Veteran EMU professor passes away

Item by Jim Bishop

Albert N. (Al) Keim, 71, professor emeritus of history at Eastern Mennonite University, died June 27, 2008 at University of Virginia Medical Center. He had a successful liver transplant in 2007, but his health had declined in recent months.

Dr. Keim joined the EMU history department faculty in 1965 and retired in 2000. He was appointed vice-president for academic affairs/dean at EMU July 1, 1977 and served in that role seven years.

“Al Keim introduced his students to historical and political issues by having them read books which motivated them to think analytically. He was known for his half-sheet five-question quizzes and insightful commentaries on whatever issue was being studied,” said long-time faculty colleague Gerald R. Brunk, professor emeritus of history.

“As academic dean Al both envisioned and brought to reality the Global Village curriculum which has given many students life-changing experiences in other cultures,” Dr. Brunk said. “He devoted himself to making EMU a quality Christian liberal arts institution and sought to enable the faculty to excel in their teaching. The legacy he has left will continue to enrich us all.”

The Hartville, Ohio, native grew up in an Amish home and attended Amish parochial schools. He received a BA degree from EMU in 1963, an MA from the University of Virginia in 1965 and a PhD from Ohio State University in 1971. His doctoral work focused on the late John Foster Dulles, secretary of state during the Eisenhower administration, and Dulles’ ties with the Federal Council of Churches, an ecumenical organization that sought to influence American foreign policy.

In 1972, Keim received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study the 20th Century Christian Socialism movement – particularly the Fellowship of Socialist Christians, an organization created in 1930 by theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich.

The following year Keim received a grant to edit a volume of essays dealing with the Amish and compulsory education, based in part on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that compulsory school attendance for Amish children beyond the eighth grade is an “unequal restraint” on their religious freedom.

His book, Compulsory Education and the Amish: The Right Not to Be Modern, was released in 1975 by Beacon Press of Boston, Mass. He also wrote The Politics of Conscience: the Historic Peace Churches and War, 1917-1955 (Herald Press, 1988) and The CPS Story (Good Books, 1990), a history of alternate service programs during World War II.

Herald Press also published Keim’s major biography, Harold S. Bender, 1897-1962, in 1998. Dr. Bender was a prominent professor of theology at Goshen College and Goshen Biblical Seminary, founder of the Mennonite Quarterly Review and author of The Anabaptist Vision, a 1944 landmark essay that reexamined the Mennonite Church during the troubling years of World War II.

In 1972-73, he Keim EMU’s first semester-length cross-cultural seminar in Europe, which paved the way for cross-cultural education becoming a graduation requirement in 1982-83.

“Al was my professor when I was an EMU history major in the early ’70s,” said Steve C. Shenk of Harrisonburg. “My wife Karen and I were part of the three-month seminar that he led. Al was my hero.

“Then, 30 years later, I became executive director of Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center – my first history job after all this time,” Shenk added. “My close mentor and co-worker turned out to be Al Keim. Retired from EMU by now, he was a founding board member and tireless volunteer. He was still my hero.”

Keim married Leanna Yoder Keim on Aug. 27, 1960. She died Oct. 19, 1998. In 2000, he married Kathy Fisher, who survives. Keim wrote a series of reflective articles during 2000-2001 for the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record while he and Kathy lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, their first year of marriage.
Also surviving are a daughter, Melody Ann Keim-Shenk, Lancaster, Pa., two grandsons, and seven siblings. He was a member of Park View Mennonite Church. where memorial services are to be held July 1, with interment at Lindale Mennonite Church cemetery.

augusta free press news