to the Reno County Jail on the night of his arrest. In September 2021, he told Diane in an email reviewed by CP that Ogden was not prosecuted after the arrest because the boy recanted his story and said the sex was consensual.
“Initial allegations were that Ogden had picked up the youth at the mall and solicited homosexual favors from him. The youth then contacted PD with allegations that he was kidnapped and forced to have sex with Ogden,” Gimar said.
“After questioning Ogden, there were some details in conflict, most importantly the question of this act being consensual. Upon re-interviewing the youth, he recanted his statement and told me he had fabricated the incident,” Gimar explained. “He was trying to cover his tracks for disappearing from his group at the mall. The youth is gay and while he wasn’t actively pursuing a contact, Ogden picked up on the clues and I guess you can say the rest is history.”
Gimar said because the age of consent in Kansas is 16, and both parties agreed the sex was consensual, the case was closed.
Diane said the night her father was in jail, she went to her mother’s house and found her on the telephone with him.
Not yet knowing the full story behind her father’s behavior, she said she, too, got on the telephone with him and said, “God will use this, Daddy. You can help someone else that gets wrongly accused someday.”
She recalled how her father tearfully replied: “You have too much faith in me.”
“He was admitting to it but my mind would not let me believe it,” she said, noting how her father also said, “No one will want to shake my hand again.”
Later on, Diane said she asked her father to confess what he did before his church, and he argued against doing that and likened himself to a “dentist that eats candy.”
About 14 months later, after he was removed from leadership roles at Grace College and Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church, Ogden confessed to a sanitized version of his predation, calling it an “allurement” to young boys.
“In accordance with what we believe the Bible teaches, I want to share with you, my Christian family, the following: some degree of allurement to the sin related to the charges has troubled me at various times throughout most of my life. I have sinned in this area of my life. That problem did make me vulnerable to the approach which led finally to the exaggerated charges we have been fighting,” he wrote in a letter dated May 13, 1994.
He thanked his wife and his supportive friends and asked for prayers and forgiveness from those who “have been hurt by me in any way.”
John Teevan, who was pastor of Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church at the time Ogden was arrested, said in a May 22, 1994, letter reviewed by CP that it took 14 months to have a public confession at the church due to “legal advice.”
Teevan assured the church, however, that what Ogden had written “is accurate and complete in scope.”
“Please do not awkwardly avoid speaking to them (Ogden and wife), and please do not engage in speculation nor fear that he has confessed only a small part of the ‘real’ issue,” Teevan wrote. “What he has written is accurate and complete in scope.”
But it wasn’t.
Diane said she and her sister were “mortified” when a whistleblower told them in February 2021 that their father’s predation on young boys had spanned more than 40 years.
“[He] had been molesting boys for over four decades. Incidents occurred touring across the country, in people’s homes, our home, malls, youth conferences, and other places,” they said in their statement.
The revelation led the sisters to confront leaders at both Grace College and Winona Lake Grace Brethren church and urged them to get help from the Boz Tchividjian-founded Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment organization, popularly known as GRACE.
GRACE, which is based in Lynchburg, Virginia, helps Christian groups confront abuse and has a track record in finding and helping victims.
“We were told by the church that they were in agreement with that but they would have to have Grace College finance most of it,” Diane said. “A leader in the Grace College administration called me and said that they contacted the ‘GRACE’ organization and then discussed it with the Grace College board. The board said that they would not use the organization because they could not afford it and because they wanted to have control of the investigation.”
“The GRACE organization would not allow them to have control, as the only way to protect the integrity of the investigation is to do it externally. I was also told that Grace College could help ‘some of the victims, but not all of them,’ Grace College then hired an attorney from Campus and Workplace Solutions and proceeded with their own investigation.”
The Grace College investigation
Grace College confirmed with CP that once they became aware of the whistleblower’s report, they hired Elizabeth H. Canning, Campus and Workplace Solutions “to conduct an independent investigation.” That investigation examined what the college knew, when it learned about it and how it responded.
“Initially, the investigator sought to speak with two alleged alumni victims named in the initial report, work with those who may have knowledge of other victims, and gather information to determine the appropriate investigation steps,” a brief from the investigation states. “As the matter progressed, the investigator determined it was likely that Mr. Ogden was inappropriate with additional students on multiple occasions and that it was prudent to reach a broader range of alumni.”
Grace College said because Ogden’s primary contact was with students in the music program, 900 letters were sent to both members of the music program and alumni of the program with queries about their experience with Ogden.
