The Eastern Mennonite University community surrounds the cross-cultural group heading the Middle East at the conclusion of Wednesday's convocation. The event kicked off EMU's centennial year celebrations. (Photo by Nikki Fox/Daily News-Record)

Convocation and Centennial year kick-off celebration draws a crowd

Through the last 100 years, EMU carved out a 97-acre campus in the city’s Park View section. It now enrolls roughly 1,900 undergraduate and graduate students a year.

“I’m proud, just proud,” said Betty Brunk, 84, of Harrisonburg. “I hope they keep growing.”

Celebration launched

Brunk, who graduated in 1969 with a degree in sociology, was among about 1,000 alumni, students and faculty to gather for a special chapel service Wednesday morning in Lehman Auditorium to launch the school’s centennial celebration.

Her lineage can be found throughout EMU’s history. Her late husband, Truman Brunk, was the grandson of EMU’s first president, J.B. Smith.

Among those at the convocation were former EMU Presidents Myron Augsburger, Joe Lapp and Loren Swartzendruber. [Editor’s note: Beryl Brubaker, former interim president, was also in attendance.]

During the service, Caleb Schrock-Hurst, student body co-president, urged his classmates to stay focused on the school’s mission.

“Before we’re swamped by homework, before practices become games, before we don’t have the time to think about why we’re here, let’s take a moment to reflect,” he said. “We are here to embody Jesus’ spirit in the world, and that is a task that should not be forgotten no matter how fun any weekend may be. We have a difficult task, but it is one we can take on with joy.”

English professor Marti Eads sings a hymn during convocation at Eastern Mennonite University.

President Susan Schultz Huxman told the audience that the university has accomplished a lot, including developing community leaders.

“We honor the thousands of our alums and supporters who have spent their lives committed in word and deed to serving, leading, and transforming their communities at home and around the world,” she said.

‘You Go Girl’

As part of the celebration, EMU created a website,, that includes a timeline of the school’s history.

The timeline highlights when buildings were erected and when new presidents arrived at the school.

It also includes some little-known facts, including those of the school’s toy factory.

In 1933, President A.D. Wenger, professor Ernest G. Gehman and board member E.C. Shank created a toy company in a farm building on campus to help students to offset the $300 annual tuition.

The site also notes that for more than two decades, students weren’t allowed to come and go freely.

In 1939, students were allowed to leave campus without seeking permission for the first time.

Of all the highlights, Brunk’s proudest moment came last year, when the university announced it was hiring its first woman president. Huxman started at EMU on Jan. 1.

Brunk’s first thought: “You go, girl.”

The school hopes to add more accomplishments to the timeline this year with several centennial events planned.

 The Centennial Week Celebration begins Oct. 11.

‘Quite An Honor’

While not a graduate, Ruby Lehman, 86, plans to attend most of the events this year.

Her husband, Robert Lehman, graduated in 1950 and later taught physics at EMU. Lehman Auditorium is named after his father, Chester Lehman.

She met her husband at a Mennonite youth conference in Iowa and followed him to Harrisonburg. They married in 1954.

And she has remained a staunch supporter of the school since his death in 2009. Lehman’s favorite part, she said, is the university’s reputation in other countries.

“I like the influence the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding is having around the world,” she said. “That is the part of EMU that I’m really cheering on.”

The university plans to wrap up the celebration on May 6 with the 100th annual commencement.

Michaela Mast, a 21-year-old senior from Broadway, is slated to graduate in the historic class. “It’s quite an honor,” said Mast, who attended the service. “I value EMU for so many reasons, and it’s exciting to be a part of the celebration.”

This article was published in the Aug. 31, 2017, Daily News-Record.