EMHS Moved Toward Independence in the 1970s

In 1952, Samuel O. Weaver’s high school English teacher insisted that he learn how to diagram a sentence. Sam saw no need to learn how to diagram a sentence, and he told A. Grace Wenger, his EMS teacher, that he intended to return to Newport News and milk cows for his brother. She replied to Sam that he didn’t know where the Lord would call him and that he should learn how to diagram a sentence. Sam graduated from high school, college, and earned a Master’s Degree, though sixty-seven years later, in a 2019 interview, Sam laughed and admitted that he still does not know how to diagram a sentence!

In spite of not being able to diagram a sentence, God used Sam in a mighty way during his twelve years as principal of EMHS, 1969-1981. A. Grace Wenger was right—Sam didn’t know where God would lead him or in what capacity he would serve the church. It was in the late 1960s that Sam was called to lead a fledgling and unstable Mennonite high school as it sought to become independent from Eastern Mennonite College.

Sam Weaver and Dorothy Shank, at EMHS, May 2019. Photo by Andrea Wenger

Dr. Myron Augsburger, President of EMC, needed a high school principal with financial and marketing skills. So he hired Sam Weaver to head the high school in 1969. To lead the high school, Sam needed training in education, and he enrolled in a Master’s program at James Madison University. In the meantime, Weaver relied on stalwart and dependable teachers already working at EMHS, like James Rush, David Mumaw, and Vivian Beachy. In 1977, Sam hired Ernest Martin to implement a reliable academic program at the school. Knowing little about academics, Sam acknowledges that “Ernie saved my hide,” by establishing trust and a strong reputation in the community for curriculum at the high school.

In the fifteen-year process of creating an independent high school, Dorothy Shank ably chaired the EMHS Board, 1974-1981. In an era when few women served as leaders in the Mennonite church, Dorothy prayed about the decision, and then said she would help the school as the first woman chair of the Board. It was Dorothy, in an interview, who stated that we all stand on someone else’s shoulders and that it is important to recognize God’s faithfulness in launching a strong and independent EMHS in the 1970s.

Eastern Mennonite School began as a high school in 1917, but it soon added junior college classes. When the junior college grew into a four-year program and earned accreditation in 1947, it created an identity problem for the high school. By the early 1960s, with enrollment growth in the college, visionaries in Virginia Mennonite Conference got busy and built a separate building for the high school in Park View, first used in 1964. Over Christmas break in 1963-1964, students and teachers picked up books from the college library and moved them to the high school campus.

The new building and separation brought with it a sea of red ink for the high school. In 1967 the high school deficit was over $69,000. The Executive Committee of the EMC Trustees, which presided over the high school, asked the high school to balance its budget within five years. With Sam Weaver at the helm of the high school, the school reached a balanced budget by 1973. While Sam was the Principal, he gives credit to people like Daniel Bender, Dwight Wyse, Shirlee K. Yoder, and Glendon Blosser for helping to set the financial ship of the school in good standing.

The years of Sam Weaver’s leadership at EMHS, 1969-1981, were tumultuous years in the United States, with the Vietnam War, an era of rebellion and protest for youth, and rising inflation driven by rising oil prices. Still, students kept coming to EMHS, from as far away as Pigeon, Michigan, Sarasota, Florida, the Tidewater region of Virginia, and northeast Ohio. By 1977 the high school had 277 students, with a waiting list. Sam’s Christian education philosophy relies on ownership of a student’s education from the home, the church, and the Christian school. Students tested Sam’s leadership, to be sure, and he clashed with people, but the school grew in many ways and became stable when it earned its charter in 1982.

Dorothy Shank remembers that during her tenure as Board Chair in the late 1970s she worried when good teachers left EMHS for other positions. She prayed God would send the school good replacement teachers. She especially worried when Marvin Miller, an outstanding music teacher, 1966-1981, left EMHS. “But,” Dorothy rejoiced in the interview, “God brought in Jay Hartzler,” another exceptional music teacher.

