A husband. A father. A pastor. A missionary. A civil rights activist. A president. A legend.
J. Lawrence Burkholder was all of these and was humble enough to have taken issue with "legend." But for those who knew him, Burkholder was just that.
Friends and family gathered in the Koinonia Room at College Mennonite Church Tuesday to pay their final respects to Goshen College’s longtime president, who died Thursday morning.
"He was a heroic figure at the college and in the world," said Judith Davis, a former professor at the college whom Burkholder had hired. "You won’t see anyone like him again for a long time. He was one of a kind."
One of a kind indeed.
Of his many accomplishments in life, Burkholder was well-known for being an up-close witness to 20th century history. Longtime director of international education Arlin Hunsberger chuckled, "He had boots to know where to go at the right time."
Burkholder, while a theologian at Harvard Divinity School, became involved in the civil rights movement. In 1964, he was arrested during a sit-in at a segregated restaurant in St. Augustine, Fla. And after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968, Burkholder gave the opening eulogy and prayer at Dr. King’s funeral ceremony at Harvard.
When a coup against Russian President Boris Yeltsin failed, Burkholder was in Moscow’s Red Square.
When the Berlin Wall fell, Burkholder was in East Germany.
When the democracy movement in China was crushed at Tiananmen Square, Burkholder was in China.
And when Chinese refugees needed relief supplies during World War II, Burkholder flew a cargo plane over the Himalayas to deliver that help.
That mission to China with Mennonite Board of Missions and Mennonite Central Committee led to a longtime relationship with the Chinese people.