A 1980 Chapel at Eastern Mennonite College

On May 14, 1980, while students on the EMC campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia, used typewriters, a wooden card catalog with drawers in the library, and wired landline phones to call a friend in another dorm, one of the more memorable chapels in campus history occurred. Jim Bishop sat on the auditorium’s front bench. Student leaders surprised and honored Dr. Myron and Esther Augsburger for their fifteen years of service to the college, 1965-1980. Ordained in the Virginia Conference, Myron Augsburger spoke in North America and other continents, raising the school’s profile. Enrollment doubled during his tenure, and in 1980, it peaked at 1,014 full-time undergraduate students. Myron pulled a rope to conduct a prank the students affectionately set up for him since he had dealt with pranks in the chapel during his presidency. Confetti, balloons, and rice cascaded onto the cheering, roaring, appreciative, and packed Lehman Auditorium crowd with people sitting in the balcony. Jim Bishop’s younger brother, Michael, directed a rousing rendition of “606,” a hymn from The Mennonite Hymnal.[i] Among the undergraduates in the auditorium were students from across the United States, including from the Virginia Mennonite Conference, some of whom wore the traditional prayer veiling. That Wednesday chapel, at the end of the school year, with spiritual input, robust singing, and sharing from the legendary Augsburger couple, during an era of growth and good feelings, was one of the high moments of college life at EMC during the twentieth century.

[i] Elwood Yoder and his wife Joy Risser Yoder, married six months earlier and undergraduate students at EMC, attended the May 14, 1980 chapel. For more information about the chapel, see “606: The Persistence of Community,” a video by John L. Ruth, at https://discoveryvirginia.org/606-persistence-community, and Donald B. Kraybill, Eastern Mennonite University, 2017, 235-236.

College Travelers 1978

In the late 1970s, two EMC roommates from northeast Ohio worked through college using typewriters for their papers, dabbing on white-out for mistakes, and opening a wooden card catalog cabinet in the library to find books. They attended local Mennonite churches during their time in Harrisonburg. Of 1005 undergraduates in 1978, thirty-one percent came from Virginia. EMC sent the roommates to the Mennonite Church Assembly at Estes Park, Colorado, to perform Jesus-people-style folk music with their guitars in a Mennonite youth coffeehouse in the summer of 1977. Sixty-three percent of the men’s classmates at EMC were Mennonite.[1]

The men grew restless, however. One needed a break from academics, and the other resisted the progressive Bible instruction he received at EMC, laced with peace and justice themes that made him uncomfortable and upset. EMC President Augsburger’s global travels were legendary as he spoke in many locations worldwide. In an era of globalization, when people could travel on airlines to distant countries and cultures grew increasingly interconnected, the two young men dropped out of college and, from January to June 1978, traveled through fifteen countries in the Middle East and Europe. With two additional Mennonite men, also of college age and no cell phones or professors with them, they set their traveling itinerary from day to day.[2]

The late seventies were the years of the highest undergraduate enrollment at EMC. Both men were in the May 14, 1980, chapel when Dr. Augsburger was honored by the students for fifteen years as college president. Ordained in the Virginia Conference, Augsburger spoke in many locations in North America and on other continents. Enrollment doubled during this tenure, 1965-1980. In the chapel, Augsburger pulled a rope to conduct a prank the students affectionately set up for him since he had dealt with pranks in chapel during his presidency. Confetti, balloons, and rice cascaded onto the cheering, appreciative, and packed Lehman Auditorium crowd. A student directed a rousing rendition of “606,” a hymn from The Mennonite Hymnal. That chapel may have been one of the high moments of college life at EMC during the twentieth century.

Samuel Augsburger (left), Dave Ramer, Elwood Yoder, and Jesse Martin, Madrid Spain, 1978

But the men could not run from Myron Augsburger even when they dropped out of college. During an era of globalization, Egyptians greeted the men with open arms, seeking to practice their English during negotiations for the Camp David Middle East Peace Accords of 1978. When the men sang in a Baptist choir on Easter Sunday, March 1978, far from Harrisonburg in the Garden Tomb, Jerusalem, Israel, they wore frayed bell-bottom blue jeans, their best flannel shirts, and had grown long hair. Everything they needed to travel with was in the bottom half of their backpacks. In the front row of the Garden Tomb crowd of approximately 2000 observers, the men were surprised to see Dr. Myron Augsburger, with two EMC professors and eighty alums gathered for the program.[3] In the next several years, EMC developed an intercultural program for their students and, in the early ’80s, called their revised curriculum the Global Village.

[1] Samuel Augsburger and Elwood Yoder roomed together at Eastern Mennonite College in the late 1970s. They both graduated from EMC in 1981.

[2] Jesse Martin and David Ramer traveled with Augsburger and Yoder.

[3] Dr. Augsburger traveled with Professors Herbert Swartz, Jay Landis, and a group of alumni from March 21 to April 6, 1978.

Lincoln’s Legacy

Just over four years ago, I served as one of the Eastern Mennonite High School faculty sponsors on a trip with over forty of our seniors to Washington, D.C. For three days in October 2016, students and teachers toured the capital. A highlight of the trip was visiting the Lincoln Memorial, seen here with my students. I like this photo because the future belongs to them. Lincoln called for and wrote about unity in the country, and he wrote that a country divided against itself cannot long stand. While Lincoln had his faults, he nevertheless continues to inspire me to work toward unity in this country.

Lucy F. Simms

The grave marker for Lucy F. Simms (1856-1934) in the Newtown Cemetery, Harrisonburg, Va. Lucy Simms taught school in Harrisonburg for 58 years without missing a day. Lucy Simms was born into slavery, made her way to Hampton Institute for her training, and then taught three generations of students in Newtown, in the northeast section of Harrisonburg. After reading a new biography about Lucy Simms, I decided to pay my respects to this long-term and highly respected educator.