Dave Detrow ‘77 retires in December 2021 after 44 and a half years of service to Eastern Mennonite University. He has guided the university through decades of complex change, including the recent move to virtual methods of carrying out business in response to COVID. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Registrar Dave Detrow to retire in December after nearly 45 years at EMU

As COVID lingered into the early months of 2021, Dave Detrow found himself in a bit of a tight spot. Plans to retire in the summer after 44 years serving Eastern Mennonite University, almost all of those as registrar, were reappraised and delayed: Leaving the institution he had served for all of his career in the midst of such uncertainty was not a good option.

With fall semester looking more like semesters of the past, he looks to the calendar and sees time flying, as fast as it has in these pandemic-focused 18 months and apace with how the last 44 and half years have gone.

Dave Detrow works with students in 2017 and 2020.

‘The heartbeat’ of EMU

In what we know now as the last semesters of Detrow’s long devotion to his profession and to EMU, he continued to earn esteem among colleagues who already loved and respected him. Setting that giant ship of EMU sailing forward into multiple COVID-time semesters meant challenges at every step to the philosophies and processes Detrow had developed and mastered over the years – the giant four-dimensional puzzle of logistics, collaboration, and communication at all phases, from class scheduling to registration, including faculty, facilities management staff, student success staff, advisors, and then finally students. 

“We are going to miss Dave Detrow in ways we don’t even understand,” said Professor Melody Cash, chair of the nursing department. “I am sure we can find someone to be a registrar, but no one will ever replace him.”

Jan Kauffman, registrar at Goshen College, also shares a unique appreciation for Detrow. The two collaborated to bring all Mennonite college and university registrars together for a 2016 conference and their relationship has grown over many a workday and Saturday morning phone call. 

“I have often felt that EMU was so fortunate to have such an amazingly gifted person in the role and someone who has worked tirelessly to help faculty and students,” Kauffman said. “Dave is the heartbeat of the institution with his vast knowledge of how things work, his care and concern for students and all people, and his many many hours of service beyond what anyone even knows to keep things running smoothly and efficiently.”

Dave Detrow from first-year student in 1974 to his final year as registrar in 2021. His career at Eastern Mennonite University has spanned the tenure of five presidents.

‘Part accountant, part information technologist, part counselor’

How do you calculate the impact of an entire career spent with one institution? For Detrow, one measurement stands out. Before any undergraduate student is conferred a degree, Detrow carefully reviews their academic record to assure that grades, credit totals and coursework meet required standards. His personal signature on a form showing the student’s academic history indicates final institutional approval that the degree should indeed be conferred. From 1982 to the present, Detrow has signed such a form for more than 10,600 undergraduates.

This is just one measurement of the registrar’s impact and influence across the university. But there are many more: One way of thinking about the registrar’s role is “an academic accountant, keeping track of the education records of all students,” says Kauffman, Detrow’s colleague at Goshen College.

She continues: We are often the keeper and enforcer of academic policies and procedures, for example, drop/add and withdrawal deadlines, incomplete policies, latin honors criteria, general education requirements, satisfactory academic progress, transferring of credits, transcripts, new course numbers, academic curriculum, and graduation requirements….We assign rooms and keep an eye on enrollments. We work with many departments as they assist students: admissions, financial aid, accounting, athletics, academic success center, retention, academic dean and provost offices, and student life. We help with new student orientation and summer advising. Most importantly we confer degrees and award diplomas.   

Detrow sees the registrar’s role as “part accountant, part information technologist, and part counselor,” and sometimes more one than the other. “For example, there is a certain way to tell a student that they need to take this class instead of that class, or that your graduation at the end of this semester depends on you choosing this path or that path.”

Keeping this intricate system working smoothly is dependent on many others, Detrow says. “It’s not good enough to just get along,” he says. “We want everything to function smoothly, and people in my position cannot help to make that happen without good people on the other end.”

Those “good people” include advisors, deans and faculty across all disciplines, and facilities management staff. “That’s part of what makes it so fun, and that’s probably why I’m here so many years later. I don’t do the same thing two days in a row. And what we do now and the way we do it is not the same as it was 20 years ago.”

After graduating in 1977 with degrees in psychology and social work and some work-study experience in admissions, Dave Detrow was invited to return as a counselor (he took the position of Loren Swartzendruber, who returned nearly 20 years later to become EMU’s president). This photo is from 1983.

