Durnbaugh, Donald Floyd (1927-2005)

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Donald Floyd “Don” Durnbaugh: historian, scholar, ecumenist and peacemaker, and a member of the Church of the Brethren, was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA on 16 November 1927 to Floyd Devon Durnbaugh (9 September 1892-31 March 1950) and Ruth Tombaugh Durnbaugh (11 February 1895-16 November 1965); he was the middle of five children. Don met his wife, Hedwig (Hedda) Raschka (5 June 1929- ), a native of Vienna, Austria, during Brethren Volunteer Service work in Austria. They married in 1952, and had two sons and a daughter, and two grandchildren. Donald Durnbaugh died 28 August 2005 in Newark, New Jersey. He is buried in the Old Stone Church Cemetery in Marklesburg, Pennsylvania.

Growing up in Flint, Michigan, Don attended Manchester College and graduated in 1949 with a major in history. During his senior year, he met Gladdys Muir, founder of the peace studies program there, who influenced Don profoundly. In 1949, while serving in Austria as a postwar relief worker, he met the other great mentor in his life, M. R. Zigler, director of Brethren Service in Europe. Zigler's energetic leadership, commitment to peace and ecumenical interests all contributed significantly to Don's career.

Don's vocation was that of historian. Following an MA degree from the University of Michigan (1952) he earned a PhD in history at the University of Pennsylvania (1960). Encouraged by Zigler, Don and Hedda spent time researching the early history of the Brethren in various European archives in the 1950s. Don published many of these documents in The European Origins of the Brethren (Brethren Press, 1958). For the first time in 250 years, Brethren once again had access to records of the thought and lives of their early Brethren history. This achievement was symbolic of his career in the Church of the Brethren. In the course of his long career, Don gave back to the Brethren much of their history. In 1997 he completed Fruit of the Vine, a summary history of the Brethren. In the same year he was honored with a conference at Bridgewater College that produced a Festschrift, titled From Age to Age: Historians and the Modern Church.

Don taught history at Juniata College from 1958-1962. In 1962 he was ordained by the Church of the Brethren and called to join the faculty at Bethany Seminary, soon to become Bethany Theological Seminary, in Oak Brook, Illinois. Although Don was trained as a secular historian, he took up the new challenge of teaching the history of Christianity, and Brethren history, in a seminary setting. The fruit of his teaching and writing, however, showed that scholarship could be a ministry within and beyond the church. He was elected to serve as moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference for the year 1986.

Don taught at Bethany until 1988. He then served as the J. Omar Good Distinguished Visiting Professor at Juniata College (1988-89). In 1989 Don began to serve at the Young Center for the Study of Anabaptist and Pietist Groups at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He and Hedda were instrumental in giving further shape to the newly emerging Young Center and its program. After several years, Don and Hedda settled near Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, where they served on a volunteer basis in the archives of the Juniata College library. Don was instrumental in the decision of the Snow Hill German Seventh Day Baptists to donate their printed and manuscript material to the collection. At the time of his death, Don was organizing the material for cataloging.

Don was a historian of more than the Brethren. He developed a theoretical model for studying free church movements, titled The Believers' Church (Macmillan, 1968). His prolific writing and publication added depth and breadth to the study of Pietism. He served on publication committees for the Pennsylvania German Society and the Communal Studies Association, among others. In such settings he shared the fruit of his own research, encouraged young scholars and worked for the highest standards in publications in these fields.

Don actively promoted better ecumenical relations and Brethren presence in such gatherings. He participated in the Puidoux Conferences (held in Europe between 1955-1962), publishing their documents in On Earth Peace (Brethren Press, 1978). These conferences reflect the peace dialogue between the magisterial churches of Europe and members of the historic peace churches. Along with John Howard Yoder, Don helped to initiate the Believers' Church conferences, and he played a key role organizing a series of Consultations on the Radical Reformation, which brought together denominations that are heirs of radical reform.

One of his greatest ecumenical and scholarly achievements was his work as editor of the Brethren Encyclopedia project, beginning in 1977. Born from M. R. Zigler's dream to bring together members of the various Brethren bodies to create a publication about the tradition, the Brethren Encyclopedia (3 vols.) was completed in 1983. Don was editing the supplementary fourth volume at the time of his death.

At times reserved, Don had a strong, dry humor. Usually working quietly, he was a superior scholar, a prolific writer and a talented teacher. In his service to God, to the church and to academic pursuits, he exemplified the motto of the eighteenth-century Pennsylvania German printer Christopher Saur, whom he admired: "to the glory of God and my neighbor's good."


Bach, Jeff. “In Memoriam: Donald F. Durnbaugh (1927-2005).” Mennonite Quarterly Review 79 (October 2005): 437-438. This GAMEO article is derived, with permission, from the MQR memorial article.

Slabaugh, Dennis L. “Durnbaugh, Donald F.” MennLex V. 2013 Web. 14 June 2016. http://www.mennlex.de/doku.php?id=art:durnbaugh_donald_f.

Books by and about Donald Durnbaugh

Durnbaugh, Donald F. European origins of the Brethren; a source book on the beginnings of the Church of the Brethren in the early eighteenth century, a two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary volume. Elgin, Ill. : Brethren Press, 1958.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. and Lawrence W. Schultz. A Brethren bibliography, 1713-1963. Elgin, Ill. : Brethren Press, 1964.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. The Brethren in colonial America : a source book on the transplantation and development of the Church of the Brethren in the eighteenth century. Elgin, Ill : Brethren Press, 1967.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. The believers' church; the history and character of radical Protestantism. New York : Macmillan, 1968. Also published in Spanish.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. Die Kirche der Brüder : Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Stuttgart : Evangelisches Verlagswerk, 1971.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. The Church of the Brethren: past and present. Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Press, 1971.

Durnbaugh, Donald F., ed. Every need supplied : mutual aid and Christian community in the free churches, 1525-1675. Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1974.

Durnbaugh, Donald F., ed. On earth peace : discussions on war/peace issues between Friends, Mennonites, Brethren, and European churches, 1935-75. Elgin, Ill. : Brethren Press, 1978.

Durnbaugh, Donald F., ed. The Brethren encyclopedia, 4 vols. Philadelphia, Pa. : Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc., 1983-2005.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. Meet the Brethren. Elgin, Ill. : Brethren Press for the Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc., 1984.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. Pragmatic prophet : the life of Michael Robert Zigler (November 9, 1891-October 25, 1985). Elgin, Ill. : Brethren Press, 1989.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. Brethren beginnings : the origin of the Church of the Brethren in early eighteenth-century Europe. Philadelphia, Pa. : Brethren Encyclopedia, 1992.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. Fruit of the vine : a history of the Brethren, 1708-1995. Elgin, Ill. : Brethren Press, 1997.

Durnbaugh, Donald F., et al. Schwarzenau 1708-2008. Philadelphia, Pa. : Brethren Encyclopedia, 2008. Festschrift in memory of Donald Durnbaugh.

Eller, David B., et al. From age to age : historians and the modern church : a festschrift for Donald F. Durnbaugh. Richmond, Ind. : Brethren Journal Association : Bethany Theological Seminary, 1997.

Author(s) Jeff Bach
Date Published June 2016

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MLA style

Bach, Jeff. "Durnbaugh, Donald Floyd (1927-2005)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2016. Web. 26 Jan 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Durnbaugh,_Donald_Floyd_(1927-2005)&oldid=135184.

APA style

Bach, Jeff. (June 2016). Durnbaugh, Donald Floyd (1927-2005). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 January 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Durnbaugh,_Donald_Floyd_(1927-2005)&oldid=135184.

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