Tribute to Gary Stucky

Gary L. Stucky
Gary L. Stucky

Gary L. Stucky, 63, of N. Newton, Kan., died the evening of Jan. 30, 2005, after an extended illness. Dr. Stucky taught chemistry at EMU from 1972 to 1993. He also attended Eastern Mennonite Seminary in the mid-90s. Gary was married to Janet Harder Stucky, former assistant professor of dietetics at EMU.

Several months ago, Gary underwent surgery for a non-cancerous tumor on the pancreas, but was not able to fully recover. He died of complications at Via Christi Regional Medical Center in Wichita, Kan., where his wife, Janet, was employed.

A memorial service was scheduled for Friday, Feb. 4 at Bethel College Mennonite Church, N. Newton, Kan. I was honored to be asked to prepare some reflective comments for sharing at that service, which follow:
–Jim Bishop

Insightful, affirming, incredibly optimistic – these are among the descriptive words that quickly spring to mind when I think of Gary L. Stucky.

I also immediately think of “Herr Doktor,” “Rev. Stucky” and “Doc Paxton.” These were monikers I used interchangeably in the many salutations issued in person and then in more recent years by electronic mail.

You see, I knew something of Gary’s world of test tubes, chemical formulas and concern for student success in the laboratory classroom from the years he served on the teaching faculty at Eastern Mennonite University. I wrote the news release announcing his appointment as professor in the chemistry department at EMU in 1972. I was sorry to learn in the early 90s that he would be leaving the Harrisonburg area and moving to Kansas.

The “Doc Paxton” moniker combines Gary’s first name with that of Gary (Flip) Paxton, lead singer of the Hollywood Argyles, who had a #1 novelty hit in 1960 with “Alley Oop.” I was pleasantly surprised to discover our mutual passion for vintage music, especially obscure or long-forgotten tunes of the 1950s era. We shared music over the miles from our respective libraries via cassette and compact disc. I started attaching “Reverend” to his handle when he became more involved in chaplaincy work and other ministries. I know that he ministered to me often over the years.

The Kansas-Virginia connection remained strong through our ongoing music interests. Gary was so supportive of the 50s music show I’ve hosted for the last five years every week on WEMC-FM, the “Friday Night Jukebox.” He kept prodding the station to connect to the Internet so he could listen there in N. Newton. I recall how excited he was to start a weekly program of eclectic music on Bethel College’s FM radio station, and then how pleased I was to be able to listen to his two-hour stint on my computer via “streaming audio.”

Gary was an encourager. In recent years I couldn’t keep up with the deluge of e-mails he sent my way. Many were in response to my weekly column, “Bishop’s Mantle,” which he followed on MennoLink or from accessing the on-line version of the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record where my column appears each Saturday. His words of praise provided energy and fresh motivation to carry on.

Gary was a media junkie. He devoured newspapers and news magazine, watched network news (often several channels simultaneously) as an avid follower of current events. Even though he drove a blue Geo Metro, he often walked instead of drove, carrying a radio tuned to some news or talk show. He cared about pain and suffering so evident in the larger society and called us to pray, give and do whatever else we could to at least begin to respond as Christians to a hurting world.

At Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg where we both attended, we could count on Gary getting up almost every Sunday during “sharing time,” either to say “yea and amen” to the sermon or to give a praise item or prayer concern. We didn’t always know the person he asked us to pray for, but a sense of genuine love and concern always permeated these petitions.

Gary was a people person. He maintained an extensive web site – maybe some of you are familiar with it – that reflected his broad interests and deep personal faith. There, and also in e-mails sent my way, one often found references to wife Janet, always affirming, always appreciative of the gift she was to him.

Although separated across many miles the last number of years, Gary Stucky remained a special friend. His homegoing is sobering for me on many fronts, not the least being that he was only four years older than I. I cherish those years we were colleagues at EMU, fellow members at Community Mennonite Church and soulmates connected by mutual interests – but most importantly, brothers in Christ all these years of association.

If I know Gary, he’s already working on a radio show to air on WGOD – Amen and FM.