Guiding EMU through change

Detrow has skillfully guided the registrar’s office through many complex changes: the introduction of adult degree and graduate programs, many requiring revision of existing practices; changes from paper-based registration and degree audit systems to online registration and automated advising worksheets; the launch of the student portal Campus Web, now myEMU; and recently, the move to virtual methods of carrying out business in response to COVID. Through this, Detrow’s main objective has not changed.

“I want EMU to be about people teaching and learning. And what we do in our office is help that happen without all the logistical friction that could possibly get in the way, so those teachers are not distracted because their classroom isn’t adequate or those students aren’t able to graduate because the classes they need are offered at the same time,” he said. “We’re like the grease on the wheels of the whole machine. If we are doing our job right, all of the cogs of all the wheels are aligned and smooth, and our faculty and students are able to do their best teaching and their best learning.”

Amy Springer Hartsell, executive advisor to the president, names working with Detrow as one of the “top highlights” of her professional career. Like Detrow, she started as an admissions counselor, but moved into and then up the ranks of the undergraduate dean’s office in more than 20 years at EMU. Hartsell says Detrow is a “master craftsman, with finely tuned skills of serving students, working with faculty and supporting academic programs.” He brings “an exquisite attention to detail, utmost integrity and rock-steady demeanor,” all qualities that have contributed to his wide fan base across the university.

Hartsell, Cash and other colleagues say what they value most about Detrow is his capacity for servant leadership — to the mission and vision of the institution and to those who live and learn within its space.

“He is entirely student-centered,” says Assistant Provost for Student Success Zach Yoder, who logs multiple phone calls and emails each day with Detrow. “We work on advisor and advisee concerns and do a lot of problem-solving, always trying to default to what is in the best interest of the student in as many situations as possible.”

Dave Detrow’s office contains memorabilia from professional conferences he’s attended, gifts from students, and items from his many travels. He has a special fondness for Hesston College. He began annual visits there in the early ‘80s to register students when an EMC admissions counselor, and those visits have continued every year until discontinued by the pandemic in 2020. Detrow also has family connections to Hesston: his grandfather was a member of the first class of Hesston Academy (of course, he has a copy of that 1909 transcript). 

After EMU

Dave Detrow, a longtime donor, give platelets in early November at the American Red Cross blood center in Harrisonburg. Platelets, which are in chronically short supply and can only be offered by donors, are essential to surviving and fighting cancer, chronic diseases and traumatic injuries. This was his 15th donation of the year; his goal is to reach 19 by the end of the year, one more than his total for 2020. (Courtesy of American Red Cross)

In his office, Detrow keeps mementos from some of those students, including several handmade ceramic cups, mugs and pitchers and a drawer full of thank-you notes. One from a transfer student captures his impact: “You have always been a friendly face eager to help us plan out our lives and change our schedules, only to [have us] come back the next week with more problems. Your patience and helpfulness was a major factor in my choosing to come to EMU after Hesston, and I was not disappointed.”

Detrow’s legacy at EMU echoes two other family members with long careers in Mennonite higher education. His uncle, J. Harold Yoder, taught physical education and coached baseball at Goshen College in Indiana for more than 30 years. And for nearly 40 years, his great-uncle Maurice A. Yoder taught natural science and Bible at Hesston College in Kansas. (“Someone needed to make a run for it here,” Detrow quips.)

As he prepares for life after EMU, Detrow and his wife Charmaine look forward to spending more time participating in living history and history education events. They want to travel around Virginia, particularly to the Eastern Shore and to the mountains of Southwest Virginia. Detrow will continue his frequent appointments as a platelet donor with the Red Cross, and eventually, when the time and job seem right, he thinks he’ll find some low-stress work.

 “I like to think that those I’ve come across at EMU over the years have benefited in some way from my work, whether they know it or not,” he said. “What I’ve done is not always apparent, but I hope it’s made a difference.”

Editor’s note: Congratulations and anecdotes of Dave’s impact on your life are most welcome. Please share in the comment box below and we’ll make sure Dave sees them.

Join the Discussion on “Registrar Dave Detrow to retire in December after nearly 45 years at EMU

  1. I loved working closely with Dave during my four years as an admissions counselor from ’96-2000. I had gotten to know him as a student, but witnessing his superb work with new students and their families at spring orientation events gave me a deeper appreciation for his gifts. He impacted thousands of students (what a legacy), and in fact helped win many of them to EMU with his warmth and professionalism. Dave will be deeply, deeply missed by all of us in the EMU community. Blessings in your retirement, Dave!

