Harrisonburg: EMU alums honored for post-grad work

Story by Jim Bishop

The Alumni Association of EMU honored three of its graduates Sunday, Oct. 12, for their work in reflecting the school’s vision, mission and values.

Donald B. Kraybill, 63, of Elizabethtown, Pa., a 1967 EMU graduate with a double major in Bible and sociology, received EMU’s 2008 “alumnus of the year” award during the Sunday morning worship service of homecoming and family weekend.

The award is presented annually to a graduate who has been recognized for significant achievements in their profession, community or church.

Herman D. Bontrager, 62, of Akron, Pa., a 1972 graduate with a degree in Bible and sociology, was presented the 2008 “distinguished service award” for “demonstrating in notable ways the Christian service and peacemaking emphases of the university.”

Donald R. Jacobs, 80, of Lancaster, Pa., received a special “lifetime service award” from the Alumni Association. Dr. Jacobs is a longtime missiologist and director emeritus of Mennonite Christian Leadership Foundation. He attended EMU the academic years 1945 and 1948.

Dr. Kraybill is currently distinguished professor of sociology at Elizabethtown College, where he been a faculty member since 1971, and a senior fellow of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies there.

After graduation from EMU, Kraybill was associate pastor at Willow Street (Pa.) Mennonite Church five years and an associate director of Mennonite Voluntary Service four years. He earned a doctorate in sociology from Temple University and joined the faculty at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College in 1971.

Kraybill established his expertise on Amish beliefs and practice with the release of the bestselling book, The Riddle of Amish Culture, in 1989 and revised in 2001. Tourists to Amish regions of North America often rely on his easy-to-read, 48-page paperback, Who are the Anabaptists: Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites (2003).

Beginning with Our Star-Spangled Faith in 1976, Kraybill has written 20 books, including Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (2007), co-authored with Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher. The book chronicles the Amish response to the killing of five Amish children and the wounding of five more at the Nickel Mines School in Lancaster County in October 2006.

Kraybill is on sabbatical during the 2008-2009 academic year, working on his next book, A Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites, to be published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2009.

“In the last several decades, I’ve seen a growing respect in the larger world for the distinctive beliefs and practices of Anabaptists – particularly peacemaking, our sense of community and our service to the larger world,” said Kraybill. “The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU is a great example of this.”

Kraybill is married to Frances Mellinger Kraybill and is a member of the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren. The couple has two daughters, Sheila, and Joy, a 1995 EMU alumna.

Bontrager has been president/CEO of Goodville Mutual Casualty Company since 1990, a for-profit property and casualty insurance company where the profits benefit the policyholders, who are the owners. He also chairs the bi-national board for Mennonite Central Committee, an inter-Mennonite relief and service agency based in Akron.

Bontrager, who grew up in a Beachy Amish family in Middlebury, Ind., is secretary-treasurer of the National Committee for Amish religious freedom. He gave direction to the Nickel Mines School Victims Fund that eventually totaled over $4 million and became spokesperson for the Amish community in thanking donors.

“I’ve had a lifelong mission to not accept a gap between business and church people,” Bontrager said. “We are helped if we understand that our Christian vocation is first and primary and that occupational choices fall into place as a result.”

Bontrager earned an MA in sociology and Latin American studies from the University of Florida in 1976. He is married to Jeannette Noll Bontrager, a 1973 EMU alumna, and has a daughter, Elizabeth, and son Nathan, a 2007 EMU graduate. He is a member of Akron (Pa.) Mennonite Church.

Dr. Jacobs was a missionary with his wife Anna Ruth in Tanzania and Kenya, 1954-1997. He was director of overseas ministries for Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions, Salunga, Pa., 1975-80, and directed the Mennonite Christian Leadership Foundation until his retirement in 2000. The foundation assists leaders in newer churches around the world through seminars and short courses.

As a pioneer mission worker in East Africa, “We were stumblers, bumblers,” Jacobs said. “I just tried to put one foot in front of the next each day – I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing.” But, something larger was at work. “I have lived a life surprised by God’s grace,” he added.

Jacobs was instrumental in developing four Christian educational programs in East Africa, including serving as secretary and professor for the first Faculty of Religious Studies at the University of Nairobi.

He received an MA in European history from the University of Maryland and a PhD in religion and education from New York University.

Jacobs is a member of Chestnut Hill Mennonite Church, Lancaster, Pa. He and his wife Anna Ruth Jacobs have four children – Jane, David, Alan and Paul – and 10 grandchildren.


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