Alum of the Year: Luke Gascho

June 12th, 2020

Luke Gascho ’74 was most recently honored as environmental educator of the year in Indiana. He and his wife Becky Lehman ’74 met in college. Here, they pose for a photo in the organic garden behind the Suter Science Center, one of the first projects of the newly formed Earthkeepers Club.

As one of the first members of Earthkeepers, Luke Gascho ‘74 made at least two contributions that are still flourishing on campus: a composting project and organic garden. Though he never heard the words “creation care” and “ecology” while growing up on a farm in Minnesota, his parents modeled both in their careful work on the land. From the beginning of his career as a 21-year-old principal of a small Christian school to cultivating the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College into an accredited program with award-winning green building designs, EMU’s Alumnus of the Year has used every opportunity to live out his commitment to his faith, education, and creation care.

Gascho served two institutions for more than two decades. The first beneficiary was Johnstown Christian School, where he was principal and taught biology. In 1997, he took a position at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College: a 1,189-acre educational land preserve encompassing wetlands, lakeshores, forests, prairies, and meadows.

The center hosts over 5,000 K-12 students annually. Under his leadership, they also created field-based programs in sustainable agriculture, environmental science, and sustainability leadership with Goshen College, and a master of arts in environmental education – Goshen’s first graduate program. He also oversaw the design and construction of Rieth Village, an ecological field station for undergraduate classes which became the first building in Indiana to earn a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

For Gascho, his commitment to sustainability is inextricably entwined with his Mennonite faith. He was among the co-founders of the Mennonite Creation Care Network, a ministry of Merry Lea which aims to guide the Mennonite church in environmental stewardship.

Gascho has also furthered many other creation care projects. He led Goshen College in strategic planning processes for 15 years, which included sustainability initiatives. He assisted Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in green projects, and taught the first “creation” course in their curricular offerings. Gascho also worked with the founding of several other creation care organizations: Mennonite Central Committee’s creation care taskforce, Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, and the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions.

Climate change, ecological leadership, and addressing the “doctrine of discovery” can seem like “almost unsolvable problems on certain fronts,” he acknowledges. In light of that, “I think it’s important for me and for Christians to be both joy-filled and hope-filled people, which is an essential message to carry forward.” The concept of environmental stewardship for future generations is personal for Gascho: he and wife Becky Lehman ‘74 have three adult children and four grandchildren.

Gascho retired last June as the executive director of Merry Lea. He was honored with the 2019 Howard Michaud Award for Environmental Educator of the Year from the Environmental Education Association of Indiana.

These days, when he’s not studying, writing, or at a speaking engagement, Gascho can be found in his diverse fruit, nut and berry orchard and gardens. Caring for God’s creation remains at the core of his life commitments.