  2. I remember from when I was a student in the mid 80s, and later in life as a co-worker, church committee colleague, and a parent of EMU students. Thank you for your steady unflappable presence, kindness, patience, perseverance and professionalism! All the best as you make this huge adjustment.

  3. I count David A. Detrow (a.k.a. “DAD”) among the best colleagues with whom I’ve worked. He has a keen ability to see both detail and big picture as he serves individuals and the common good. Dave’s heart, integrity, sense of humor, and collegial spirit made working with him pure joy. Blessings abundant to Dave and Char in this next phase of life. You have touched many lives through your service and EMU is a better place because of you!

  4. Really pleased to see this feature/tribute on Dave – 44 1/2 years of service to EMC/EMU. He “beat” my record (record? what’s a record?) of 40 years as public information officer. Back in 2011, I thought he deserved some kind of article paying tribute to his exacting registrar’s work for such a long tenure. I interviewed Dave about two weeks before I retired. But the piece never materialized; too busy trying to clear out my office crammed with news releases (from the prehistoric print age), magazines, dog-eared files and photographs. I still have my interview notes on a legal pad! Well done, thou good and faithful servant. So what will you do for an encore in retirement? Vaya Con Dios!

  5. What a wonderful legacy and track record of extraordinary service to the university! Congratulations, David, and best wishes in the transition to a new phase of life.

  6. Congratulations on reaching this milestone, Dave. I have very fond memories of my time working with you, and I wish you well in your next chapter.

  7. What a blessing Dave and Char have been to Margie and I over the years. Dave helped both Margie and I as we came to EMU as students and then our sons Joshua and Daniel when they decided to attend. Dave and Char were faithful as we attended church together. Blessings on this new season of life!!

  8. Dave is absolutely student centered. Even in more thorny situations which the adult degree students often present, he weighs everything very carefully to balance the needs of all the stakeholders, but ultimately asks what is the best path forward for the student. I have valued his counsel over the past 20+ years I have worked with him. He has been a role model of thoughtful deliberation and careful listening. It has been a genuine privilege to work with Dave. I wish him much enjoyment in his future travels and lots of chocolate!

  9. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to work with Dave for about half of those years in various capacities! That said, I can almost hear the groan emitting from his office as he contemplated whether or not to pick up the phone to hear my current outrageous out-of-the-box question. :) I was always met with care, curiosity and some humor – always welcome! I would say that I’ll miss working with him – which is true – but we’ll be leaving EMU around the same time. So instead I’ll note that I hope we cross paths in a blood drive or at the donation center down the road and thanks for taking part in some of our blood drives in memory of our daughter, Nora!

  10. It has been a privilege & honor to work with Dave over the years, and I wish blessings upon him & his wife in their retirement. We have been blessed with having Dave work out so many logistical issues that all departments experience and he does it with grace. Words seem inadequate. Few know the many hours he devotes (volunteers?) to EMU. I can not count the number of times I come in to do some catch up on a Saturday or Sunday or holiday break, and find his car there. A phone call later, we are both laughing at the other. He has also graced us with his love for donuts. Now who will I share with in the future on Fridays? Maybe Dave can be the delivery person! :-)

  11. Steady, calm, informed, reliable, warm-humored in the face of whatever… That’s how I will always recall Dave Detrow, modeling what EMU is supposed to be. Peace be with you, Dave, as you move into this new life phase.

  12. Through every stage at EMU, Dave has been there for me. As a transfer student, wide-eyed and nervous. Through to my senior year, two summers working for admissions, and again when I came back as an adjunct professor, he was the one to train me! Just a wonderful human, thank you, Dave, and congrats!

  13. Everyone at EMU knows your name David. You welcomed each one of us into your expertise and sent us out to find our own. What a blessing you have been to me , my husband, and our young adult children. Thanks!

  14. I’d decided to make a career change and while looking at college catalogues came across, then, Eastern Mennonite College. I called the registrar’s office. Dave took my call. I explained my situation and he explained what I needed to do. I’d planned to attend the college in the fall of ’82, but due to my circumstance, I needed to change plans. I contacted Dave and again explained my situation. He advised me that I’d be able to start in the winter trimester. Dave, you are the reason I decided to attend Eastern Mennonite. You will never know just how much two phone contacts blessed me. I could never thank you enough. CONGRATULATIONS on your retirement. Numbers 6:24-26

  15. Wow, will Dave be missed! What a career of faithful dedication. I first met with him 17 years ago at a SOAR event while registering for classes at EMU, and he took extra time to thoughtfully go over my schedule and class options with me. I have never forgotten his kindness during a time that I felt so lost, though I’m sure he does not remember that specific instance. Since then, I have had the pleasure of knowing him as a fellow church member and colleague. We are most likely to materialize in the same places on campus – wherever the snacks are! :D Best wishes, Dave, as you find that which gives you energy, joy, and hopefully some relaxation in the years ahead!

