John L. Horst Jr. ’60, emeritus professor of physics and a passionate and much-beloved supporter of Eastern Mennonite University, died Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 at the University of Virginia Medical Center. He was 82.
Over a 44-year career at Eastern Mennonite College and then Eastern Mennonite University, Horst gained a reputation as a “dedicated and valued colleague in the Science Center” with an excellent knowledge of his field, said Professor Emeritus Joseph Mast ’64.
Equally known for his deft expertise in wider subjects, Horst was a “Rennaissance man,” Mast said.
“As a faculty member able to teach courses across a wide range of disciplines, John was an invaluable asset to EMU,” said Professor Emeritus Millard Showalter ’62. “Without a doubt, John L. Horst will be remembered as a ‘Man for all Seasons.’”
Horst’s wide-ranging intellectual interests — from physics and mathematics to music and history — challenged, amazed and entertained in many venues, from classrooms to faculty lounges and in later years, at Sabbath evening Bible studies and other events at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community.
In later years, he shared his love of music as the host of WEMC’s “Mostly Mennonite, Mostly A Capella” and in compiling and writing liner notes for nine CDs from the “Mennonite Hour” music archives.
Horst also contributed to the conceptualization of pictorial histories in prominent locations that have served to educate campus visitors, and regular denizens, too. (An athlete throughout his life, Horst appears in one photo, wearing No. 77 on the Smith Literary Society basketball team.) Take a tour with John in this article.
“I am forever grateful for his initiative and leadership in the creation of the athletic history display on the first floor of the Commons, which would not have happened if he had not brought the idea and did most of the research,” said Director of Athletics Dave King ’76, who also has vivid memories of sitting in an interdisciplinary studies course (better known as IDS) as an undergraduate and watching Horst’s visible delight as he taught about baroque music.
In retirement, Horst and his wife, Joan Graybill ’66, lived adjacent to EMU. He was an almost daily presence on campus, where he’d power walk and do wall push-ups in the University Commons (at certain times of the morning, one knew to take a wide turn around the corners), then stop by the Athletic Department (and other places, too) for a visit. King says he’ll miss those chats, as will many of us.
Park View Mennonite Church will host a live-streamed memorial service Saturday, Sept. 26, at 2 p.m. Visit www.pvmchurch.org/johnhorst for the link. His family will be present but the service will not be open to the public.
Horst is survived by his wife, Joan; his son, Michael Horst and wife, Stephanie, of Dover, Pa.; daughter Grete Horst Johnson and husband, Christopher, of Newport News; five grandchildren, Caleb, Luke and Daniel Horst, Emily and Sarah Johnson; and by a sister, Rachel Witmer and husband, James, of Alliance, Ohio.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Valley Brethren and Mennonite Heritage Center, PO Box 1653, Harrisonburg, VA 22803 or to WEMC FM radio station, 1200 Park Road, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.
Memories and condolences shared below in the comments will appear publicly. They will also be shared with the family.
Born in Connellsville, Pa., to the late John L. Sr. and Emma Zimmerman Horst, John Horst Jr. grew up in Scottdale. His lifelong love of music began early: at Scottdale High School, he sang in a male quartet that reached state-level competition. Horst’s reputation as a vocalist preceded him: Wilmer Lehman ’57, who is four years older than John, remembers attending Music Week at Laurelville and hearing J. Mark Stauffer ’38, who led EMC’s choirs, “rave” about the teenager’s wonderful deep bass voice. The two would meet again at EMC in 1956, when Lehman was a senior and Horst a freshman — and then become colleagues. Lehman, professor emeritus of mathematics, retired in 2000.
At EMC, Horst earned a degree in mathematics and music. He then completed graduate work in physics education at the University of Virginia, as well as additional graduate work in music. He taught at Eastern Mennonite High School for three years and then moved to the college, where he spent 37 years as an associate professor of physics and mathematics. Among other responsibilities, he was the planetarium’s director. [Read more about the Astral Society and the planetarium.]
He was passionate about teaching. EMU records capture a few examples of his professional development activities. In 1969, he was selected to participate in a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded six-week summer institute for professors teaching nuclear physics at Vanderbilt University. The next summer, he represented EMC among 19 colleges and universities at a selective summer institute focused on making physics courses meaningful to non-physics majors. Three weekend conferences were also part of the commitment; in return, Horst secured a $1,000 NSF grant for laboratory equipment.
Showalter remembers that Horst developed and often taught a special course for biology and business majors who needed to take physics but were lacking in “the knowledge of the essential concepts of differential and integral calculus, concepts which are very helpful in the study of physics,” Showalter said. “His class, titled ‘Elements of Calculus,’ aimed to “dispel the phobia of calculus as an ‘impossible’ course.”
Roman J. Miller’s first memory of Horst is one of gracious hospitality. The new faculty member arrived to teach at EMC in the summer of 1985 with plans to stay in an inexpensive hotel room as he located a more permanent residence. Horst offered him use of his family’s summer cabin out in the county.
“In our trans-departmental discussions and debates in the faculty lounge over the years, I was often stimulated by John Horst’s broad interests in life far beyond physics and math, which he very capably taught,” said Miller, who after retiring in 2016 as emeritus professor of biology, often saw Horst at VMRC events. “His love of music and reflections on a wide range of historic and religious happenings enlarged my world. I appreciated so much his warm friendship and his openness to conversation about the state of the world.”
Horst’s love of learning, teaching and science was present in the classroom even after retirement. “A few times, John was a substitute teacher in my physics classes and I keenly remember that he was fond of examples over lectures,” said Braydon Hoover ‘11, director of development and annual giving. “No matter how often he conducted a physics experiment, his face would light up like he was an undergrad experiencing it for the first time, himself.”
Hoover also remembers singing next to Horst and his clear joy in sharing music together at the doctoral defense of Ben Bergey ‘11 (now a music professor at EMU).
Throughout his life, Horst was a vocal performer and composer. He also composed works for piano, synthesizer and carillon. At Park View Mennnonite Church, where he was a member for nearly 55 years, Horst sang in the choir. He also sang in the Mennonite Hour Men’s Quartet for seven years; in the Men’s Chorus and Mixed Chorus in the 50’s and 60’s; and with several community choirs, most recently the Valley Collegium Musicum.
Around EMU’s Centennial year, Horst worked on a compilation CD of EMC/EMU’s greatest choral and orchestral hits. Members of EMU’s marketing and communication department fondly remember his visits to the Anderson House office during those months, when he would work his way around to each and every desk, greeting everyone, sharing ideas for articles about campus history, handing over type-written or hand-written remembrances or attending to various to-do items related to the CD.
With thanks to Wilmer Lehman, Joe Mast, Roman Miller and Millard Showalter for sharing memories and stories. You are most welcome to do the same in the comment box below. We’ll make sure they are passed along to his family.