Brubaker reflects on EMU roots

Story by Jim Bishop

Beryl H. Brubaker’s connection to the place where she has studied and worked for nearly 38 years extends to the year it was founded – 1917.
Dr. Brubaker, who joined the Eastern Mennonite University faculty in 1970, reflected on her long years of involvement with the school in a convocation address Wednesday morning to launch the second (spring) semester. EMU is celebrating its 90th anniversary during the 2007-08 academic year.

Brubaker told the audience that a 1918 catalog lists her grandfather, John M. Hartzler of Belleville, Pa., as a trustee of what was then Eastern Mennonite School. His son, C. Clayton Hartzler, would become a trustee some 40 years later and live long enough to see his daughter, Beryl H. Brubaker, arrive at Eastern Mennonite College to teach in 1970.

“What was it that brought my forbears to give their precious time to this place?” she asked. “How did my father – busy enough with church responsibilities along with his painting business – decide that EMC was worthy of his attention, important enough to leave his wife and five young daughters to travel 200 miles south to attend trustee meetings in the Shenandoah Valley?”

Brubaker came to what was then Eastern Mennonite College at the invitation of then-president Myron S. Augsburger, to teach in the growing nursing program, intending it as a stopover en route to a position at “a big university.”

“Truth is, my motive was to give back to a church school, to repay a bit of the debt I owed to a Christian upbringing in a church I loved,” she said. “Only later would I discover the joy of walking alongside students in testing who they are and who they want to become.”

Brubaker became chair of the nursing department in 1984 and was named to the newly-created position of provost in 2000. She served May-December 2003 as interim president as Dr. Loren Swartzendruber prepared to take office as EMU’s eighth president.

Among the highlights of her academic journey at EMU she recalled – debates and major effort at creating greater gender equity among faculty and staff; and her involvement in starting Earthkeepers, a recycling program that began in 1973 with newspapers but has expanded to other areas.

“Today, faculty, staff and students are joining together to form a Creation Care Council that is asking us how we transport ourselves, how we feed oursel vs, how we manage heating and cooling and a host of other issues that address the way we put our institutional and our personal lives together,” Brubaker said. “Creation care is based on a theology that says we are called to be stewards of God’s creation and to leave a good place for the next generation. This is a theology that EMU embraces.”

She recalled serving on a host of task forces, devising a salary scale “to better represent our sense of justice for all while competing in the world of academia,” grueling work on budget revisions and “agreeing on and applying Anabaptist values to general education courses.”

So what has kept Brubaker at EMU year after year?

“Was it, for my first 24 years, EMU’s innovative nursing program that created new ways to work with students with varied learning needs and that graduated nurses who partner with people to achieve wholeness?” she said.

“Was it a university that purports to bring healing and hope to the world, that did cross-cultural learning long before it became popular, that nurtures values of service and community, that has the audacity to define discipleship as walking boldly in the way of peace?”

“Well, yes and yes,” she stated.

“Maybe it was that pledge I made as a nine-year-old when I chose to join the Christian church: ‘All I am, all I possess, all of which I am capable, every act, every word, every thought, every emotion, every plan, hope, and desire – all are Christ’s and shall be His, forever. Come what will – honor or reproach, joy or sorrow, life or death – I am the Lord’s and with all my powers of mind and soul and body, with my whole being, will I serve Him, wholly, earnestly, joyfully, world without end.

“I hope I have lived at least some small part of that pledge,” she told the assembly. “I am grateful for the opportunity to be formed by EMU.”

Brubaker plans to retire from EMU on June 30 this year.

The convocation ended with the singing of the university hymn, “Christ of the Mountain, Be our Word,” and a prayer of blessing led by campus pastor Brian Martin Burkholder for the spring semester and for 19 students who leave Jan. 10 for a semester-long cross-cultural program.

The group, led by EMU faculty members Byron J. Peachey and Deanna Durham, will spend time at the Mexico/US border focusing on policies and attitudes towards immigrants, undocumented workers and the crossing of national borders. They will continue on to Guatemala to study language, culture, history and religious faith of Guatemalan society.

EMU’s spring semester runs through April 25.

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