After retiring from the ministry, Robert and Rachel Stoltzfus opened their home and hearts to many international students in Harrisonburg, Virginia. To Jose Koshy [pronounced as the first syllable of Joseph], they grew to become like a second mother and father.
Newport News residents John Asa and Rebecca Hertzler lived out their staunch advocacy for peace and racial and gender justice in ways that challenged systems and ministered to those oppressed. Along with daughter Jean, the family moved to a racially mixed neighborhood, operating a thrift store that served area residents while also participating in desegregation, civil rights, and anti-war efforts.
When Jean and Jose met at Eastern Mennonite University in the late ‘70s and decided to spend their lives together, they carried the influence of these exemplars of service and love into their shared future.
Nearly 40 years later, in their connection to the university, Jose Koshy, class of ‘76, and Jean Koshy-Hertzler ‘79 have honored the impact of these four people and ensured that their legacy of radical hospitality and justice advocacy continues. The couple’s gift endows an international student scholarship and amplifies diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at EMU.
“During these divisive times, we’re humbled to support a special scholarship for international students and an initiative championing diversity and inclusion,” said Jose Koshy at a November celebration in the university’s Hall of Nations.
In attendance at the ceremony and luncheon were three generations of family members reuniting from the Shenandoah Valley, California, Texas, and Canada. Among the honored guests were John Asa Hertzler, Jean’s 91-year-old father, and David Stoltzfus ‘73 and Debbie Stoltzfus Accame, the children of Rachel and Robert Stoltzfus.
“Jose and Jean’s gift will extend the legacy of both of these couples for decades to come,” said Kirk Shisler ‘81, vice president for advancement. “Investing as they have in a scholarship for international students and in the development of innovative new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives will provide transformative educational opportunities for our entire educational community that align deeply with our mission of preparing students to serve and lead in a global context.”
President Susan Schultz Huxman added her gratitude, in this season of thanksgiving, remembrance and rebirth, for the Koshy’s “bold investment in our future” through the provision of “the wide, well-lit pathways of access and opportunity” for the growth and development of international students and the broader EMU community.
The Koshy gifts will support the following:
The Robert and Rachel Stoltzfus Scholarship for International Students provides significant financial aid to international students who otherwise could not attend EMU.
The EMU Inclusive Excellence Grant Program, beginning in spring 2022, fosters collaborative programming, partnerships, and catalysts for structural change that facilitate the development of a culture of belonging through embracing diversity and inclusivity. The program is open to EMU students, staff, and full-time faculty in Harrisonburg, Lancaster, and Washington D.C. Proposals that seek to bring together members of the community from different cultural backgrounds and perspectives (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, socioeconomic status, generational) will be given priority.
The Hertzler-Koshy Faculty Fellowship Program, with the first application opening in the 2022-23 academic year, enables from three to six faculty members to spend one year in collaborative projects with students that integrate and infuse diversity into the curriculum with a specific focus on race, ethnicity, and gender content in the curricula (undergraduate, graduate, intercultural programs, training).
Robert and Rachel Stoltzfus: ‘A special generosity … from the heart’
Rachel and Robert Stoltzfus met at Hesston College and planned for a missionary life in China. Instead they were called to Illinois and then Louisiana for church planting efforts in African American communities. They then moved to eastern Kentucky to pastor a church before retiring to Harrisonburg in 1971.
Welcoming strangers into their home was a constant ministry. Over the years, the couple fostered several children and sheltered homeless men, women and families. Jose Koshy and his younger brother were the first international students that the Stoltzfuses fostered; more than 20 others followed.
Jose was born in Brunei where his father, Kochu Koshy, was working for an oil company. Jose’s father answered the call to the ministry and then returned to India with his wife Rachel and family. As a pacifist with a desire to pursue biblical studies, he eventually found his way to Mennonite Brethren College in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There he met Myron Augsburger who invited him to continue studies at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.
