Posted on May 30th, 2003
Retirement, for most persons, conjures up images of kicking back, slowing down, no longer working 8 to 5, traveling and pursuing special interests.
Paul T. Guengerich of Harrisonburg is doing all this – except, perhaps, the slowing down part, even at age 90.
Most people know Guengerich as “P.T.” In turn, P.T. knows just about everybody. And that comes in handy for the “work” he does just about every day.
After serving in various administrative roles at Eastern Mennonite University, P.T. officially retired in 1981. But less than a year later, he returned to his former workplace in a new, part-time role. Some 21 years later, he’s still going strong.
Paul spends several hours every day, Monday through Friday, in the alumni-parent relations office, combing church periodicals, newspapers and other information sources, gathering news notes on activities, achievements and milestones on EMU’s more than 15,000 alumni. He condenses his considerable gleanings into news notes for publication in “Crossroads,” the university’s quarterly magazine.
“I’m surprised myself how many thousand people I know,” Paul smiles.
Even for a modest man like P.T., that’s an understatement. He and wife Marjorie are a gregarious couple with a knack for making connections and playing what some call “the Mennonite game,” but never got around to patenting it with Milton Bradley (Yoder).
The Guengerichs have taken advantage of their good health to travel abroad extensively – to Africa, Central America, the Caribbean, Alaska, Israel-Palestine and, of course, those annual winter pilgrimages to the warm climes of Sarasota, Fla. They’ve also taught at an international school in Japan and opened their home to numerous students, campus visitors and acquaintances over the years.
Paul was born in Centralia, Mo., but grew up in Kalona, Iowa. He was educated in rural schools and earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Iowa.
He and Wellman, Iowa, native Marjorie Yoder were married in 1942 and taught in one-room country schools until P.T. was drafted and went off to wage peace in Civilian Public Service, just two months after they were married. He worked in Ft. Collins, Colo.; Hill City, S.D.; Beaver Dam, Wisc.; and Luray, Va. Paul was appointed camp director, so Marjorie was allowed to accompany him on his various assignments.
Their first son, Ron, was born in downtown Beaver Dam in 1945, and second child, Phil, was born in 1948 after their return to Iowa. Paul taught in rural schools for 7 1/2 years, public high school for a year and then served as principal of Iowa Mennonite School in Kalona from1949 to 1964.
But teaching and being principal of a church school wasn’t sufficient service, it seemed. Paul was tapped on the shoulder for pastoral ministry, but he resisted the call. The day an ordination was to take place, he went fishing, thinking he’d be off the hook.
The church postponed the ordination that day because their candidate of choice was absent. Following additional time for deliberation and listening to God, Paul allowed his name to be included in the “lot.” He was ordained in 1947 at West Union Mennonite Church near Kalona where he pastored until the family moved to Harrisonburg in 1964 and Paul accepted a position at the former Eastern Mennonite College.
From 1964 until 1981, Paul served in a variety of roles at then EMC – dean of men, dean of students, registrar and an associate in the admissions department.
After moving to Harrisonburg, Marjorie earned a B.S. degree from EMU in 1968. She promptly got a teaching position at McGaheysville Elementary School and taught first grade there until her retirement in 1982.
Not content to just sit and mull over past glories in retirement, P.T. and Marjorie got off their rockers and helped another local couple, Norman and Dorothy Kreider, establish a Mennonite Central Committee Self-Help store on N. Main Street called “Gift and Thrift.” Majorie managed the thrift end of the store from 1983 until 1996.
P.T. is the oldest member at Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, where he and Marjorie have attended since 1976. One Sunday in May, near Paul’s 90th birthday, he was the “special guest” during the children’s time in the worship service.
Community co-pastor Ray Hurst invited the children to ask P.T. questions about his life. The first query: “When did you see your first airplane?”
“When I was about six years old,” was the response.
The second question: “When did you see your second airplane?”
The session ended with the children gathering around P.T. as Pastor Ray led a prayer of blessing. It was an extraordinary moment for an extraordinary person.
Paul says he never gave serious thought to reaching 90, but he’s quick to give thanks to the Lord for the time he and Marjorie have had together. There’s “no secret” to his longevity, he insists, although he credits family genes and “making wise choices in health-related activities” over the years.
The biggest change P.T. has seen in his newsgathering efforts is that “today, alumni volunteer information on themselves more readily. We receive many updates by letter and e-mail. Alumni want to know what their fellow graduates are up to.”
Alumni relations director Janet Stutzman says that they trust P.T. for information on alumni more than the computer, and if he ever decides to leave, she will be hard-pressed to find a replacement.
“I don’t know how long I’ll stay with the alumni office (at EMU), but as long as I can make a contribution I’m willing to continue,” Paul says.
That may well be a long, long time.
Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.