For more than 26 years, Senior Associate Director of Advancement Karen Moshier-Shenk ‘73 has brought Eastern Mennonite University’s major fundraising projects, along with its mission and vision, into conversation with donors. Among Moshier-Shenk’s accomplishments is also a notable pioneering role: she was recruited as and accepted the challenge of becoming the university’s first female advancement officer at a time when patriarchal culture challenged women in leadership roles. Colleagues see her resilience, honesty, good humor, and expertise as sterling qualities that helped forge new paths – and raise EMU’s profile – in representing the university at donor functions and events.
Moshier-Shenk was honored among other retiring employees at a spring reception and officially ended her time at EMU on June 30, 2022 – fittingly on the day that symbolizes both the end of each fiscal year and the culmination of an advancement officer’s total year-end goals.
In a tribute at the reception, Vice President for Advancement Kirk Shisler ‘81 noted Moshier-Shenk’s sustaining efforts as an especially empathetic and skilled relationship-builder.
“This includes continuing those relationships with alumni and friends of EMU through economic downturns, as well as during seasons of disappointment and controversy,” he said. “In advancement, the true measure of success is financial support, tracked over time. Thanks to Karen’s steadfast engagement with hundreds of donors over nearly two and a half decades, millions of dollars have been gifted for EMU’s mission through annual giving, capital campaigns, and endowed scholarship funds to support student aid.”
Several major successful capital project campaigns bear marks of her dedicated work, including the recently completed $12M renovations to the Suter Science Center, the University Commons, and the Lisa Haverstick Nursing Simulation Lab, as well as countless endowed scholarships. Many donors who have engaged with her have also joined the Jubilee Friends Society, now over 600 members strong, who have included EMU in their estate plans.
Shisler also pointed out that current and former colleagues have shared appreciation for her pioneering and courageous work in this role, which called her to be honest and forthright with the patriarchies of both the university and Mennonite culture.
Moshier-Shenk has helped to both open new doors for fellow female colleagues and to offer new types of relationships with donors, bringing “an awareness that, in fact, women do control the purse strings in their families, have strong voices, and care very much about their and others children, our future students and leaders,” said advancement colleague Susan Landes Beck.
A graduate of EMU’s music program with a master’s degree in sacred music from Duquesne University, Moshier-Shenk began working at EMU in 1992 when her husband Steve Shenk became the university’s marketing director. [Steve was marketing director from 1991-2002, and returned to teach in the Intensive English Program in 2012; he also retired this year.] For the first few years, she managed part-time work at Park View Mennonite Church with a wide variety of engagements at EMU: co-teaching music and seminary courses, planning chapel services, directing the music for two theater productions, directing the seminary choir, and filling in for Professor Ken Nafziger, now emeritus, as University Chorale director while he was on sabbatical.
Multi-faceted with a background in education and a clear love for engaging with people of all ages and backgrounds, Moshier-Shenk was eventually recruited to Advancement by former director Daryl Peifer ‘75 and then President Joe Lapp ‘66. She says her first answer was “no, but tell me more about it.”
She remains grateful to Peifer for the “shoulder tap” and the encouragement to consider a job “which I would never have sought out on my own. “I was the only female ‘on the road’ for development for EMU, new ground for sure, though in many other organizations, women were already heavily involved in these roles,” she said. “Joe Lapp encouraged funding for me to attend a series of conferences for me to understand the work, and there I met many women who were doing the same work for the same reasons in their particular organizations. That was so helpful and encouraging.”
Her love for EMU and some very former special colleagues kept her going: among them Ellen Miller, Phoebe Kilby GC ‘04, Carol Lown, and Robyn Hill. The current Advancement team, she says, have also been “a huge gift” in these past several years through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moshier-Shenk says she has most appreciated her own efforts on two especially meaningful projects. Early in her career, she led the fundraising to name the Weaver Wellness Center in the University Commons in honor of Clair and Anna May Weaver, who were murdered in the spring of 1991. The Weaver Wellness Suite houses EMU Health Services and Counseling Services. “Meeting their two birth children and uncle and hearing their stories of that time in their lives, was so meaningful,” Moshier-Shenk said.
She also enjoyed the collaborative efforts with advancement team members to help fund the Lisa Haverstick ‘91 Nursing Lab and with another donor to buy a pediatric mannequin.
Her relationship with donors, many of whom have become lifelong friends, has always been “the highlight of my career.”
“Taking food into families and learning to know their children, which included hearing them play violin, or piano, or playing games with them … sharing a ‘best books’ list each year, and walking alongside families in their hard times, deaths, attending memorial services, and other life events … all of this has really made my work and my life fulfilling in ways I can’t even begin to describe,” Moshier-Shenk said.
One longtime EMU donor, when informed of Moshier-Shenk’s retirement, summarized their hours together over the years as “an atmosphere of comfortable conversation,” with no pressure or dread accompanying the time. “What a joy to have a dedicated woman so committed to what she was promoting.”
Moshier-Shenk says she’s not sure yet “exactly what retirement looks like,” but it will include travel, volunteering, puzzles, reading, knitting and visiting her family in Boston and Florida.
She also plans to continue as choir director at Park View Mennonite Church.
And of course, continuing to “cause good trouble,” she adds.
Karen raised millions in support of students during her tenure. Help us celebrate her tremendous contributions to EMU by considering a gift to the University Fund in her honor. Click here to donate.
Please share your appreciation for and well wishes to Karen (stories are welcome, too) in the comment box below. We’ll make sure she sees them.