Dr. Samuel Horst, professor emeritus of history, with Professor Mary Sprunger at a reception in 1997 honoring their newly published books. Horst holds “The Fire of Liberty in Their Hearts: The Diary of Jacob E. Yoder” (Virginia State Library, 1996), about a Mennonite educator who advocated for schools for freed slaves in the Lynchburg area. Sprunger, with co-author Piet Visser, published “Menno Simons: Places, Portraits and Progeny” (Mennonite Publishing House, 1996). (EMU file photo)

In Memoriam: Dr. Samuel L. Horst, professor emeritus of history

Samuel L. Horst, professor emeritus of history at Eastern Mennonite University

Samuel L. Horst, professor emeritus of history at Eastern Mennonite University, died Jan. 6, 2021, at the age of 101.

Horst taught history at EMU for nearly 28 years: from 1949-1951, 1954-1967, and from 1972 until his retirement in 1984. His Mennonite faith shaped his life and scholarship. 

The full obituary can be read here. A virtual memorial service will be livestreamed at pvmchurch.org/samuelhorst on Feb. 13 at 1:30 p.m.

Memories and condolences shared in the comment box below will be also shared with the family.


A Berks Co., Pennsylvania, native, Horst was a conscientious objector from 1939-1945 during World War II, working in Grottoes, Virginia, on soil conservation; in Shenandoah National Park; at Greystone Park State Hospital in New Jersey; and in California as a forest firefighter. [EMU Professor Marti Eads helped to interview Horst about his experiences for the Veterans History Project. View the transcript and video.]

Horst was a member of the class of 1949 at EMC. He finished his degree at Goshen College and returned to teach American government at Eastern Mennonite High School.

Gerald R. Brunk was one of his students at EMHS – he has distinct memories of learning about “the powers of the government” in Horst’s class – and then later became his colleague in the history department at EMC. (Brunk is now also an emeritus faculty member.)

Horst taught American history and political science, Brunk says, and led popular field trips to Washington D.C. He related well to colleagues and students alike, “always very congenial and easy to relate to.”

Horst was one of several EMC professors who joined the local chapter of the Virginia Council of Human Relations, a biracial organization that sought to improve interracial relations through support of educational programs, school desegregation, fair employment practices and other related issues. He and fellow professor John Lapp, according to EMU history professor Mark Sawin, were “major players in Harrisonburg’s ‘Concern Movement’ that pushed the city schools to desegregate.”

Among several scholarly contributions about Mennonites and U.S. military history was his Mennonites in the Confederacy: A Study in Civil War Pacifism (Herald Press, 1967). The research sought to explore “‘a unique situation’ that had not been adequately written about,’” he said in a 1984 Bulletin article chronicling his career at then EMC.

In 1977, he earned his PhD at the University of Virginia, writing his dissertation about the education of blacks in Virginia during the Civil War. Nearly 20 years later, he would contribute more on this topic, editing the diaries of a young Mennonite educator in the Lynchburg area in a volume titled  “The Fire of Liberty in Their Hearts: The Diary of Jacob E. Yoder of the Freedmen’s Bureau School, Lynchburg, Virginia, 1866-1870” (Virginia State Library, 1996),

As co-author of Conscience in Crisis: Mennonite and Other Peace Churches in America, 1739-1789 (Herald Press, 1979), he and two other historians explored the responses of peace churches and their members to a series of military conflicts in Pennsylvania. 

In retirement, Horst was active in local and Mennonite historical societies, continued to teach a research course, and remained connected to the history department and colleagues at EMU.

Sawin and colleague Professor Mary Sprunger each recall warm welcomes from Horst on their arrivals to Harrisonburg as new faculty members. Though retired by that time, he still made near-daily visits to the breakroom in the Suter Science Center for popcorn and conversation. 

Sprunger benefited from his tutelage about and a driving tour featuring – the history of Mennonites in the Valley. Sawin says Horst was a “wealth of information” as he familiarized himself with Valley history in general.

“For Sam, history wasn’t about the past, it was about the present and the future–it was an active discipline that pushed for change,” Sawin says.

Horst was also an exemplar to both professors of active scholarship and engagement in retirement.

 In 2004, Horst co-authored with Edsel Burdge Jr. the 900-page Building on the Gospel Foundation: The Mennonites of Franklin County, Pennsylvania and Washington County, Maryland, 1730-1970  (Herald Press).

In 2019, at age 100, he returned to campus for a special history and political science alumni event during Homecoming, where he visited with professors and chatted with some former students. 

Discussion on “In Memoriam: Dr. Samuel L. Horst, professor emeritus of history

  1. I have fond memories of Sam as a gentle kind man. Meetings with him were always pleasant.
    He was a professor during my years at EMC/U. Then we were both grad students during the same time at UVA. Good memories

  2. Sam was always gracious and welcoming. I had him for a U.S. History class, and one memory of the class was the importance of barbed wire for the settlement of the west. This was particularly intriguing to me as one of the students who drove cross country from Oregon to enroll at EMC.

