Fifty years after attending Eastern Mennonite University, 103 men and women have compiled their stories into a book that shows their amazing breadth of experience: living in 40 countries outside the United States, usually working as educators, healthcare workers, or missionaries. Some worked in North America, often in rural areas and with First Nations.
These alumni sought to be of service amid war, disease, poverty, challenging living conditions, no transportation beyond their feet, survival-level pay, and much else. Yet many refer to feeling blessed, learning more than they were able to offer to others. “I write this article with a grateful heart,” says Miriam E. Krantz, who has lived, worked and studied in Nepal for 50 years.
The class of 1962 defies stereotypes of farm-raised, narrowly religious, stay-put, ethnically Swiss-Germanic Mennonites from days gone by.
Belying narrow stereotypes
Multiracial families through marriage, adoptions and in-laws are fairly common. These alumni have shown career flexibility, with lots of moving, internationally and across North America. Some have jumped to other worship settings – Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, United Church of Christ, non-denominational. The majority, though, call themselves Mennonites.
There have been divorces, and there have been lots of second, even third, marriages, typically a couple of years after the death of a spouse. Yet one divorced couple remarried each other after seven years of separation.
Some dropped out of what was then called Eastern Mennonite College (EMC) and returned to finish their bachelor’s degrees much later, as did one 41-year-old woman, who lived in various African countries for 18 years. One 35-year-old father of two entered medical school after years of nursing, first as an RN, then as a nurse with a bachelor’s degree, then as a certified registered nurse anesthetist. (Supposedly retired, this physician is now involved with the training of anesthesiologists at the national medical school of Honduras.)
Breaking new ground
Some “firsts” – first EMC grad to attend law school, first women to be church leaders in certain locations, first alum to be a tennis pro (having mastered tennis growing up in his native Japan). The class of ’62 may even boast the first alumnus to take a course to prepare for conversion to Judaism (not to convert, but to help him understand the Jewish clients with whom he was doing social work).
All of this can be found in a new book, Senior Moments: Reflections from the Class of 1962, issued in 2013 through EMU’s alumni and parent relations office.
The genesis of the book dates to October 2012, when the class of 1962 celebrated their “Jubilee Reunion” at EMU’s Homecoming weekend. In the months afterwards, 103 members of the class submitted essays – or, occasionally, diary-style entries – that classmates Millard E. Showalter, Anna Kathryn Eby, Reta Finger, Dorothy Jantzi and Carroll Yoder shaped into book chapters, with the support of alumni office staffer Donna Souder ’77.
Almost half of the 103 writers mention having graduate degrees (11 at the doctoral level). The most common career field mentioned is teaching – 46 percent refer to years in the classroom – with perhaps half as many alumni working in healthcare and in the ministry. There’s one full-time artist, another who picked up art upon retirement.
Most of these alumni have racked up myriad work roles. David D. Yoder, for example, was (in this order) a pastor-missionary in Costa Rica and Mexico, mission business manager in Mexico, EMC student life administrator, writer of correspondence courses for prison ministries, EMC fundraiser, president of Virginia Mennonite Board of Missions, and a Mennonite Church overseer for missions work in Trinidad and Tobago.
After retirement, these alumni typically continue with voluntary service – such as working at stores that raise money for Mennonite Central Committee and teaching Sunday School – plus do gardening for food and fun.
Fruits of Spirit-led lives, courageous choices
Amid the wealth of memories in the book:
- Having interesting courtships: (1) Helen Longenecker and her future husband, Sam Lapp, kept in touch entirely by letters for two years while he worked in Honduras and she taught in Lancaster, Pa. (A stand-out memory in their 50-year marriage is attending Bob Marley’s funeral while living in Jamaica.) (2) Sam Shertzer, the future husband of nurse Alma Longnecker, tracked her down in Tocoa, Honduras, by taking the weekly plane running from the capital city to Tocoa and surprising her. He had to depart in less than a week, though, and rode a horse 10 miles to catch a train out.
- Teaching as the only white in an African American school in Powhatan, Va., and insisting that his local Mennonite church welcome blacks, over the protests of his pastor. (Alum Eli Miller got his way about the integration of that church.)
