Eastern Mennonite University

Spring 2007

'Best Investment We Ever Made'

If you hear of a donor who pledges more than $1 million to charity ...

Do you think of

a woman who, as a missionary’s wife in Ethiopia, lent money to her parents to build themselves a home?

Do you think of

someone who dropped out of high school to be a farm laborer to help support his family?

Do you think of

people who told their five children: We will educate you through university level. We will make sure that you have the down payment for your first house. You have been enabled to stand on your own feet and any more would diminish you. We are giving the rest to charity.

Marian and James Payne, EMU Donors
Marian and James Payne will celebrate their 50th anniversary on June 1.

Generous donors who started with nothing do exist: James and Marian Yoder Payne of Richmond, Virginia, originally of Big Valley, Pennsylvania.

In the early 1990s, the Paynes contributed to a named scholarship fund at our seminary. EMU development officer Sam Weaver ’66 contacted the couple to thank them. Learning that they had a particular interest in peace, Weaver told them there were folks at EMU dreaming of a study center for peacebuilders.

The Paynes met with John Paul Lederach and Ron Kraybill, two of the handful of people seeking ways to start such a center, and quickly decided that this was a vision they wished to embrace.

They offered to stand behind the first-year operating budget – putting $30,000 of their personal funds on the line – to launch what would become the Conflict Transformation Program. It was an offer the EMU Board of Trustees couldn’t refuse. This program has grown into the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), encompassing 3,000 alumni and trainees working in more than 80 countries.

'a dream come true'

“It has been the best investment we ever made,” says James Payne, referring to contributions totaling more than $500,000 by the end of 2007.

“We have lived to see a dream come true. People trained at CJP are indeed making a difference in the world, gradually seeding the concepts of peacebuilding, restorative justice, conflict transformation, and trauma healing in places that we never dreamed of in the beginning,” explains Marian.

“The concepts are seeping into schools, the criminal justice system, negotiations between war leaders, the recovery of survivors of natural disasters. It has been amazing to watch!”

If you met the Paynes and chatted with them casually, you would have no idea they are capable of taking advantage of current breaks in the tax code to withdraw $150,000 from their IRAs and pass it to their favorite charity.

They did it in 2006 and will do so again in 2007, when the tax break is scheduled to expire. (See sidebar at the bottom of this web page for more information on the tax break.)

The Paynes live in a three-bedroom retirement townhouse, where the living room and dining room are one, and the yard is shared with their neighbors. They drive one car. They rarely eat out. They live on one income and bank or give away the rest.

Marian and James Payne
Marian and James Payne at their 1957 wedding reception. (Courtesy of the Paynes.)

And, pretty much, this is how they’ve always lived. Few frills and no waste.

Marian and James met when both were teaching at Belleville Mennonite School in Pennsylvania in 1956-57.

They married at the end of that school year, treating the 350 people who attended their wedding to the best food they could then afford – potato chips, wedding cake and ice cream cubes.

As newlyweds, they moved to Harrisonburg to enable James to finish his bachelor’s degree at Easten Mennonite College.

(James did three stints at EMC – fall of 1949, 1955-56 and finally 1957-58 - before earning his bachelor’s degree. Lack of finances, academic preparation, and confidence all came into play, breaking up his academic journey.)

Married students were expected to provide their own housing, so the Paynes bought a dilapidated trailer – one that had no bathroom – in a trailer court on the edge of EMC.

Marian Payne
Marian Payne in front of "home" at EMC. (Courtesy of the Paynes.)

By the late winter, Marian was pregnant and needed to make frequent trips to the communal wash house of the trailer court. In the night she would wake up James to accompany her.

After James graduated that summer, they moved to Howard County, Maryland, where James taught for a year.

Responding to a request from the Quakertown Christian Day School, James served there as principal and 7th and 8th grade teacher.

With a growing family (two children in two years) supported by James’ meager pay, Marian and James sought extra sources of income. For two years, they were custodians at the Rocky Ridge Mennonite Church.

Service in Ethiopia

In 1961, they answered a call by the Lancaster County Mission Board to serve in Ethiopia. It was James’ second stint. During his first tour in 1952, James fell from the roof of a house he was building. He sustained a brain concussion that proved to have a life-long impact.

To this day, James suffers from constant, sometimes incapacitating, headaches. Overseas in 1961-62, James’ problems with his head worsened, and the family – now encompassing two daughters and a son – had to return to the United States after one year.

For the next five years, James taught sixth grade at a public school in central Pennsylvania. Then he got a chance to do graduate work with funding from a soon-to-be-discontinued fellowship. James jumped at the chance and the family headed to Penn State. There the Paynes learned to live on even less.

For EMU’s Future

If you haven’t reviewed your will recently – or, worse, if you don’t have a will at all – it’s time to give the matter your attention.

Experts recommend reviewing your will every two to five years. Your life and priorities change. A will can be affected by changes like these:

  • New job
  • Baby or grandchild
  • Death of a parent
  • Death of a spouse
  • Retirement
  • Illness
  • New interest, attitudes and causes

Including EMU in your estate plans will enable EMU eventually to accept everyone who is qualified and who seeks an Anabaptist education, regardless of their ability to pay.