In a 2019 interview with Sam Weaver and Dorothy Shank, they noted the excellent support from Virginia Mennonite Conference churches during the beginnings of the high school in the 1970s. Because the school at first floundered, Sam visited Districts and churches and encouraged support. Consequently, churches in Virginia Conference stepped up and supported their high school, through a congregational aid plan formulated by Glendon Blosser. Sam notes the way Conference Districts sent delegates to the Board meetings, like Robert Mast from Chesapeake, Va., and Ike Oberholtzer from Newport News. In return, the EMHS Touring Choir began a spring circuit of singing in many of the supporting churches, leading them in worship and song.

Programs and buildings seemed to spring up in the 1970s, attracting many students to attend. The school built a new fine arts addition in 1972, and under Dorothy Shank’s leadership added a gymnasium, finished in 1976. In Park School, a former public school located next door to the high school, EMHS set up a shop program and facilities to teach taxidermy. The college set aside rooms for high school students in Maplewood dorm, and to the present has not charged for the use of Lehman Auditorium for the annual high school graduation.

Dorothy Shank remembers that the tone of moving toward separation in the 1970s was tense at times, but by 1982 the two schools went different directions on amicable terms. And Sam Weaver, the balding principal who kicked a few students out, but who established the financial and church-based foundations for the school, decided it was time for him to move on. In 2019, an EMHS faculty member publicly recognized Sam at the annual National Honor Society Induction, when his granddaughter, Julie Weaver, joined the society. As Principal during the 1970s, Sam had signed all of the Honor Society documents.

It is not by our power, as Dorothy asserted, but by God’s grace and faithfulness, that EMHS separated away from the college in the 1970s. There had been those at the college who entertained ideas on what to do with the building should the program be discontinued. For the first years EMHS struggled, but then, with good leadership, it became a viable church school. Sam and Dorothy, we teachers, students, and parents who have followed in the decades since are grateful for your service to the school, and God’s faithfulness at Eastern Mennonite School.

In God’s Mercy, I have healed

In God’s mercy, when I crashed on my bicycle, I fell away from the busy highway and into the guard rail. On a Saturday ride for exercise, March 30, 2019, I fell and broke three ribs, bruised a lung, and suffered a dozen cuts and bruises, but God spared my life. New rumble strips on a familiar road surprised me and took me down within seconds.

In God’s mercy, the two cars following right behind me both stopped. One woman whom I didn’t know laid hands on me and prayed aloud, while the other called 911. Within a minute, a sheriff stopped and kept me propped between the steel guardrail and his leg to prevent me from falling or collapsing into the four-lane highway.

In God’s mercy, a former student served as my nurse in the ER and a doctor whose children I teach reassured me but said it would be 4-6 weeks until I healed. My ER doc, a very recent medical school grad, thought she saw 7-8 broken ribs and a punctured lung, and with too much trauma for the local hospital to handle, she sent me by ambulance to UVA Hospital.

In God’s mercy, I received excellent care in Charlottesville, Va., though on a Saturday night, with the University of Virginia in a March Madness basketball game, and patients in the ER in much worse shape than me, I waited. Eighteen difficult hours after the accident, alone in my room, I stopped the young doc who came on her 8:00 AM shift. I asked for answers and clarity on my injuries. She halted her usual routine and talked to me, showing me broken ribs, #6, #8, and #9. I had a bruised lung, she reported, not a punctured lung. In a revelation of how small the world is, I discovered that my remarkably skilled first-year resident doc is an older sister to one of my World History students at EMHS.

In God’s mercy, my wife, family, and close church friends have taken great care of me. I’ve been through intense pain and night-time discouragement about how I landed in such a helpless predicament. Bones heal, however, and in God’s miraculous mercy, internal pain slowly subsides.

In God’s mercy, students came to visit me in my living room. From my sofa, they extended kind words, laughter, and a song that I shall never forget—their presence, like that of angels, encouraged me to get well so I could return to my classroom. In God’s mercy, I work at a school with supportive administrators and colleagues who care about me. Many people rallied around me in my time of need — these gifts I acknowledge as flowing from God’s abundant mercy. Seven weeks later, in God’s mercy, I am mostly healed and back to regular work patterns.