Beryl Brubaker knows what it’s like to retire – and to be called back to serve with her gifts once more.
In 2008, Brubaker “retired” as provost. That year marked her 37th at Eastern Mennonite University, leading from a variety of positions in the nursing department to higher-level administration: from vice president of enrollment to the university’s first provost and even eight months as interim president.
Because “they asked,” she says with a smile, “and I said, ‘Yes,’” she returned “in retirement” to work as a writer of an accreditation self-study and then director of the Sadie A. Hartzler Library, initially on a “temporary” basis.
Six years later, giving much credit to the ongoing contributions and hard work of an “exemplary staff,” Brubaker says the library’s many services and historical archives are ready for transition to the care of new director G. Marcille “Marci” Frederick.
“A real librarian, not a fake one,” Brubaker says with a laugh, referring to the honorary librarian’s degree presented to her by a teary-eyed staffer at a recent retirement reception. The framed certificate is at once a symbol of respect and testament to Brubaker’s ability to lead capably in new fields.
Which brings us to Monday, June 29, 2015: Brubaker’s official last day of work on campus.
Answering different ‘calls’ to family and service
When Brubaker finishes that day, she will be free to devote herself to other calls.
She’s grandmother to 7-year-old Ella and 4-year-old Max, “helper” to daughter Heather Benin and her husband, and frequent visitor to both her mother, age 101 and living at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, and also an ailing sister living nearby.
And then there’s the gardens planted by her green-thumb husband, J. Mark Brubaker, a biology professor at James Madison University, who “grows plants by the millions, perennials,” she says, “and trees and trees and trees.”
Such proliferation of vegetation requires activities that Brubaker with wry good humor calls “tidying”—“weeding, mulching and pulling out things that are too thick.”
“I’m as busy as I want to be,” says Brubaker, 73, who still walks frequently and savors the time she can set aside to read.
A second presidency
Along with family time, Brubaker says she’s looking forward to devoting more of her attention to her role as president of the board of directors at Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center, a non-profit living history farmstead located on 24 acres in Harrisonburg.
“It’s a young organization with a staff of one,” she said. “I’ll be contributing to the development of a sustaining financial plan and doing a lot of the same kinds of things I’ve done here at EMU.”
That “staff of one” is Joan Daggett, who has worked with Brubaker since being hired as executive director in 2011. Brubaker joined the board of directors in July 2009 and became president in January of 2013. “She is a wonderful person and a role model for women in leadership,” Daggett said. “Beryl is a joy to work with and I look forward to her continued leadership with the Heritage Center.”
While very public roles don’t hold much allure for Brubaker, she thrives on building strong relationships and then ensuring those relationships continue: for the Heritage Center, that means building the already strong donor base and ensuring the vision plays out in continued commitments.
“I guess I like my stress,” Brubaker added. “I like juggling different balls in the air. Being challenged is important to me.”
Sharing her values with EMU and beyond
For years, EMU has benefited from that quest for challenge. A Pennsylvania native, Brubaker completed her RN training through EMU, but transferred to Case Western Reserve University so that she could earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and pursue her goal of teaching. After earning a master’s in nursing at University of Pennsylvania, Brubaker was eventually asked by then-President Myron Augsburger to help to strengthen and grow EMU’s nursing program.
As many professional women in academia do, she juggled family responsibilities, teaching, curriculum development and leadership responsibilities. She also conducted research and published the results (one project, for example, focused on confusion of residents in nursing homes). In 1980, she took a sabbatical to complete her doctorate, graduating in 1984 with a PhD in nursing from University of Alabama.
With each new promotion, she asked herself if she was still staying true to her ideals of service.
“I felt like preparing students who went out into the world everywhere was giving something to the world,” she said. “I especially felt that with the nursing graduates, who went all over, but even later in other positions where I didn’t have such a direct impact, I could see students going out into the world and doing good things.”
As she prepares to transition into what may or may not truly be retirement, Brubaker says she is comforted by her commitment to Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center.
“The mission there is to share and celebrate the story of Jesus Christ as it has been reflected in the Brethren and Mennonites living in the Shenandoah Valley,” she says. “We’re sharing the peace position with people who have never heard of Mennonites. It’s the continuation of the mission I’ve been involved with here for 45 years.”