Eastern Mennonite University

Summer 2007

Leadership Shifts at CJP

Zimmerman Accepts New Challenges

Ruth Zimmerman
"These two quilts could be called 'bookends' of my life my past and my future. The one on the left is handmade by my mother using pieces of dresses I wore as child. The one on the right is a gift from a student from India a few years ago, long before I imagined I would be living in that part of the world," says Ruth Zimmerman. (Photo by Matt Styer)

The last member of the triumvirate who founded the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) is leaving Eastern Mennonite University this summer.

CJP co-director Ruth Hoover Zimmerman, MA ’02, is moving with her husband Earl to Kolkata (Calcutta), India, in September. The couple will be the regional representatives for Mennonite Central Committee for India, Nepal and Afghanistan.

In her personal and professional life, Zimmerman has broken barriers in multiple ways. She is the only college graduate of eight children born to her parents, and she is one of the longest-serving administrators at EMU, overseeing what is now the largest departmental budget.

Ruth Zimmerman started in 1994 as an administrative assistant under CJP’s first director, Dr. John Paul Lederach. Quickly proving herself, she was tapped to be chief administrator as the program expanded.

In 2001, Dr. Howard Zehr lobbied for Zimmerman to receive a promotion from “administrator” under a PhD-holding director holding to “co-director” of CJP in conjunction with himself, a PhD-holder.

“I didn’t think it was fair for Ruth not to receive the pay and status commensurate with her actual responsibilities,” said Zehr. “It seemed like a role that is too-typical for females – to do the work and not receive the credit.”

Giving Ruth Her Due

Zehr made it a package deal. He said he would oversee CJP’s academic program only if Zimmerman were named his co-director, responsible for the administration of the masters degree program, the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) and the Practice Institute.

Under Zimmerman and Zehr, the co-director system worked well for its first four years, though the work responsibilities were heavy for two sets of shoulders. In 2006, the Zehr-Zimmerman co-directorship was enlarged by a group known as the “Leadership Team,” consisting of the heads of each branch of CJP – Dave Brubaker for the MA program, Jan Jenner for the Practice Institute and Pat Hostetter Martin for the Summer Peacebuilding Institute – plus long-time administrative assistant Janelle Myers-Benner.

When Zimmerman began in 1994, CJP had two faculty members and two masters students. Today it has six full-time and three part-time faculty members and 18 other employees, shepherding nearly 100 masters students, plus dozens of others who come for training each year.

“Ruth’s administrative abilities have made possible much of the success of CJP,” says EMU provost Dr. Beryl Brubaker, who has directly supervised Zimmerman for the last four years.

Zimmerman trained and supervised CJP staff. She also planned and monitored CJP’s budget, which grew from $30,000 in 1994-95 to $2.2 million in 2006-07. Zimmerman was the main person who handled sensitive personnel issues, ranging from divorce to serious illness. She facilitated CJP functioning as an extended family or network of support. Toward this end, she participated in more than 120 potluck dinners where CJP faculty, staff and students mingle; she sent hundreds of messages for both joyous events – birthdays, weddings, and births – and for sad occasions marked by trauma and death.

Pat Bird, who works at Wake Forest University’s school of medicine and who has taken classes at SPI, said Zimmerman’s “calm influence” would be missed. “I was particularly impressed with the way Ruth handled the situation the first time the group from Iraq came to SPI, right after we had just invaded their country!” Zimmerman offered an apology at a public assembly, which was then posted on the CJP website.

Welcoming Presence

Zimmerman gave a personal answer to almost every e-mail she received pertaining to CJP or its worldwide family of 3,000 alumni. On one random day in April, her e-mail inbox included pleas for financial assistance to study at CJP, encouraging news about Christian-Muslim cooperation in the Philippines, a marriage announcement, a worrisome report about violence in Sri Lanka, an article to edit from a staff member temporarily in Turkey, a request for additional budget figures from a top administrator at EMU, a reminder that a report is due to the Fulbright Commission, graduation exercise plans, news about the upcoming Summer Peacebuilding Institute, and staff reaction to the idea of a new marketing brochure for CJP.

Yet if one had phoned Zimmerman on this day, it is likely that she would have managed to answer the call – or return it soon – amid the deluge of e-mails, scheduled meetings and drop-in visitors. Her office door at the entrance to the main CJP building was usually open, welcoming anyone who wanted to talk with her. “Ruth is someone that all of us knew we could absolutely count on,” said co-director Howard Zehr.

In a far-sighted strategic move in 2001, Zimmerman wrote the winning proposal for EMU to be the first (and only) university to receive cohorts of Fulbright-supported students of peace from the Middle East and South Asia. Zimmerman mentored the Fulbright program at CJP for its first six years, through two renewals of the Fulbright contract. Fifty-two Fulbright students have come through CJP under this program. The seven-year Fulbright program has cemented EMU’s position as a world-renowned peace center.

Two other Zimmerman initiatives: (1) securing a full-time fundraiser for CJP, which has raised the level of support for CJP to $2.2 million in endowments and $200,000 in annual funds; and (2) seeking a building under which CJP’s functions and staff could be unified.

This last initiative remains unrealized. “I have lobbied for larger and consolidated facilities since 2000, and I regret that I am not remaining at CJP long enough to see this vision come true, but I feel it will in the next few years, with the help of donors,” she says.

Where It All Began

Ruth Zimmerman’s trajectory to the leadership of CJP began in an unlikely location.

Ruth was one of eight children born to a traditional Mennonite farm-family in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania. When Ruth was growing up, most of her family and friends spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, a language preserved for over 200 years from their country of origin in Europe. Dress was “plain,” with the women wearing head covering and modest dresses that extended to their calves. The community was insular, preferring to keep its distance from outsiders and suspecting the practices of other Christians. Ruth’s group was modern enough to drive cars rather than horses and buggies, but the cars had to be soberly black and not flashy, with even the bumpers painted black.

Ruth Zimmerman's early years
Ruth Hoover Zimmerman, age 6, and Earl and Ruth at their wedding in 1972; the quilt was made by her mother from childhood dresses. (Photos courtesy of Ruth Zimmerman)

“Mine was a safe, secure childhood on a large diversified farm that grew corn, potatoes and tobacco,” Ruth recalls. “It was a very German type of household – cleaning, gardening, family and friends, good food, hard work and wholesome play. Of course, we had to honor our parents and church leaders.”

Ruth was an avid reader, which caused her to want to attend school beyond the socially acceptable level of grade 8. Her mother called her “strong-willed.” Yielding to her pleas, her parents allowed her to complete high school through correspondence courses and to enter a one-year program to be a licensed nurse.

Of her four sisters and three brothers, Ruth was the only one who sought and obtained a higher education. In 1994, she completed a bachelors degree at EMU, followed by a masters degree in conflict transformation in 2002 from EMU.

“Education was my way out of the traditional prescribed role for women in that community, where most were married by age 20 and had born eight children by age 40.”

Actually Ruth did follow the prescribed role in one way: she married her teenage sweetheart, Earl, at age 20. Earl had a similar traditional Mennonite background and also wanted a higher education, yet his family pulled him out of school at age 15 and put him to work doing construction with his father.

By the time they reached their late 20s – with three children of their own – Ruth and Earl were eager to leave their “cocoon of community, family and faith.” They took a mission assignment in the Philippines and moved to a place that was “challenging beyond compare.”

By Bonnie Price Lofton

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