EMU Salutes Centenarian Alumna

Sara Herr, EMU alumna
EMU alumna Sara G. Herr on her 100th birthday

She’s among the few alumni with memories of the early years of the former Eastern Mennonite School, now Eastern Mennonite University.

Sara Graybill Herr, born Apr. 13, 1908 in Martinsburg, Pa., was a student at the Harrisonburg school when the campus was little more than a cement block structure erected on a hillside above Park Woods.

Practically everything happened in that building; classrooms, administrative and faculty offices and dining area were all located there.

Sunday afternoon, Apr. 13, EMU helped Mrs. Herr mark her 100th birthday in a celebration held at Strite Auditorium at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC) and attended by some 45 extended family members and friends.

EMU alumna Sara Herr and Myron and Esther Augsburger
Myron and Esther Augsburger talk with EMU alumna Sara Herr during her 100th birthday celebration on April 13, 2008. Myron is a former president of EMU and professor emeritus of theology. Esther was EMU’s first art graduate in 1971 and “alumna of the year” in 1999.

EMU President Loren Swartzendruber presided at a short program of remembrances and tributes for Mrs. Herr. He noted that Sara Graybill met her future husband, E. Grant Herr from Hanover, Pa. – “an excellent tennis and ball player,” he said – as students in 1925.

Their first date consisted of a stroll up the hill overlooking the campus. Both enjoyed playing tennis on a makeshift, dirt surface court near the main building.

Sara and Grant were married by her father, the late C.W. Graybill, on June 11, 1927, in an outdoor ceremony in Martinsburg.

Dr. Swartzendruber told the group of a vivid memory for Sara that day. The moment they were pronounced husband and wife, at 11 a.m., the bells from seven churches in town started pealing.

“Sara thought at the time that this was “a nice way for the larger community to recognize our marriage,'” the president said. She later found out that the “ceremony” was in honor of aviator Charles A. Lindbergh’s return to the U.S. following his successful solo, non-stop trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris.

Grant Herr was a teacher and then a supervising principal in Pennsylvania public schools for 37 years before the family moved to Harrisonburg in 1963 for Grant to become business manager. He held that position for six years, then was purchasing agent and supervised student teachers before retiring in 1987 after 61 years devoted to education.

Sara did substitute school teaching early on but primarily was a homemaker, enjoying doing service projects and hosting guests in their home.

The Herrs’ son, Lowell G. Herr, a 1959 EMU graduate from Portland, Ore., thanked everyone for attending the celebration and noted that “Eastern Mennonite [School] was where Sara and Grant, Mom and Dad, met and fell in love. They have always held a deep affection for the Valley and for EMU.” The couple was married 77 years; Grant died in 2005 at age 99.

The Herrs’ other son, Kenneth D. Herr of Westlake Village, Calif., was unable to attend. The Herr families established an endowed scholarship in 1989 to assist EMU education majors.