More than 1,580 tickets were sold for The Steel Wheels concert on lawn during Eastern Mennonite University's Centennial Homecoming and Family Weekend. The band of Brian Dickel '98, Eric Brubaker '01, Trent Wagler '02, Jay Lapp and Kevin Garcia entertained the crowd for nearly two hours. The concert and Fall Festival were just one of 84 events over the three-day celebration of EMU's 100 years. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Centennial Homecoming draws record crowd for a ‘magical weekend’

Community members new to Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) joined those with ties three and four generations back to its beginning in 1917 to celebrate the university’s Centennial Oct. 12-15 during Homecoming and Family Weekend 2017.

While “homecoming” often conjures images of happily engaged older alumni in circles of chairs reminiscing, this weekend provided that and so much more.

A campus fun run, face painting, bouncey houses, experiments with the engineering club, tailgating, athletic events, and dancing on the lawn to the sounds of EMU’s jazz band and later The Steel Wheels kept children happy while their parents caught up and took in the fun as well.

The weekend was powerful and re-affirming, said 2007 graduates Timothy and Cheryl Heatwole Shenk of Camden, New Jersey. It reaffirmed their decision to attend EMU, their commitment to the university and their excitement to see “the growth and changes that are shaping the future,” Timothy said. “Our children were thrilled to see some of the places and people we have told them about in stories. Our 8-year-old is already talking about when she attends EMU some day. It makes me proud.”

The two were also particularly touched by recognitions of alumni Michael J. Sharp, who posthumously received the Life Service Award, and Centennial Award recipients Chester and Sara Jane Wenger.

“I had tears in my eyes seeing Chester and Sara Jane be publicly affirmed for their lives of service,” said Heatwole Shenk.

“It takes a village to plan and execute over 80 events,” noted President Susan Schultz Huxman after the marathon weekend. “I deeply appreciate all those who prepared the facilities and food, served as ambassadors and ‘point people’ at so many activities and who provided music, presentations, programs, logistics.  It was ‘all hands on deck’ to celebrate 100 glorious years and I appreciate everyone who played a role.”

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More special coverage

What we bring. What we take. What we leave. Approximately 1,300 saw the play by Ingrid DeSanctis and Ted Swartz, commissioned by the Centennial Committee, and featuring a cast of alumni actors and musicians, including current students.

EMU’s second annual TenTalks featured Jodie Geddes MA ’16 (conflict transformation), who works in restorative justice with youth; Anxo Pérez ’97, entrepreneur in Spain, author, musician; and Trent Wagler ‘02 of Americana band, The Steel Wheels. Watch the 30-minute video.

The Presidents’ Forum, hosted by historian Don Kraybill, featured presidents emeriti Myron S. Augsburger, 1965-80; Joseph L. Lapp, 1987-2003; and Loren E. Swartzendruber, 2003-2016, as well as current president Susan Schultz Huxman. Read coverage here.

At least 200 gathered for the “10X10X100″ art exhibit artists’ talks Friday afternoon, and by Saturday afternoon, more than 80 pieces of artwork had been purchased with a percent of sales going to benefit the EMU art program.

Alumni award recipients Laura Rosenberger, Chester Wenger, Leonard Dow and Anxo Perez perform a scripture reading together during Sunday’s worship service. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Sunday’s traditional worship service tied past, present and future together. Read coverage here and listen to the podcast here. Also present and part of a litany reading were alumni award recipients Chester ’36 and Sara Jane ’42 Wenger, Centennial Award; Anxo Perez ‘97, Alumnus of the Year; Leonard Dow ’87, Distinguished Service; Laura Rosenberger ’03, Young Alumnus; and John and Michelle Sharp, parents of Life Service Award honoree Michael J. Sharp ‘05.

By the numbers

Record numbers of participants called for record numbers of behind-the-scenes volunteers, staff and faculty to pull off more than 85 events planned for the extended weekend.

  • Exact numbers are hard to come by as people dropped in and out for various events, but 900 adults and 66 children registered for homecoming events, a significant increase from 2016 events; 1,582 tickets were sold for The Steel Wheels concert and 1,190 theater production tickets were issued.
  • Centennial author Donald B. Kraybill signed approximately 300 copies of his book, Eastern Mennonite University: A Century of Countercultural Education. The hardcover book is available through EMU at the special price of $19.99 plus tax, shipping and handling. To order, complete this form. The book is also available from Penn State Press and at Amazon at a cost of $40; Amazon also offers a Kindle version at $18.99.If you have questions about the book purchase, contact Eastern Mennonite University at or 540-432-4101. Read a Q&A with Kraybill about the six-year project and his reflections
  • With oversight by director of food services Bruce Emmerson, of Pioneer College Catering, dozens of people worked collaboratively with facilities management, development and alumni/parent engagement colleagues to serve  2,734 meals between the dining hall and catered events. They catered 36 events: 480 people were served at the donor appreciation banquet, followed the next day by six breakfasts and eight lunches outside of the dining facility — consider the fact that those meals started simultaneously -— and the delivery of many cookie trays and coffee. Emmerson, who has earned numerous awards for his innovation from Pioneer and also won the hearts of the EMU community, expressed pride in his team, noting, “I didn’t hire additional staff. Everyone picked up extra shifts with a ‘can-do’ spirit.”
  • Sixty-nine parents joined the first-ever parent reception over Saturday lunch with a chance to mingle and hear from Parent Council members and Director of Alumni and Parent Engagement Jeff Shank. “This is definitely  a new event we’ll want to make a tradition,” noted Shank.

    Cyclists ready to explore Rockingham County backroads on Friday morning.
  • Sixty-one people participated in the Centennial Century bike ride Friday morning, divided between a 100K, 50K, and 5K ride for a few parents with toddlers in tow. Participants included community members as well as faculty, staff and alumni.

Magical weekend

It was simply a magical weekend, exclaimed Emebet Assefa ’97, who traveled from San Diego, California, for her 20th class reunion. “Seeing my classmates, friends, professors after so many years and spending some lovely time with them was priceless. It was like coming back home!”

“I am immensely grateful for the combined efforts of many to plan and produce this special weekend for alumni, family and friends of Eastern Mennonite University,” reflected Louise Hostetter, Centennial committee chairperson. “It was particularly delightful to observe several generations attending many events and at Eastern Mennonite School, enjoying the opportunity to renew acquaintances, celebrate our past and anticipate our future!”

The centennial year of celebration will continue throughout the fall, winter and spring. For a listing of events, visit

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