- Living in a remote part of Botswana in the late 1970s (while digging wells to help the locals access water) in a galvanized grain bin, with grass on the roof, and a door and windows cut in the walls – yielding a “stifling hot” home during the 100-plus-degree days. (John W. Eby)
- Being foster parents to a total of 50 children over the years: “At one time I had five children under the age of six, including my own.” (Rachel Frey Frerichs)
- Learning Portuguese as a 50-year-old in order to be effective as a community health nurse in Brazil. (Sara Jane Peachey Lind)
- Living in Vietnam from 1962 until 1975 as an Eastern Mennonite Missions worker, when Luke Martin, his wife and three children suddenly found themselves “homeless, bereft of friends, and uncertain what the future held for us,” as a result of the Communist victory over that country.
- Hoping to avoid the U.S. bombs exploding around him in a race to get food for his suffering Vietnamese neighbors in a refugee camp. “In the months ahead, I’d be literally measuring building plots between gravestones.” (Jim Metzler)
- Being principal, teacher, cook and janitor for 13 students in a one-room school in eastern Kentucky, accessible by crossing a swinging bridge and walking a mile and a half. (Martha Maust)
- Residing and working as a married couple in Virginia, Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya, and Ontario (Canada), before retiring in Kenya. Visiting 50 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. (Annette Wenger Miller, married to Harold)
- Skiing every winter on slopes in western U.S.A. and Europe since age 40, despite needing in recent years oxygen around the clock for an autoimmune lung disease. “I am able to ski with oxygen in a backpack,” writes Marlene Collins Showalter.
- Wondering if her guards should be allowed to fire upon attackers, perhaps killing in violation of Mennonite pacifist beliefs, when faced with the prospect of her health compound being overrun by armed Somali men, who were ransacking nearby compounds. (Naomi Weaver, a nurse, prayed fervently, along with another Mennonite nurse; the attackers hurled stones into the compound but moved on.)
- Seeing the olive trees he and others planted in support of Palestinian farmers uprooted by Israeli soldiers threatening them with American-made M-16 assault rifles. (Robert Weaver)
- Being hired by the U.S. Public Health Service as an expert in Hansen’s Disease after spending four years as a physician in centers in Ethiopia that cared for people with that disease, commonly known as leprosy. (Leo Yoder)
- Living for five decades in Nepal, usually employed by NGOs as a nutrition expert, but remaining after age 65 as a student of Nepalese music and art. (Miriam E. Krantz)
- Being involved in the struggle over equality for sexual minorities – Richard Lichty, married to classmate Mary Mosemann, lost his credentials in the late 1990s as a pastor in the Mennonite Church as a result of welcoming gays and lesbians as lead pastor in the oldest Mennonite congregation in North America, Germantown Mennonite Church.
- Hiking 700 miles on the Appalachian Trail after retirement in 2007, with the intention of completing 1,900 miles. (Michael Mast)
- Raising children who became multicultural themselves. Ramona Horst Hartzler and her husband of 45 years, for example, have two sons: a financial analyst who married a Chinese woman and who has children fluent in English and Chinese, and a physician who married a woman reared in Paraguay and whose children speak English and Spanish.
- Encouraging their children to attend their alma mater. Living in Gainesville, Fl., Mary Ellen Lehman and her scientist-husband Paul saw their three children graduate from EMU and embark on careers in medicine, clinical psychology, and occupational therapy.
Lessons learned, gently lived
Wisdom accrued from their lives:
- “The only important things one can wish for in our ‘valley of the shadows’ are a human hand to hold and shared shoulders on which our tears can fall. In my experience, nothing else has really mattered.” – Norman Coffman
- “We regularly read the scriptures in Portuguese [after learning it at age 50] and I play the flute – isn’t it said that continuing with a foreign language and playing a musical instrument are good mental gymnastics for folks in their 70s?” – Sara Jane Peachey Lind
- The desirability and even necessity, after a move-about life, to settle closer to aging parents, adult children and grandchildren – which is why, for example, Mary Rosenberger Newcomer and her husband Art moved from California to Ohio in 1977.
- Gathering a scattered family at a place of mutual enjoyment every year or two: Dorothy Martin Keim’s family of 11 gathers in Maine for a week each summer; Donella M. Clemens’ extended family of 15 spends a week at the beach every other year.
- “Golden twilight years bring a subtle ‘transition’ with more focus on ‘tolerance’ and relationships than on education, career, and accomplishments. . . We simplify our lifestyle, allowing time to meditate and enjoy our walk with Jesus and others.” – Mary Wenger Becker
“Class of ’62,” wrote Grace Hess Wolfgang at the end of her chapter. “I have so many wonderful memories of you creative, friendly, world-changing, God-loving, inspiring people! Life is rich and full. I feel so blessed.”
This article was published Oct. 20, 2013.