Courtesy The Weather Vane, April 19, 2012
Theodore Brian Yoder (class of 2012) had cancer first at age 10, then again at 17 and 21. Then this past Christmas break he was told he again had cancer, inoperable this time, and he was given 3-6 months to live. Theo died at his home Thursday evening (April 12) around 10 p.m. surrounded by Lynn and Brian (mom and dad) and his two brothers, Josh (20) and Rex (15).
Just hours before his death, Theo’s brother-in-law showed him the slide show that captured his life in photos which was being prepared for his future funeral and visitation service. This was one of the things Theo had wanted to do himself but in his last days agreed to let others make it. When asked what he thought of it, Theo replied “It’s perfect, don’t change anything.” Theo died peacefully and had said in a conversation about a week before that he was ready.
On warm fall nights, last semester, one could find senior Theo Yoder, at Tandem house (named after the borrowed tandem bike that you may have seen Theo riding around campus with any number of his friends) near EMU, singing along with Garth Brooks in tribute to his “friends in low places.”
These friends – 31 EMU students including cousins, along with Byron Peachey (campus pastor), Deanna Durham (professor and counselor to Theo) and Phil Guengenrich (athletic events coordinator and Theo’s work study boss for 4 years) – boarded a big red bus Sunday morning at 2 a.m. for the 18 hour trip to Kalona, Iowa, for the visitation, funeral, and burial of Theo.
EMU President Loren Swartzendruber was also present at the memorial services. He traveled in from Indiana where he had been attending meetings and had spoken at Silverwood Mennonite Church on Sunday morning. Swartzendruber’s presence was appreciated by the EMU visitors and Theo’s local community members.
The Theo riders walked off the bus Sunday evening at Wellman Mennonite Church reeking of dirty socks and B.O., but were welcomed with hugs and warm greetings from his family. They proceeded through the visitation, which featured artifacts from Theo’s life (Cubs baseball memorabilia, T-shirts, 4-H trophies and Grand Prize ribbons from his stellar hog showing skills, and family photos).
We sat quietly to watch a thorough slide-show documenting his 22 years, and slowly walked past his open casket before entering the line to embrace his family. Afterward, a Sunday School Class of First Mennonite Church in Iowa City graciously provided a meal for all us at Iowa Mennonite School. We carpooled to different homes for the night.
Monday morning blew in quickly and some friends weathered the harsh winds and cold temperatures to unearth the ground reserved for our dear friend. The funeral began at 10 a.m. at Iowa Mennonite School. Theo had planned much of his own funeral and had asked for a time of sharing during which several EMU friends shared favorite memories about Theo.
Their stories ranged from his marathon cafeteria dining sessions to his friend saving pick-up trips to his bacon and egg breakfasts, pranks, thoughtfulness and wise, witty and wonderful storytelling. Most of all, the stories focused on his strong friendships, loyalty and amazing ability to connect with so many on our campus; a fitting farewell to a friend who relished good story telling.
Theo was buried in a small cemetery overlooking the family’s farmland; the perfect resting spot. The memorial events concluded with one of Theo’s favorite things: Family and friends sharing a meal together and Diet Pepsi. Before leaving town the group explored downtown Kalona and tasted some squeaky cheese curds at the cheese factory. .. all places Theo liked to show first time visitors.