After 33 years of teaching history and Bible classes at Eastern Mennonite School, Elwood Yoder is ready to “re-wire” — not retire — for a new chapter of history making.
In this chapter, Yoder will focus full time on his loves of research, writing, and church history. He will partner with historian Steve Nolt to write a Virginia Mennonite history book, a joint project of the Shenandoah Valley Mennonite Historians and the Virginia Mennonite Conference Historical Committee (see more below).
Before turning his sights to that tantalizing project, Yoder is engaged at the school. “I want to finish well and focus on the students I love,” he said.
Yoder has done that — and much more — for more than three decades, noted Paul Leaman, head of school, in a recognition gathering with faculty and staff earlier this week. “I fully expect,” laughed Leaman, “that we will have moments next year when we scratch our heads trying to figure something out and say, ‘oh yes, Elwood must have taken care of that.’”
See a video Yoder prepared for chapel on May 24 reflecting on his life’s journey and teaching career.
The many areas of school life that Yoder influenced, led, or even began over his tenure include:
- Passionately articulating and promoting the school’s vision for unique Anabaptist-inspired education.This included 19 years of engaging and hosting speakers for the annual Kennel Charles Lecture Series, which fosters an interest in Mennonite-Anabaptist history among young people, funded by the Kennel Charles Endowment.
- Developing curriculum for Kingdom Living class, which invites seniors to reflect on their faith formation and future goals as they bring closure to their high school experience. The curriculum has been adapted for use by many sister Mennonite schools, and he attended Mennonite Schools Council Bible meetings for all of his career helping to develop core curriculum used across the system.
- Serving as chair of the school’s history department. This included creating a vision for the school’s History Day, an annual all-school experiential out-of-classroom day focused on a time period with grade groups learning together.
- Organizing E-term, a week-long experiential week of learning (formerly known as Mini-term) for high school students each spring.
- National Honor Society sponsorship, which included supporting members in managing the potato bar each fall at the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale, and additional service and leadership development activities.
- Writing and editing on behalf of the school, including serving several years as managing editor of the TODAY publication, and researching content for the school’s centennial displays.
- Junior class sponsorship, which included support of Junior/Senior Banquet planning.
- Helping to plan and chaperone four cross-country Discovery trips alongside science teacher colleagues. The trips took a busload of upperclassmen to points as far as Alaska to learn about land, people groups, and natural resources, while camping and living together.
- Hosting the folk-style Sunshine Band in his room weekly over lunch for music fellowship and occasional sharing in chapel and other school-related gatherings. Many students will recall Elwood strumming his guitar in the band and in class.
- Advocating for the school in area churches, at the Virginia conference level, and with far-flung alumni, particularly in his home community of Hartville, Ohio.
“Perhaps most importantly, Elwood has been a praying advocate for our school,” said Leaman in public comments, noting how he joined a small group of colleagues for daily morning prayers for the school, students, faculty and staff.
“Though Elwood and I are different teachers with unique methods of teaching history, I appreciate the leadership he has given to the history department over his decades of service to EMS,” reflects Shannon Roth ‘03 alum and current history department colleague.
“He has encouraged me to become a better educator, continue to practice historical disciplines within my classroom, and to deepen my love of history and the stories that make up our past and inform our future,” says Roth. “We will deeply miss him, but he has set the history department up for success in the years to come.”
Read more about the Shenandoah Valley Mennonite Historians and the Virginia Mennonite Conference Historical Committee at the Mennonite Archives of Virginia website. Yoder has been key to the photo archives and commentary found on the site. In addition, find dozens of his reflections, photos and historical perspective on his personal blog here.
Clearly, “we won’t even try to replace Elwood,” says Leaman. “The institutional knowledge, personal experience and commitment is irreplaceable.”
The school is, however, accepting applications for a new high school social studies teacher, who will take on World History and AP World History teaching. Depending on the applicants’ interest and expertise, they will also teach Bible class and support additional extracurricular activities. More details and an application can be found on the school’s website here.