  16. Dave Detrow will definitely be missed!! He is truly one of a kind and has worked SO hard over the many, many years advising, advocating and genuinely caring for ALL students enrolled at EMU. You have served this community so well, Dave. Blessings and much love and appreciation as you make this next transition, Dave!

  17. Dave, after my 3.5 years of working in admissions I am so thankful for all of the opportunities I had to learn, connect, and get to know you more. Your mug collection never failed to amaze me anytime I walked into your office for a curriculum review. I’ll miss seeing you around the office though, I hope you have plenty of new endeavors birdwatching and exploring nature more once you officially retire from EMU.

  18. I appreciate Dave’s humble attitude toward his duties. When we have worked together on projects he never made me feel like I didn’t know what I was talking about (even though often I didn’t). His 40+ years has definitely made him an expert, but he always made me feel like that my ideas could improve the process.

  19. Dave! What a career. Many happy congratulations on your retirement. I’m so grateful I got to know you at CMC beyond the regular student/staff interactions. I’ll always remember your beaming smile and willingness to stop and connect.

  20. What a pleasure it has been to work alongside Dave in my years at EMU! Good stories, lots of laughter, a few good-humored groans every now and then! Dave, we will miss you in so very many ways! All best as you open the next chapter.

  21. As many of you have noted above, excellence in the registrar has a lot to do with making a university run smoothly. You, Dave, had the requisite skills: Attention to details while looking at the whole and the demeanor to assuage whatever emotions students or faculty brought your way. Indeed, it was a pleasure working with you. Blessings as you enter this new phase of life.

  22. Mr. Dave Detrow has been a genius in the Registrar/accounting department. On three to four occasions of seeking his counsel regarding the classes & the financial aspects of it, Mr. Dave has acted as one of the olden days doctors who will utilize all they have, even their lives to sacrifice for the patients and trust God for their sustenance. Mr. Dave has worked above and beyond within my few months of being a student at EMU. He will be forever be remembered. Mr.Dave, may God keeps you & your family from every oppression of the evil ones in Jesus Christ’s name, amen. Mr. Dave has constantly added oil of gladness to my soul and a smile on my face any time I talked to him or send him an email, which I’m sure he had done the same to everyone who comes across him in life. I round up with this prayer; Deuteronomy 33:25 Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.
    Thanks, sir

  23. I was fortunate to be a summer work study student in the Admissions office in the mid 80s tucked into the corner of the new Campus Center. A highlight of that summer was a SOAR Trip to Ohio and Indiana with Dave and another admissions counselor. Dave is kind, competent, good natured and was lots of fun to travel with. Thank you, Dave, for the warmth you shared with all of us who have been lucky to know you.

  24. Congratulations David on your stellar job for many years at EMU! Best wishes as you transition to new and interesting ventures in the years ahead!

  25. Dave Detrow was a warm campus presence for me as a homesick international student. He made me feel welcome and cared for. He always had time for a converstion and always helpful even after I graduated. Thank you Dave for your time and care through the years. All the best!

  26. I was a transfer student from Blue Ridge Community College and considering EMU. I had the opportunity to meet and discuss my educational goals with Dave Detrow. He patiently explained many possible courses and cross cultural opportunities. He is definitely the reason I ended up at EMU and majored in International Business. -Dave, Thank you for advising me and so many other students over the years! Many blessings to you and enjoy retirement!

  27. Dave,
    Enjoy the accolades–all well-deserved and wonderfully descriptive. I loved the detail of the article also (e.g., the signing of 10,600 student academic completion forms) which captures something of daily duties against the backdrop of your transformative impact on lives and on the institution. I learned much from you as we worked together in the Dean’s and Registrar’s Offices. I appreciated your problem-solving genius and ability to
    carry out “administration” as smoothly and seamlessly as it could possibly be. All the best to you and Char in the next adventure.
    Lee Snyder

  28. In addition to having well honed administrative skill and savvy, it is your gentle kindness, playful humor and genuine interest in others that endears you to me. Go well into retirement and let’s stay in touch!

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