Laban Peachey left behind a long legacy in Anabaptist higher education and ministry when he died Friday, April 23, 2021, at age 94. The former professor and dean of students at Eastern Mennonite College was also president of Hesston College for 12 years, from 1968-80. He then worked for Mennonite Mutual Aid, in a new role as vice president of marketing.
After retirement in 1990, he and his wife Helen moved back to their family cattle farm in Virginia, purchased in 1962. This became a home base from which he served various pastoral assignments and taught at Eastern Mennonite University and Eastern Mennonite Seminary. During these years he took great joy working with his cattle herd, fulfilling a life-long love of nourishing, tending and caring for the earth and animals.
Pastor Phil Kniss and Paula Stoltzfus will conduct a virtual memorial service on May 8 at 2 p.m. It can be viewed by visiting http://www.pvmchurch.org/labanpeachey.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Eastern Mennonite Seminary, 1200 Park Road, Harrisonburg, VA 22802 or Hesston College, PO Box 3000, Hesston, KS 67062.
Online condolences may be shared with the family in the comments below or by visiting the full obituary at McMullen Funeral Home’s website.
Laban Peachey was born on April 6, 1927, in Springs, Pa., son of the late Shem and Salome Bender Peachey and one of 10 children. The family spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of German. He started saving money to buy his own farm when he was nine, raising and butchering bantam chickens. In 1945, as a teenager, he and two of his sisters managed the entire enterprise when the rest of the family moved to Illinois (his father was the founding pastor for a group of Old Order Mennonites who wished to start a new conference). As was customary in his community, he did not attend high school.
After being drafted into Civilian Public Service, Peachey worked for 15 months in several locations: in Grottoes, Virginia in soil conservation (EMC faculty member Hubert Pellman visited the camp and arranged for him, and others, to take the GED test); in Maryland, with a survey crew; in Rhode Island in a mental hospital [hear an interview with him]; and Iowa at a food collection station. He often talked about this short period of his life and its profound influence on his life trajectory. He then returned to the Pennsylvania farm, helping to stabilize it after the war, for two years.
Following his older siblings who valued education, he came to EMC, where he met and married Helen Mumaw, daughter of the college’s president John R. Mumaw. After graduating in 1952, he was invited to stay on as dean of college men and to join the psychology faculty. Ensuing experiences in academics, student life, the registrar’s office, and counseling gave him a unique breadth of higher education experience. Throughout these years, he continued with graduate studies, earning an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia in 1958 and an Ed.D. from George Washington University in 1963. A booklet was published from his dissertation entitled “Learning to Understand People.”
In 1967, he was invited to become president of Hesston College in Hesston, Kansas. During his 12 years there, Peachey oversaw the institution of Hesston’s Foundation Studies liberal arts program and the expansion of Hesston’s career training programs, including establishment of the aviation program in 1970. (Aviation was personally significant: Peachey frequently marked the year of his birth by remembering he was born a month before Charles Lindbergh’s first solo flight across the Atlantic.)
He helped to develop more student services and to align them with a holistic curricular approach, emphasizing personal development, socialization and leadership. Also in his tenure, from 1974-78, Hesston College was selected as one of four two-year college resource centers in the nation, specializing in the private sector. U.S. Office of Education funding helped to bring extra staffing, resources, and professional development opportunities.
After Hesston, the South Central Conference of the Mennonite Church engaged him for a two-year needs assessment. This meant travelling to and meeting with congregations across the Midwest and in Mexico, listening to their diverse needs, struggles and concerns. He helped to call and install 11 pastors, and to build closer ties to the conference leadership.
Peachey then spent seven years from 1983-1990 at Mennonite Mutual Aid in Goshen, Indiana, until retirement.
With Helen, he returned to Harrisonburg where he farmed and served in various roles. Ordained in the Mennonite Church, he was conference moderator and overseer for six congregations, as well as interim pastor at nine congregations. At Eastern Mennonite University, he served as campus pastor for the seminary and completed a master’s degree in religion that he had started in 1954. He also taught in the Adult Degree Completion Program, especially enjoying a course on adult development and life planning, which included a combination of developmental and personality theory, and practical application to wellness, financial and career planning, and leadership.
According to his family members, Peachey loved working with and being with people, and had a gift for being able to relate to just about anyone. He also appreciated being in God’s creation and in his later years made a habit of taking a walk outdoors twice a day. Over the years he often talked about death as a natural part of the life cycle—his philosophy was that one ought to “live until you die.”
He and Helen had been married 47 years when she died on Dec. 14, 2000. Surviving are his children, Phyllis Friesen and husband, Eugene, of Harrisonburg, Lowell Peachey and wife, Rita, of Kansas, Byron Peachey and wife, Deanna Durham, of Harrisonburg, Joyce Peachey Lind and husband, Myron, of Harrisonburg; siblings, Urbane Peachey of Pennsylvania, Jane Lind of Ontario, Canada; 11 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
In addition to his wife and parents, he was preceded in death by two brothers and five sisters.
Sources for this article included his obituary and a self-published history of Laban Peachey’s life titled “The Days of Our Years … Fourscore,” co-authored by Laban, his brother Urbane Peachey, sister Phyllis Friesen, son Byron Peachey, and daughter Joyce Lind in 2018. For the cover he chose a photo of a model Fordson tractor (right) which he kept on a bookshelf in his home. It’s a symbol of his deeply formative years growing up on a farm, and his devotion to productivity, hard work, and working hand-in-hand with nature.