Jose, his younger brother and Rachel moved to Harrisonburg to join Kochu, who would finish his bachelor’s and master’s degrees three years later. At that time in 1973, Jose’s parents decided to move to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for additional studies. (Kochu Koshy was eventually ordained in the Mennonite church, and the couple moved permanently back to India.)
The Stoltzfuses understood the Koshy family’s limited financial resources and that the two youngest boys wanted to remain and continue their studies at Eastern Mennonite School and EMC. The couple provided the brothers with a solid Anabaptist home and foundation, which gave peace of mind to their father. A year later, the younger Koshy brother graduated and left for college.
Jose continued living with Robert and Rachel for another four years while completing his studies (he would graduate from James Madison University with a degree in communications, a program not then offered at EMC). With their grown children, Debbie and David, living away from home, Jose became like a son and they became his second parents in Harrisonburg.
“The Koshy boys were the first of many international students they later hosted – and Jose became like a son,” said Debbie Stoltzfus Accame. Their relationship was full of “warmth, kindness, laughter and gratitude.”
That gratitude was sustained over the years as Jose and Jean started a family and raised their three daughters in Texas. The love and openness Jose experienced in those five years in Harrisonburg gave shape to his life, he said, and for that, he had long sought a way to honor them.
“Their giving came from modest means, from not having much but wanting to share whatever they had. It was a special kind of generosity that comes from the heart,” he said. “They preached and lived the gospel through quiet practice. I wanted them to be recognized for their love and how valuable sharing love is, how it can make a difference because those five years essentially molded me in so many different ways. My value system came from that experience and this community, and I’ve always reminded myself of who I am by keeping in touch with them on a regular basis.”
Accame noted in her remarks that those who benefit from the scholarship can also carry on her parents’ values of sharing generously. “My parents didn’t just do service, they lived it as a way of life. But the other side of this is gratitude. Those who are grateful pay it forward and pass it on. We are so grateful for this honor of our parents today and I hope recipients of this award will also be grateful and pay it forward.”
John Asa and Rebecca Hertzler: ‘Good trouble’
John Asa Hertzler and Rebecca Hertzler, who died in 2011, spent most of their life in the Newport News area. “My parents taught my sister and I how to get into ‘good trouble,’ and they were living examples of that,” said daughter Jean, quoting John Lewis’s famous description of social activism. “They were seekers of the truth, spiritual warriors who walked the walk.”
The couple consistently questioned the status quo by advocating for women’s rights, protesting against the Vietnam war, joining the protest when highway construction tore down predominantly Black neighborhoods, and building relationships with people of different backgrounds and races. They engaged in the issues in different ways. John Asa was president of the Newport News chapter of the Human Relations Council and regularly contributed letters to the local newspaper which were so unpopular that the family received threatening phone calls. When Jean was a teenager, the family moved to a racially integrated area of Newport News.
“I was bussed across the city to my high school and my mother opened a nonprofit thrift store supported by our church that served local residents,” Jean remembered. “Again, they were walking the walk. It was just a part of living. There wasn’t a lot of discussion, it was just a given. That’s the way Jesus would have done it.”
EMU’s new faculty fellows and grant programs are “inspired by the Hertzlers’ values and convictions,” said Jackie Font-Guzmán, executive director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at EMU. “Our aspiration with these programs is that as a community, we model the behavior and actions of John Asa and Rebecca, that we build relationships and compassion, love, and generosity, but also that, in the words of John Lewis, we get into some good trouble and disrupt the status quo when needed to fully live our mission.”
For more information about endowed scholarships and DEI initiatives at EMU, contact Vice President for Advancement Kirk Shisler at 540-820-4499 or visit www.emu.edu/giving.
Discussion on “Family honors Stoltzfus and Hertzler legacies through endowment of international student scholarship and DEI support”
Thank you so much for this wonderful gift! Is represents the very best of our heritage as graduates of EMU. Blessings to you this Advent season.
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