    Glen Roth

  3. As a staffer at MCC’s Washington Office in the early 80s, I remember various times when Sam brought bus loads of students from EMC to the capital. As we visited congressional offices, the State Department or the Pentagon, Sam was always brimming with good stories and good cheer. One winter day, I met with his entourage in a church on Capitol Hill and talked to them about unexploded munitions which were taking the lives of our friends in Vietnam. I showed them a grenade-sized “guava bomblet” which the US had dropped in profusion in Indochina. Then we got on their bus and drove to our next appointment at the State Department. When we got into the lobby, I noticed a large metal detector which had not been there before. Whoops, I realized I had stuffed the bomblet into my overcoat pocket and had no where now to get rid of it! As the students filed through the metal detector, I felt I had no choice but to follow them. Amazingly, the detector remained silent! Sam, of course, loved the story! — Earl Martin

  4. My father, Grant Stoltzfus, along with John Lapp and Sam, as history professors at EMC, were comrades-in-arms in seeing history as “an active discipline that pushed for change” until my father’s untimely death in 1974 at age 58. They were constantly in and out of each others offices conferring on political events and civil rights issues in those tumultuous years. In 1963 they took me as a 16 year old boy to the Civil Right March where Martin Luther King Jr gave his inimitable “I Have a Dream” speech. (Can anyone confirm that the three of them were on the trip that day? That is my memory.) It is wonderful to see that Sam lived into 2021.

    1. My Dad, Sanford Grant Shetler was a good friend of your Dad’s and I did not remember that he died so young. I too , was a student of Samuel Horst’s as a junior in high school at EMHS. I was a junior in his senior Government class since I would be graduating at Johnstown Mennonite School in Penna. and I needed it since they were teaching it every other year up at JMS. Samuel Horst was one of my favorite teachers—he was such a wonderful teacher–so gentle and kind and his classes were so well presented.

  5. Not long after beginning my work at EMU in 1999 as Director of Information Systems, I became aware that several faculty Emeriti were provided work spaces in the library and it was not long before Samuel Horst introduced himself to me. He quickly remembered who I was and often, when we would meet on campus, it was not uncommon for him to ask me one or more questions about using his computer. I quickly became fascinated with him because of his friendliness, persistence to learn and use computers (at an age where others would have given up) and his story-telling ability. For me, Samuel set a high bar as to the kind of mind I wanted to aspire to have when I retired. Our world was a better place because of Dr Samuel Horst.

  6. As a nephew of Samuel Horst (my mother Orpah Mae Horst Kurtz is Samuel’s sister), I give thanks for his great grasp of history and his deep desire for justice and peace. I recall, while myself a student at EMU during the late 1970s, Uncle Samuel and I had several engaging conversations concerning history and politics. Likewise, we had numerous meetings on the tennis court, and I remember he could hold his own in this venue as well!

  7. Samuel was my teacher during senior year at Eastern Mennonite College High School, 1955-56: two courses–American Government and Current History. For the latter he had us subscribe to “Newsweek” and he took us on a field trip to Washington, D.C. We all referred to him as Sam Horst in those days but over time it became clear that he insisted that he is Samuel Horst. He and I came together again in retirement at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community in 2009. Until COVID restrictions came along in March 2020, I visited him regularly. There is where I learned that it was to be “Samuel” and only “Samuel.” One of his comments I heard regularly: “I’m old, but I’m not sick.” Some of us were able to share in his 100th birthday gala put on by the family in 2019. I’ll remember always the times I prayed with and for him; he wanted to pray for me in return with thanks for coming to visit him.
    Ken Seitz, high school, 1956; college, 1960

  8. Uncle Sam was my favorite uncle and i was so thrilled to be able to live in his town in 1994 until 1999 when my husband Ron Helmuth was IT Director at EMU. Uncle Sam invited Ron to play tennis with him once a week with “the old guys” and there were always great stories to share after these matches. Uncle Sam was such a inspiration at family reunions also and was not afraid to engage in political discussions which at times were not well received by all his family.
    His love for my children when we were new to town was so appreciated and to this day my youngest child talks about Uncle Same teaching him to play Chinese Checkers.
    You were a blessing to me.
    Your niece, Elena

  9. Wonderful man and such a wealth of knowledge! His only sister , Orpah, is my mother. We would visit them in Harrisonburg from time to time. I also remember him playing Chinese checkers and being very inviting and engaging as we “invaded” his home. I was fairly young, maybe 10 years old or so, and I recall him cooking breakfast for us all. Seems like his specialty was waffles, but I may be mistaken on this detail. I remember being impressed that he could cook, as my father was a “foreigner” in the kitchen. Always made us fell welcomed. He will be missed! Blessings and comfort to the family. Shalom.

  10. As the youngest sibling in the Horst family, my brother Sam was very influencial in keeping my focus on getting an education. His example was very responsible for me going to night school, getting a college education at EMC, and then going on to receive a Master’s degree. He encouraged me, counseled me, and was a great example to follow. He also took on unique projects, like a beekeeping adventure, after high school. He was a ferocious reader during his lifetime, and was a good storyteller. We always were welcome in his home, and looked forward to each visit. Now, there are just the two of us (my sister, Orpah and me,} out of a family of eight children, and we look forward to a family reunion in Heaven with our Savior.

  11. While I was a student at Park View Elementary School, I lived across the hill from the Samuel and Elizabeth Horst family. Sometimes I would ride with Sam to school or would go to their house to chum around with Hannah. (Hannah, do you remember the time we tried to beat egg whites at your house? Your mother had even warned us not to get yolk in with the whites, but just a tiny bit kept them from whipping up.)
    Sometimes my family would joke about him being an absent-minded professor (as on the day he forgot to pick me up to ride along to school), but he would recognize my dad’s (Wilmer Landis’s) farming prowess by saying that Ken would look over to our field wishing he could be a part of it.
    Samuel exhibited a loving relationship with his wife and supported her in caring for their children. What a special family affair it was when Elizabeth birthed twin girls. Samuel’s example as a Christian husband and father was worth a couple sermons.

    1. Thank you for these memories, Christine — and for sharing the part of Dad’s life that complemented his academic pursuits. I remember the egg white admonition and 100 other cooking tips from my mother. I also remember walking across the gravel road and up the hill to your farm for good visits and to witness all of the industrious farm activity there.

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