Nathan Longenecker, a former student and Yoder/Webb Scholar at Eastern Mennonite University, passed away on Friday, October 8, 2021, at home in Lancaster, Pa., with his family around him. He was under the care of hospice following a courageous eight-month journey with brain cancer.
Longenecker was a first-year at EMU, studying mathematics and computer science, when he developed vision problems during February 2020. He was not able to return to his classes but remained in touch with many students. Many in the EMU community anxiously followed his journey through words posted by family on his CaringBridge site.
Professor Marti Eads recalled Nathan’s graciousness, kindness and patience during her adjustments to teaching online and to managing course technology. “I also have a vivid memory of an online conversation we had about his research paper on nuclear energy,” she shared. “He was such an intelligent, passionate, and compassionate thinker.”
Nathan’s self-confidence, compassion and desire to be of service to others are what remain with Professor Daniel Showalter, who first met him during a scholarship interview. The professor and student were together for eight units of coursework during the fall semester. After taking the Myers-Briggs personality test, Nathan was “fascinated by how he had always viewed himself as an introvert but that college had also ignited an extrovert side of him,” Showalter said. “His main delight in all of this was that he could now empathize with a much wider range of people. That desire to connect with others in a meaningful way, and to understand their perspective, is what sticks out most in my memories of Nathan.”
Nathan’s first appearance in EMU News was for earning a Yoder/Webb Scholarship, the university’s most prestigious full-tuition award for incoming first-year students. His second appearance captures some of his energy and sense of humor: Nathan and two friends dropped a hip-hop single “Meatball Mac,” which delivered a brief moment of niche social media fame.
The song was actually a gift to fellow student Ben Alderfer, with whom Nathan shared a love “for any and all types of food.” The song commemorated Ben’s avid, obsessive descriptions of what could be eaten in the cafeteria that night as he, Nathan, and a few hungry others finished off an evening round of disc golf. Meeting as hallmates on Northlawn 2nd, Ben and Nathan hit it off immediately and became “pretty much inseparable.”
“Nate was an incredible friend,” Ben said. “He was loyal, kind-hearted, loved by everyone, and irritatingly persuasive. He was the kind of person that made you a better person the more time you spent around him. He was such a creative, talented and funny person and he always knew how to brighten up my day. He will be dearly missed.”
If Ben Alderfer was a new friend, Mesa Dula was an old friend. The two boys played together as “little guys,” attended Blossom Hill Mennonite Church, and played soccer on club teams and in middle and high school at Lancaster Mennonite. Mesa remembers Nathan missing the bus and texting him to see if he could catch a ride, how he “made math problems out of everyday situations and tried to solve them while my mind was fixed on the ice cream I was eating for lunch,” and how Nathan was so poised and calm, a great passer with long legs who often won the tackle. He was considerate and thoughtful, Mesa says. “I will forever cherish the time I spent with him on the field, in the classroom, at church and wherever else our paths crossed.”
Nathan leaves behind a loving network of family, friends and neighbors, including his parents Lynn and Laurie (Eshleman) Longenecker, sister Maria Longenecker, brother Jesse Longenecker, maternal grandparents Leon and Melba Eshleman, and paternal grandparents, Charles and Barbara Longenecker.
A service will be Sunday, October 24, at 2:30 pm at Akron Mennonite Church, 1311 Diamond Street, Akron, Pa. Visitation time from 1-2 p.m. prior to the service. A private burial was held at the Akron Mennonite Church Cemetery. Contributions can be given in Nathan’s honor to the Mennonite Central Committee, Eastern Mennonite University or Hospice and Community Care.