At age 88, Margaret Martin Gehman of Harrisonburg has lost a little of her trademark drive, largely because she has parted company with a faithful friend.
[This article was originally published on the EMU website in 2012.]
Dr. Gehman and her trusty, albeit a bit rusty, mechanical steed, a blue 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, are almost synonymous to many observers. For years she motored the streets of the greater Harrisonburg area even though she preferred walking to as many destinations as possible.
She has been a resident of Park Place at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community since 2005.
Gehman beloved at EMU for five decades
Gehman has donated the true blue vehicle to the place where she served with distinction on the faculty for five decades. She taught art and physical education courses at EMU from 1944 until her retirement in 1987 but continued teaching a watercolor course until 1996.
For much of that time, she carried – and exemplified – the moniker bestowed on her by a student years ago – “Speedy.”
“I wasn’t using the car very often these days and decided it was too much upkeep and not good stewardship to hang on to it,” Gehman said. “I have transportation where I need to go – including Sundays to Gospel Hill Mennonite Church in western Rockingham County – and didn’t want to either cause an accident or have someone run into me, so why not give it away?”
In so doing, she also decided to give up her driving privileges. She is also dealing with some lower back problems.
‘EMU has been good to me over the years’
“EMU has been good to me over the years, and this is another way I can express my appreciation,” said Gehman, a long-time donor to the university fund and capital projects supporter.
A “Philanthropist of the Year” award created in 2005 bears her name.
And she established the Margaret Martin Gehman Endowed Scholarship Fund to provide financial aid for physical education and art students.
Gehman, who received a two-year degree from EMU in 1942, was the first female graduate to earn a doctorate: in art education from George Peabody College (now Vanderbilt University) in 1962.
The VW joined the Martin-Gehman family the same time that Margaret and Dr. Ernest G. (E.G.) Gehman were joined in marriage on July 27, 1967 at Mennonite World Conference being held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Dr. Ernest Gehman, a widower, was professor of German at EMU and was already in Germany doing family research before they wed.
Then EMU president Myron S. Augsburger performed the religious ceremony with the EMU Chamber Singers providing the music.
Gehmans bought ‘bug’ brand new for $1,500
E.G. Gehman bought the blue “bug” new from the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany the summer of 1967. Margaret thinks the purchase price was around $1,500.
The couple also had a civil ceremony that Margaret recalled was conducted in German. “I remember saying ‘ja’ at the appropriate times,” she smiled.
The couple returned to Ernest’s home on Hillcrest Drive in Park View.
“Ernest was the principal driver at first,” Gehman said, “but he had another vehicle so the VW eventually became ‘mine.’
The longest trip she remembers taking in the VW was to Oregon in 1969 to attend Mennonite General Assembly – “Ernest had a son living there at that time,” she noted.
Ernest Gehman went on to teach German at EMU 47 years. He died in 1988.
“The car never gave me problems over the years; it held up well going over mountain roads,” Margaret Gehman said. “It was serviced regularly but never had the engine rebuilt.”
EMU development officials are deciding whether to refurbish the car or put up for sale as is, believing there may be some interest among alumni and friends of the university in obtaining this symbol of dedicated service, durability and resolve.
When Margaret Martin Gehman gave the car to EMU, the odometer read 175,000 miles. The car has been around the block a few times, but like its long-time owner, has more miles (and smiles) to go.