Posted on November 23rd, 2009
John R. Mumaw (1904-1993) was not a large man, but he was a "big" person.
On Nov. 14, 190 people gathered at the Eastern Mennonite High School dining hall for a program and dinner to remember and to honor the godly legacy of John R., Esther M. and Evelyn K. Mumaw.
Former EMU presidents Myron S. Augsburger and Joseph L. Lapp and current president Loren Swartzendruber honored their predecessor John R. Mumaw at a ‘Celebration of Ministry’ event. Photo by Steve Carpenter
John R. married Esther Mosemann in 1928 and together they raised five daughters – Helen, Grace, Catherine, Lois and Miriam, in Harrisonburg, Va. John R. possessed exceptional leadership gifts. He went on to become the fourth president of the former Eastern Mennonite College, 1948-1965, served twice as moderator of the Mennonite Church, 1961-63 and 1969-71, and led Virginia Mennonite Conference as moderator, 1968-1974.
Pastoral skill and vision
During the evening, many spoke of John R’s pastoral skill, vision and administrative ability. Nancy Hopkins-Garriss, executive director of Pleasant View Homes, Inc., recounted how he started Pleasant View as a place for adults with developmental disabilities. Ron Yoder, CEO of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, recalled how John R. gave vision to the expansion of VMRC, while Dr. Linford Gehman cited his leadership as executive secretary of Mennonite Medical Association,1969-79.
Sprinkled in were stories of Esther and Evelyn’s service to the church given independently of and alongside their husband. Esther died suddenly in 1964. One year later, John R. then EMU president, married Evelyn King, the college’s dean of women.
Byron Peachey, a campus minister at EMU and John and Esther’s grandson, emceed the evening. His mother Helen, died in 2000 and was the only Mumaw daughter not present. Byron read a remembrance from Hubert and Mildred Pellman. They recalled Esther winning a game of Scrabble, then looking at John with a mischievous smile and saying, "…and I didn’t even go to college."
Lee M. Yoder, president of his EMU class under John’s tenure, recalled presenting a demand for a forum to express student opinions. John R. acquiesced and provided a prominent display board. The only problem – it was completely enclosed in glass. The only way to get something posted was to go through the dean of students and the president’s son-in-law, Laban Peachey.
Another commented how effective John R. was in dealing with his critics by referencing his constituency. On one occasion the moderator of VMC approached him with an issue. John R. replied "You meet on campus in assembly once a year. I work with this community every day. I cannot do what you ask."
Later, EMU’s current president Loren Swartzendruber jokingly commented, "Tonight I learned a lot from John R. about how to deal effectively with both VMC’s moderator and student class presidents." Swartzendruber also shared reflections on taking a homiletics course with Mumaw as a seminary student in 1973. Mumaw expected all sermons to be written in manuscript form, saying, "The Holy Spirit is present in the study as well as in the pulpit."
All three surviving present or former presidents of EMU – Myron Augsburger, Joe Lapp and Loren Swartzendruber, along with former EMU interim president Beryl H. Brubaker – were present to honor one of their own. EMU helped sponsor the event along with VMRC, PV Inc., and Dr. Gehman.
This was Virginia Mennonite Conference’s 10th Celebration of Ministry banquet. In addition to honoring a remarkable man and his family, it raised funds for VMC and established a ministerial training and trust fund for the theological education of pastors in the Potomac District of VMC.
Steve Carpenter is conference coordinator of Virginia Mennonite Conference.