In short, bequests are permanent investments in the long-term soundness of EMU and its accessibility to all.

When you look at your will, consider EMU.

Have an IRA?
At Least 70½?

Here’s a way to get more from your IRA without paying more to the IRS.

Thanks to new federal legislation in force through Dec. 31 of this year, donors aged 70½ or older can roll over gifts from their IRAs to EMU (or other non-profit charities) on any amount up to $100,000 without claiming increased income or paying increased tax.

James and Marian Payne did this in 2006 and plan to do so again in 2007.

Contact EMU planned giving expert Art Borden or any other EMU development official at…

1200 Park Rd.
Harrisonburg, VA 22802

In an attempt to supplement James’ meager teaching salary, Marian tried selling World Book Encyclopedias door to door. She hated it. “I suggested she have her credits reviewed and apply to work on her degree,” said James. (Marian had attended EMC for the 1954-55 school year, but having no family financial support for her studies, she left EMC to teach at Belleville.)

Marian began to attend undergraduate classes at Penn State. Often they would trade off child care, with Marian handing James the children as he was finishing class and she was heading into one. James did the grocery shopping, often hitting four stores to catch the best sale prices for each item on his list.

“Working together – I doing the shopping and cooking, and she doing the laundry and care for the house, as well as my typing – we both completed our degrees at Penn State,” said James. He would earn a doctorate in education from Penn and Marian eventually would earn two masters degrees – in reading and in administration – at Shippensburg University.

Marian recalls that when James received his doctorate in education in 1970, she suggested to their five children that the family go out to eat to celebrate. “They had been out to eat so rarely, the only restaurant they could suggest was McDonald’s….So we celebrated at McDonald’s!”

At the peak of their earning ability in the 1970s and 1980s, James taught a graduate course in curriculum, math pedagogy in the education department of Shippensburg University, and served as the university’s expert on giftedness. Marian was the reading supervisor for the Shippensburg school district.

But Marian had bouts of health problems, stemming from a rare disease that was not correctly diagnosed until 1993. Worried about her continued earning ability, the Paynes decided to put as much money into saving for the future as possible. They heavily invested in tax-deferred annuities, using James’ salary as the sole support for the family of seven.

The Paynes did manage to get themselves a cabin in the mountains as a retreat. Not by purchasing it. They and their children built it themselves. The family remains content to use the cabin without modern conveniences, such as running water and electricity.

“When we were thinking about what charity to support, we decided that it would not be one that would support the kinds of undergraduate students who drove past me for years while I walked to campus or who frequented fast-food establishments while we ate frugally at home,” says James, only half-joking. “They seemed to have plenty of money while we were counting our pennies.”

Both James and Marian stopped earning salaries in their late 50s. The doctors weren’t sure what was causing Marian’s health problems – which included a heart attack, large calcium deposits on her extremities, and extremely high cholesterol levels – but “they told me the probability of her living to old age was very slim,” said James.

James decided that he wanted to spend Marian’s little remaining time with her, enjoying her company. So they both retired – she at age 56 on social security disability and he at age 58 on early retirement.

But Marian’s health didn’t worsen. She found her way to the National Institutes of Health where she continues to receive experimental medicines and help in understanding how to handle her rare disease – sitosterolemia. She makes a point of eating right and walking to keep fit.

Meanwhile the five Payne children went on to finish their degrees and establish themselves professionally. The eldest is a physician; the second and third are engineers; the fourth, a computer specialist who is now retooling herself to be a school counselor; and the fifth, who earned a doctorate of law, works for the State Department, serving as consul general at U.S. embassies around the world, including in Iraq.

Seeking to write their will, the Paynes wanted a worthy cause that would last long after they were gone. With the help of Sam Weaver, their thoughts turned back to the college they had left 40 years ago – to a college from which Marian did not graduate and in which James hardly had smooth sailing. Both had earned degrees and worked at better-known institutions. Yet only the Mennonites seemed to be “putting their money where their mouth was” in terms of showing the world alternatives to violence and war.

Marian and James Payne
Marian and James Payne today.

Today, the Paynes not only give lump sums to EMU on an annual basis – sometimes sweetening the pot by offering to match the dollars of new donors – they have allocated every dime from anything remaining in their estate to the same cause: the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

Their children, four of whom have visited the Center with their parents, fully support this decision, sometimes giving their own gifts to the Center in honor of their parents.

James never tires of saying, “Best investment we’ve ever made.”

Once, when his physician-daughter Barbara Swan heard her father, she shot back in mock horror: “Dad, I thought we kids were your best investment!” (Barbara and her husband David, another physician, are also major CJP supporters.)

James looked sheepish and agreed. “You are, but I just want other donors to know that we’ve never regretted the investment we first made in 1995 and continue to make now. It’s the second-best investment we ever made.”

“It’s okay, Dad. You can say it’s the best.”

Back to table of contents