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Laverne Rutschman

March 21, 2018

Laverne Rutschman, 98, retired Mennonite Mission worker and theology professor, died March 21, 2018. He was born on March 31, 1919, in Newton, Kansas and was brought up on a farm three miles southeast of Elbing. He attended the Elbing Elementary School and Whitewater High School, graduating in 1936. On May 31, 1937, two brothers, Orrin and Pete, lost their lives in an automobile accident while en route to sing for a college commencement service in Tennessee. Because of this loss, he felt the call of God to prepare for Christian service, an effort to continue their work. The following year found him in Biola (The Bible Institute of Los Angeles) from which he graduated in 1941. During that summer he traveled across the United States and Canada with a Biola male quartet. This was followed by one year at Bethel College. While at Wheaton College from 1942 to 1944, he discovered something of the richness of his Anabaptist heritage and decided to work with the Mennonite Church. Upon graduating from Wheaton with a B.A. in anthropology in January of 1944, he spent a term at the University of Chicago, a year at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and two years at Bethany Seminary in Chicago (with which the Mennonites were then affiliated) graduating with an M.R.E. in 1946 and a B.D. in 1947.


He married Harriet Fischbach, whom he learned to know in Wheaton, in 1946. They worked in the Comins Mennonite Church in Michigan for one year before beginning their lifework under the Board of Missions (Commission on Overseas Mission). Their first assignment took them to Colombia where they joined the recently established Mennonite Mission in 1948 after several months of language study in Medellin in the Presbyterian School of Language and Orientation. In Colombia they worked with children whose parents suffered from Hanson’s disease and also engaged in church planting from 1948 to 1955. During this time they had five children: David, Robert, Thomas, Ruth and Richard (twins). As a result of the visit of Walter and Martha Dyck in 1955, who represented the Mission Board, they agreed to work with the Mennonite Theological Seminary that was to be established in Montevideo, Uruguay. Here Laverne taught theology and Old Testament and served as dean. After the first term of four years, he enrolled in the Southern California School of Theology in Claremont to pursue studies toward a doctorate which was conferred in 1962 after returning to the Uruguayan assignment. During the last year of their stay in California, he was part time interim pastor of the First Mennonite Church of Upland.


In January of 1969 the family of seven purchased a 1930 Model A Ford in Argentina which they drove to the States, arriving in Newton in early March after a trip that lasted nearly 10 weeks. The following five years were spent as teachers in Freeman, South Dakota, at the college and academy. In the fall of 1974 with the children now gone from home, they returned to South America to work with the Mennonite Churches in Bolivia in the area of Santa Cruz. They also taught in the Baptist Seminary in Cochabamba, spending two weeks of each month there and two in Santa Cruz during the academic year.


An invitation to join the faculty of the Latin American Biblical Seminary in 1977 received the approval of the Commission on Overseas Mission that saw this as an opportunity to relate to the wider Christian community in Latin America as Anabaptists. Students were attracted to the seminary from many parts of Latin America as well as from Europe, North America and Africa, because of its emphasis on Latin American themes. Laverne taught Old Testament and Hebrew there and also worked as registrar. He taught occasional courses in the local Mennonite theological training program as well.


In 1983 they returned to Colombia in fulfillment of a promise made upon leaving in 1955. During the two years in Bogotá Laverne was invited to work with the Presbyterian seminary, in which several Mennonites were enrolled, to engage in Bible teaching. Harriet taught piano to students and children of the church. They also worked with the local churches.


The final two years in Latin America, 1986 and 1987, found them in the Biblical Seminary in Costa Rica again.  During these two years as well as during the previous assignment, Laverne taught many courses under the Mennonite Semilla program in Central American countries and in Panama. He also worked with the Costa Rica seminary study-at-a-distance program in Latin America and published study manuals for both ministries.


After retirement in the fall of 1987 Laverne spent a great deal of time translating different types of documents including news releases, bulletins, and correspondence for the General Conference, the Western District and the South Central Conference as well as other entities. Harriet and Laverne became charter members of the Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, and enjoyed riding their tandem bicycle daily for many years.

They were happy to express their gratitude to God for the many years that were given to them to work in the church as witnesses to the saving and liberating power of the gospel of Christ and also thankful for a loyal family with five children and their spouses, for the fellowship of the Shalom Mennonite Church, and for many faithful friends and family living in many parts of the world.

He will be greatly missed by his children and their spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His children and spouses are David Rutschman and Marj Byler, Robert Rutschman and Elise Renault, Tom and Disa Rutschman, Ruth Rutschman Holliday and Robert Holliday, and Richard Rutschman and Peg Dublin.  Their grandchildren are David Rutschman-Byler and Devon Miller, Mark Rutschman-Byler and Sarah Tashker, Alyssa and Scott Hardy, Magali Rutschman, Joel and Margareta Rutschman, Daniel Rutschman and Ida Kjellholm, Miriam and Olov Rutschman, Elisabeth and Josh Armfield, Hanna and William Rutschman, Heather and Joel Tower, Heidi Holliday and Matthew McKitrick, Cari Holliday and Daniel Montoya, Luke and Ligia Bigelow, Jesse Rutschman and Anna Barnes, Elijah Rutschman, Lou Bigelow and Sarah Welborn, and Micah Rutschman. He has 19 great-grandchildren.


Laverne was preceded in death by his wife of 60 years, Harriet (Fischbach), as well as his parents Elise (Zuercher) and David Henry Rutschman, his siblings and their spouses: Evelyn (Fred Langenegger), Waldo (Vera Stuart), Orrin (Helen Evelyn Peterson), Henry (Frances Stuart), Pete, and Jeannette (Frank Isaac) and one granddaughter, Christy Rutschman.


A graveside service will be held at 9:30 A.M., Saturday, March 31, at the Swiss Mennonite Church Cemetery near Whitewater followed by a memorial service at 11 A.M. at the Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton.


In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Mennonite Central Committee or Shalom Mennonite Church.

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2 thoughts on “Laverne Rutschman

  1. I a one of those students who had the privilege of sitting at his feet during his time of teaching at Freeman. A bit later I also got to work with him at a short MVS/MCC assignment on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He had a brilliant mind and a heart for God and his people.

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