In 2022, EMS will celebrate Janelle Zook Cunalata ’02, Carl Stauffer ’82, and Ethan Zook ’72 during Homecoming activities, Oct. 14 and 15. We celebrate alumni stories to hear each others’ journeys since high school and to be inspired by lives of service, professional contributions, Christian commitment, and community engagement. More details here.
Ethan Zook ‘72
Q: What years did you attend EMS? What “brought” you to the school? How was it?
I attended 8 – 12th grade from 1967 – 1972. After attending first grade in Belleville, Pennsylvania, followed by grades 2 – 6th at Park School, and 7th at Broadway, Virginia, I was looking forward to a small, Christian school near my home with sports like soccer and basketball, friends from the community and music and theater opportunities. I enjoyed playing JV basketball, varsity soccer and acted in The Taming of the Screw and the first musical at EMHS. At EMHS, I learned to know many friends in all the grades and was challenged by the academics, and appreciated teachers who allowed me further study, especially in math. Some teachers became lifelong colleagues as I became a school psychologist and supported mental health and special education students at EMHS.
Q. What was your academic and professional journey from EMHS to where you are today?
After completing four years at Eastern Mennonite University in pre-med biology, I worked at improving my medical school application through EMT training and working at Rockingham Memorial Hospital in the Emergency Room. When the medical school door was closed, another door opened as I began and completed graduate studies at JMU in school psychology. With multiple internship possibilities, our family, with a newborn, decided to move to Pendleton County, West Virginia, and begin attending a small, Southern Baptist church that allowed for using many teaching and music gifts. I never expected to be a choir director and direct an Easter cantata at two local churches.
After four years in West Virgnia, we moved back to Harrisonburg and I continued working as a school psychologist in Augusta County for nine years, with great memories of teamwork with a Christian social worker and many other teachers, administrators and medical professionals. The next 20 years I worked in Harrisonburg City Schools, mostly at the middle and high school levels. One of my most enjoyable professional roles as a school psychologist for Harrisonburg City Schools was being assigned to provide special education support to EMHS with somewhat strict adherence to the minimal level of services allowed by law. One time, my superior became upset when I became involved in a significant school traumatic experience, but I was convinced God’s plan involved me that day in supporting the students and school.
Q. Any aspect of EMHS that served you well? Anything that was hard?
I believe the academic and sports rigor, and positive social student and adult interactions provided the necessary skills to be successful in my college and graduate school studies, and professional career. My love for sports and many opportunities at EMHS provided skills for a lifetime of enjoyment in basketball, softball and running. Starting school in Pennsylvania resulted in always being the youngest and of smaller stature throughout high school which was challenging at times, but was usually supported by my peers. Academically, the three years of foreign language (Spanish), was challenging, but later the skills I did retain were invaluable with Hispanic students in the Harrisonburg area.
Q. Involvements that have given you joy in addition to professional work?
All during my professional years, I spent many hours outside of work volunteering at my local church (Park View Mennonite Church), and providing logistical and musical support to the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir. [In 2021 the choir recognized Ethan’s 26 years of service with the choir. Watch him play oboe with the choir in this beautiful recording of the song “The Shapes of Home,” under the direction of artistic director Janet Hostetter ’83, honored by EMS in 2018.]
I became involved in musical theater at Harrisonburg High School when a bass was needed for Bye Bye Birdie, directed by EMHS classmate Stan Swartz. I sang with the students, which led to 15 years of building sets and working backstage, assisting with taking a theater troupe to Scotland for the Fringe Festival, and then more recently, assisting with theater construction at EMS. The last eight years I’ve continued volunteering with musical theater, singing, and playing oboe, especially with a musical ensemble at EMS for a musical.
After concluding my basketball playing due to scheduling conflicts at work in my early 50s, I decided to take up distance running. During the past 15 years, since 2007, I have run nearly 70 races, mostly 5K fundraisers for autism and breast cancer, and then in 2009, began running marathons, 7 total, with 3 Boston completions, the most recent in October of 2021. Running has given me another avenue to build relationships with young people in the community. Two years ago I won the virtual autism race, and I was 13th this year. I admit I enjoy the competition and running faster than many of the younger racers.
Q. Any words to the EMHS of today? Hopes for the school today and going forward?
In the area of foreign language, provide immersion experiences to students to make their skills useful in everyday conversations and for later professional needs.
In the area of world knowledge of cultures, provide travel opportunities to other countries, not only periodic Tour Choir trips to Europe. Perhaps a volunteer week to disaster areas served by Mennonite Disaster Service or to help teach children at an Indian reservation.
In the area of service and learning about the disadvantaged, small groups of students could interview some of the local homeless population or help with providing a meal at Our Community Place or through the Open Doors Shelter. Groups of students could volunteer to help with a Habitat House being built in the area during a mission week.
Hopes for the school would include continuing to increase the diversity of the student and faculty population.