‘Here Together’ activities (Knit Together, Bird Together, and more) return for 2022 Faculty-Staff Conference

Nothing better to lead off our annual coverage of Fall Faculty-Staff Conference (AKA Fish Together, Bird Together, Knit Together…) than a short video of Professor David Berry at the piano during Saturday’s concert outside Massanutten Regional Library. (Thanks, Mary Jensen!)


Pounding out a iron hook over a forge, flyfishing for brook trout, birding in Park Woods, practicing meditation, and mulling over university strategy for workplace harmony and student engagement, Eastern Mennonite University employees had a salmagundi and/or smorgasbord of activities (take your pick of gustatory analogy) to choose from last week during the second annual, 6-day “Here Together” celebration.

The activities are part of the annual Fall Faculty-Staff Conference, the traditional kick-off to the academic year that includes learning, worship and fellowship. With just a few short days before classes begin , the event welcomes all EMU employees, from facilities management to coaches to faculty of all schools, from student and residence life staff to admissions and other departments, to lean into EMU’s beloved values of community and relationship.

Beth Brunk, registration coordinator, and Kathy Smith, director of operations and finance for Eastern Mennonite Seminary and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, hosted a knitting and crocheting group last year that has continued to meet in the months since. They hosted a session again this year.

EMU staff Jon Swartz, Justice Allen, Courtney Joyner and Shannon Dycus contributed to a panel discussion following keynote speaker Safwat Marzouk’s address on identity and belong. Marzouk (right) is a professor at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va. (Photo by Lauren Jefferson)

“We knit and crochet hats and scarves for several agencies, such as Mercy House, New Bridges, and Open Doors. We’ve also donated to the group of Afghani refugees that were at Massanutten Springs,” Beth said.

There was more formality during two mid-week plenary sessions in Lehman Auditorium that included a address from President Susan Schultz Huxman and from keynote speaker pastor and professor Safwat Marzouk, storytelling by four employees, announcements, and worship sessions. Everence provided coffee and refreshments during an extended mid-morning break that gives employees additional time to catch up after the summer months.

Read on for a sampling of activities.

(Photos by Lauren Jefferson)

From left: Emily North, Kathy Evans, Kevin Seidel, Roger Mast, Scott Barge, Matt Ruth, Kirk Shisler, and Ronda Rittenhouse pose for a photo before heading out in the Dry River to practice their flyfishing skills. The group, which was hosted by Evans, a professor, and Shisler, vice president for advancement, included representation from staff, faculty and administration.

EMU student Zach Bauman (photobombing) just happened to be in the stream at the same time. (While Zach apologized for possibly scaring fish in the adjacent honeyhole, he was appropriately and scientifically steadfast in his refusal to pause his regularly scheduled stream quality research [advisor Doug Graber Neufeld should be proud].

Kevin Seidel gets some help with his fly from Kirk Shisler.

Matt Ruth had a fish nibbling at his line with the encouragement of workshop co-leader Kathy Evans.

(Photo by Lauren Jefferson)

Faculty and staff came together to provide input into EMU’s 2023-28 strategic plan, imagining what it means to live out the university’s mission and vision in an ever-changing context. Vice President for Institutional Research and Effectiveness Scott Barge, standing back right, facilitated two sessions throughout the week. (Note: Besides strategic talents, Scott was last year’s winner of the Great EMU Bake-Off (his entry was raspberry creme sponge cake), a hit of the 2021 event which is slated for a possible return next year.)

Yvonne Martin hosted the Comforter Knotting Project, which resulted in six comforters to donate to Blue Ridge Foster Love, a free resource for area foster families. 

“People give me fabric scraps that I cut into 5″ squares,” she explained. “Sara Halteman and I used these scraps to design comforters, then I sewed the squares together to create the top. I then pinned three layers together, the top, batting and backing, and brought them to be knotted by others. The knotting holds the three layers together, and a binding is sewn around the edge to make a warm blanket.”
Joining Yvonne to help finish the project were Amy Hartsell, Barbara Wheatley, Audrey Shenk, Nikki Dovel, Rachel Herr, and Diane Farrer.