Only 11 individuals responded to say “they experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct by Mr. Ogden, with most of the incidents occurring during choir or music group tours,” the brief stated.
The brief further noted that some former members of the school staff were made aware of his misconduct but failed to respond appropriately.
“The investigation substantiated claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault perpetrated by Mr. Ogden within the course and scope of his employment at Grace College. The reported incidents occurred between 1960 and 1990, with most incidents occurring in the 1980s. The investigation also revealed that some former employees had knowledge of the misconduct and failed to appropriately respond to the information at the time,” the brief said, noting Ogden’s 1993 arrest as well.
A total of 140 people responded by email or phone to the investigator’s letter or direct outreach, including 19 former students and 18 current and former employees.
Grace College reports that since the investigation was conducted, the school has made several changes, including “training to the campus community that clearly communicates the definitions of prohibited behavior, expectations of behavior, application of policies to students and employees, [and] the seriousness with which the College addresses misconduct.”
Officials also invited the public to send reports regarding Don Ogden to Elizabeth Canning at [email protected]. Reports regarding Grace College now or in the past can be sent to Carrie Yocum at [email protected].
“Grace College leaders believe Mr. Ogden’s abuse was reprehensible. There is no place for sexual misconduct or abuse in any organization, especially a God-honoring institution of higher education. The College has made strides in recent years to implement leading prevention and reporting policies and procedures and will follow the investigator’s guidance following this inquiry,” officials said. “Grace College is committed to self-reflection, improvement, and meaningful action (some of which is already underway or complete).”
The Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church response
In late August, Rhonda Raber, who leads Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church’s Women’s Ministries, told CP that when she arrived at the church in 1981, Ogden was already there. She described him as “a joy to be around.”
“I can only tell you what I saw. He was a very personable man. A joy to be around, a lot of fun. He did music, he was charismatic, told the corniest jokes in a fun-loving way. He appeared to be a super nice man,” she said.
Asked if she had ever heard any of the allegations about Ogden, she said: “At this point, it’s confusing what I knew in the past or what I know — rumblings — things I hear now.”
“I know that there was an issue; I know that it was addressed. There was a confession, but I can’t really tell you details,” she added.
When asked if she was referring to the 1993 arrest for sodomy, she said “right.”
Raber said the revelations being made by his daughters are new to her.
“A lot of the things that Diane has certainly been burdened with seem to be new things I was totally unaware of before,” she said.
When told that Diane and her sister allege that the church helped cover up their father’s crimes, she replied, “That’s unfortunate that they would say that.”
Kip Cone, the current lead pastor of Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church, told CP that church leaders failed to conduct a proper investigation of Ogden’s time at the church after his 1993 arrest. He said that in September 2021, leaders acknowledged that the disciplinary and restoration process for the late music teacher did not expose the full extent of his sin.
“My understanding is that the police conducted a criminal investigation, which was suspended when the charges were dropped. Because there were no allegations concerning church members, attendees, or church-sponsored programs, the local church leadership at that time focused on supporting Wanita, Don’s wife, and on addressing spiritual, heart issues with Don, which led to a public confession,” Cone said.
“We, the current leadership of the church, recognize in hindsight that the possibility of other victims should have been more thoroughly considered back in 1993. We acknowledged this in a public statement in September of 2021, stating: ‘We as the current church leaders want to acknowledge that Don’s confession was not, as previously believed and stated, ‘accurate and complete.’ We acknowledge and deeply regret that the discipline and restoration process at that time did not uncover and expose the full extent and impact of Don’s sin.’”
Cone said that since learning about “the existence of a couple of victims, unrelated to the church” in January 2021, the church has “communicated publicly to our church family about our desire to provide healing help to any possible victims related to the church,” but none have emerged yet. They also wrote to “all men (former and current members) who had participated in music ministry at WLGBC during Don’s tenure as minister of music” and have found no victims yet.
“We are not aware of any victims of Don at the church or in relation to his function as part-time minister of music at the church,” Cone said.
When asked if the church had done any independent investigation to find any possible victims, Cone said they decided not to do one because Grace College had already engaged a third party, and “we have not received any feedback pointing to any victims at the church.”
Cone further stated that he is unaware of any evidence suggesting that pastors at the church were aware of any leadership disqualifying behavior before Ogden’s 1993 arrest.
“I know of nothing that would indicate that the pastors at that time had any such knowledge,” he said. “After the arrest, Don was never again employed by the church.”