In Memoriam: Herbert L. Swartz, emeritus professor of Biblical studies

Herbert L. Swartz, who taught Biblical studies at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) for two and a half decades, died on July 31, 2021 at age 89. 

EMU’s academic dean once said that Swartz was “the best practitioner of the Socratic dialogue on the faculty.” His most cogent points in class were made with questions. 

Swartz joined the EMU faculty in 1973, after teaching and serving as registrar at Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg, Canada. He and his wife, Margaret, both hailed from Kitchener, Ontario, and moved to Harrisonburg with their four children when he accepted the position in then-EMC’s Bible department. 

In a 1974 interview with Jim Bishop published in the Mennonite Reporter, Swartz reflected on the unnecessary division he saw between the Canadian Mennonite Brethren church and the Mennonite Church in the eastern U.S. 

“I’ve found that the differences between the two denominations are far fewer than most people imagine,” Swartz said. ” … My family’s move to Harrisonburg, Virginia, was a sort of rejection of nationalism in Canada and in the MB church and an affirmation of the church as an international body.”

He also remarked how impressed he was by the “deep commitment of [EMC’s] Christian faculty to the task of higher education,” a legacy that he went on to carry himself. In addition to his teaching, Swartz was called on for leadership roles throughout his many years on campus, including the revision of general education requirements in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.

Swartz retired in 1997, and came out of retirement for one year to serve as the interim undergraduate dean from 1999-2000. 

Professor Nancy Heisey said Swartz was an “encourager.”

“I came to teach at EMU to ‘replace’ Herb at his retirement from the Bible, religion and theology department,” Heisey said. “Throughout the years, he continued to pay attention to what we were doing in the department, and frequently met me with his gentle smile and the words, ‘You’re doing a good job!'”

Long after his retirement, Professor Andrea Saner recalled “fond memories of conversation with Herb at Haverim breakfasts.”

In retirement, Swartz and his wife went to India, where he was a visiting professor at Evangelical Theological Seminary. The couple also toured the area where Margaret’s family had been missionaries 50 years earlier. Back in Harrisonburg, they both volunteered at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic. 

Margaret passed away in 2018.

According to Swartz’s obituary in the Daily News-Record

He died peacefully in his sleep and was reunited with his beloved Margaret. 

He is remembered with love and respect by their four children along with six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A private family service will be held at a later date.

Join the Discussion on “In Memoriam: Herbert L. Swartz, emeritus professor of Biblical studies

  1. Herb was a wonderful, affirmative colleague when I taught in the Bible Dept. from ‘78-‘84. May his memory be blessed. Now “he belongs to the ages.”😌😌

  2. Dr. Swartz taught the first class that I took as a freshman at EMC. I came to the program with less Bible knowledge than many of my classmates. He recognized that we have to start where we are, and never made me feel “less than”. Now, even after almost 50 years, I still have fond memories of him.

  3. Another in the great cloud of EMU ‘veterans’ has the valley of the shadow. Never had Dr. Herb for a class but he was a fellow staff member for many years during my tenure as public information officer. I had numerous pleasant exchanges with him during my regular visits to the VMRC Wellness Center, enjoying his low-key sense of humor and perceptive insights, and occasionally with his sweet spouse Margaret. What a great couple!

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