The Continuing Legacy of the Augsburgers

By Bonnie Price Lofton | May 13th, 2013

The Augsburgers

Myron and Esther Augsburger with their immediate family. Clockwise from bottom-left: daughter Marcia Augsburger Goff ’91, her daughter Lara and husband Stephen; son John Augsburger ’74 and his wife Beverly; granddaughter Caitie Augsburger and her father Michael ’80.

From the mid-1960s through the 1970s – encompassing 15 years of great social change within Eastern Mennonite College and beyond – theologian Myron Augsburger (BA ’55, BTh ’58) led this institution of higher education.

“As a well-known evangelist, Myron had the vision and stature to guide EMC from being a rather insular school – one that lacked art, instrumental music, drama and intercollegiate athletics – to rapidly growing into a national player among Christian liberal arts colleges,” says Phil Helmuth, EMU’s executive director of development.

Recent grads may not know this history…

Myron, the author or co-author of 26 books, was named by Time magazine in 1969 as one of the five most influential “preachers of an active gospel.” Before completing a doctorate in theology and becoming EMU president at age 35, Myron led more than 50 evangelical tours in the United States and internationally, with tent meetings that attracted thousands at a time.

The woman Myron married in 1950, Esther Kniss, paved the way for EMU’s arts program. She was the first to major in the field of art, earning a degree in secondary art education in 1971, followed by a master’s degree in art at James Madison University. She is recognized as an international leader among Christian visual artists. The freestanding arts building at EMU is named after Esther, and her sculptures are inside and outside of campus buildings.

In 1980-81, Esther and Myron planted the Washington Community Fellowship, a church that serves Christians of all stripes in downtown D.C.

As lifelong Mennonite church “servant-leaders” garnering modest incomes, one could assume that the Augsburgers were generous givers of non-material gifts. But what might come as a surprise is that they have also been generous in donating money.

At EMU, they underwrite the Augsburger Lectureship, which brings noted speakers to campus each year to address topics pertinent to Christian evangelism and mission. They also have contributed to the Augsburger Endowed Chair and two endowed scholarships and give faithfully to the University Fund, Seminary Annual Fund, Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, and Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival. (More examples on facing page!)

Their Grown-Up Family

Myron and Esther raised three children – John, Mike and Marcia – who all attended EMU while their father was president. Here are updates on each:

With his wife Beverly, John Augsburger ’74 is the founder of Allied Recovery International (ARI), a nonprofit that specializes in rebuilding after disasters. Beverly and John headed to Indonesia after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami. Supported by multi-million-dollar grants from Chevron, ARI re-constructed three primary and secondary schools, plus a large vocation training high school. ARI is now building a 48,000-square-foot multi-purpose community and sports facility. In addition, with funds from UNICEF and private donors, ARI has constructed latrines, handwashing facilities, and wells in Indonesia. After Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, ARI drilled dozens of wells, plus septic systems for devastated communities.

As the project manager for S. M. Nichols Builders in Blacksburg, Va., Mike Augsburger ’80 has overseen construction of 400 condominiums and other buildings. He has also supported his older brother’s organization, making four construction-focused trips to Haiti. In the late 1990s, he worked on a major project with his mother, helping her weld 6,000 guns into a massive sculpture, “Guns Into Plowshares,” for display in Washington D.C.

With a law degree from UC-Davis, Marcia Augsburger Goff ’91 is an attorney-partner in DLA Piper, LLP, Sacramento, Calif., the same firm as her husband, Steve. Marcia specializes in health care dispute resolution and litigation. She has spoken and published extensively on complex litigation, civil discovery, Health Care Reform, HIPAA, consumer-directed health care and wellness programs, women in the law and other legal and business subjects. She has been named a California Super Lawyer.

Meanwhile, the senior-aged Augsburgers continue to lead active lives – leading Anabaptist-themed trips to Europe, participating in religious, social and artistic assemblies, and producing books (Myron) and art (Esther). In April and May 2013, Myron is teaching “Romans: A Letter to the Church” at EMU’s Summer Institute for Missional Questions in Lancaster.  — BPL