Jim Bishop: Truman H. Brunk, bigger than life

Truman H. Brunk of Harrisonburg was imposing in stature, with a heart that beat with rhythmic passion for life, for his Lord and for the many people whose lives he touched over the years.

Truman, only recently retired from many years of ministry and mentoring, somehow managed to uncover the positive in just about every situation and person he encountered. He was an encourager to many, including me.

I had just finished reading Truman’s first book, “That Amazing Junk-Man,” released in 2007, and was about to start his newly-published sequel, “The Singing Junk-Man,” when word came of his passing at Rockingham Memorial Hospital the morning of Oct. 8 as we were heading into an incredibly busy homecoming weekend at my workplace, Eastern Mennonite University. At age 79, Truman had a homecoming of his own.

While Truman was gentle and reflective in spirit, his speech carried a ring of authority and insightfulness. I seldom heard him raise his voice, either in anger or to make his point when speaking one-on-one or from a platform or pulpit to a large audience.

Truman relished “fleshing out” the crux of an issue and offering practical ways to deal with it, growing out of years of pastoral ministry and counseling, one major portion of it at Eastern Mennonite College (now University), where he served as campus pastor, 1965-1974. I benefited from two years in that role my junior and senior years of college there.

Truman provided the spark that ignited the “miracle library drive” of early December, 1969, working with EMU students who raised $111,000 in four days of fund-raising to rescue the threatened building project. The Sadie Hartzler library was completed and dedicated in the fall of 1971.

Anna and I returned to Harrisonburg the summer of 1971 to begin working here. It wasn’t long before we found a second “home” with the large and lively student church group led by Truman that met Sunday mornings in the EMU chapel (before it was renovated and named Lehman Auditorium). I worked with him on the student church planning committee for nearly two years.

Truman was adept at bridging whatever “don’t trust anyone over 30” generation gap that may have existed. His down-to-earth messages employed a conversational style, laced with anecdotes that seemed to connect with diverse audiences.

I well remember Truman’s final message to the campus community upon leaving the campus pastor role. He wasn’t far into his “swan song’ presentation when suddenly the public address system cut off and the song, “Freedom,” by the group Bread, came blasting out of the speakers. The music came through in such a way that no one could cut it off. Truman remained standing at the podium, waiting for the music to end, a look of disappointment on his face, knowing that people would remember this disruption more than any words of wisdom he intended to impart.

Following his service at EMU, Truman went on unwrap his ministry gifts in a series of congregational settings – Akron (PA) Mennonite Church; Blooming Glen (PA) Mennonite Church; Warwick River Mennonite Church, Newport News, Va.; and as associate pastor at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church. With his loving spouse, Betty, they served as interim pastors at Neffsville Mennonite Church, Lancaster, Pa.; and Landisville (PA) Mennonite Church.

When my dad was on his deathbed late February, 1998, Truman, then on the pastoral team at Blooming Glen where my parents attended, came to the house and in his tender yet commanding manner, ministered to our family.

We helped Dad move to his favorite chair in the living room, surrounded him as we sang several hymns and choruses, and then joined hands as Truman committed Dad to the care of our loving Lord. At 8:45 the next morning, Dad took several deep gasps and died peacefully at home, where he wanted to be.

Truman officiated at Dad’s memorial service at the Blooming Glen church and led the graveside service held earlier in the day. A banner “happened” to be posted at the front of the sanctuary that read, “Letting Go, Moving On.” Truman truly helped our family face the reality of this difficult transition.

A chapter on Dad and Mom’s hard decision to end a long association at their home congregation and affiliate with Blooming Glen is included in Truman’s book sequel, “The Singing Junk-Man.” I felt honored to be asked to write a promotional blurb for this volume.

Truman and Betty expressed interest often in the ongoing activities of we four Bishop brothers, including our road trip earlier this year, and I was the frequent beneficiary of messages of affirmation for this column and other writings.

Etched permanently in my mind is an image of Truman extending his arm like he was handing you an envelope containing some valuable item, and saying, “Man, that’s beautiful!”

Truman, you were one big beautiful person. I’ll miss you.

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. Contact him at bishopj@emu.edu.

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