A group from EMU poses at the Lincoln Homestead and Lincoln Family Cemetery in Linville. Sarah Bixler, associate dean of the seminary and assistant professor of formation and practical theology, owns the property and gave the group a tour, sharing about the Virginia Lincolns, the legacy of slavery on the property, and how her family restored the house in 2021 after decades of neglect.

(Photo courtesy of Sarah Bixler)

After the tour, participants mulched beds around the historical marker and the fence around the cemetery. The cemetery is open to the public and receives weekly guests who visit the graves of five generations of President Abraham Lincoln’s relatives, including his great-grandparents, John and Rebecca Lincoln. A marker placed in the cemetery by a Lincoln descendant honors the last two persons enslaved by the Lincolns, Ned and Queen. 

(Photos by Jennifer Cline)

Eleven folks aspiring to dinner party gentility gathered for tips, demonstration and some munching with Pioneer Catering’s expert, kitchen manager Shannon Grinnan. “Shannon gave us recipes for grit cakes, tomato bacon jam, and herb stuffed cucumbers and let us practice making our own charcuterie trays,” said participant and photographer Jennifer Cline. At left above, Fred Kniss, provost, works diligently with furrowed brow.

(Photo by Jennifer Cline)

Dayton blacksmith David Brown demonstrates skills at the anvil. Participants were able to practice smithy skills and forge their own hook to take home.

(Photo by Lauren Jefferson)

Disc golfers gather for a photo on the Nathan Longenecker Memorial Disc Golf Course.

Below right: Jennifer Ulrich won (and also predicted she had a shot at winning) this spectacular heritage trophy for the euphemistically named Best Sportsmanship Award. The trophy is comprised of found items around campus made by Henry Bowser and formerly utilized in the EMU Wellness Challenge for Best Team Name. Jennifer also dominated in the category of “Most Trees Hit” (her discs became intimate with 8 throughout the afternoon). We would venture to guess that her skills in sending discs into trees led, inevitably, to prime opportunities to display superior sportsmanship qualities.

(Photo by Jenni Piper)

Other “winners,” if you want to call them that now that we’ve really highlighted Jennifer as the moral champion of the day, were Derrick Chirinos (novice division), Matt Freed (intermediate), and Owen Byer (advanced). Derrick and Owen also took the Closest to the Hole awards in their respective divisions, while Kyle Remnant, trading in his trombone for a disc, came away with the pinpoint win in the intermediate category.

About 25 people participated in pickleball including President Susan Schultz Huxman (she teamed up with the other Shultz, education professor Ron, second from left below). Eight novices enjoyed a lesson with Theda Good. Matt Ruth and Zach Yoder (above) defended their title in the Experienced category of a doubles round robin tournament. The intermediate winners were history prof Mark Metzler Sawin, who also hosted the plant swap later in the week, and music prof Kyle Remnant (also victorious at disc golf and a contributor to Saturday’s downtown concert). Dawn Kreider was the intrepid tournament director.

(Photos by Henry Bowser)

(Photo by Simone Horst)

Simone Horst headed up the Northwest Neighborhood Clean-Up on Monday morning and sent in this photo. “We managed to avoid the rain and pick up a good amount of trash, including two unusual items: an oxygen cylinder and what appears to be a manhole cover lifter.” Not quite as exciting as last year, when the group found both a drum AND (fortuitiously) a retired percussion teacher who lived in the neighborhood to identify it.

(Photo by Steven David Johnson)

Visual and Communication Arts Professor Steven David Johnson led a trip to Rawley Springs in the George Washington National Forest to explore the streambed and learn more about underwater photography.

“Kirk Shisler probably had the best finds, a northern water snake and a slimy salamander. Other river creatures included crayfish, dusky salamanders, various tadpoles, and sculpin,” Johnson reported. “We also spotted wood frog tadpole and spotted salamander larvae in a vernal pool and red spotted admiral butterflies on land.”