Lapp, John A. (1933-2023)

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John A. Lapp (1933-2023)

John Allen Lapp: teacher, author, college administrator, and conference worker: born 15 March 1933 in Landsale, Pennsylvania, the eldest of nine children of John E. Lapp (11 September 1905, Lansdale, Pennsylvania - 1 September 1988, Sellersville, Pennsylvania) and Edith (Nyce) Lapp (27 March 1906, Harleysville, Pennsylvania - 27 May 1984, Souderton, Pennsylvania). John married Mary Alice Weber (29 July 1931 – 27 September 2022), daughter of B. Franklin Weber and Sarah Margaret (Hostetter) Weber, on 20 August 1955 and they had three children: John F., Jennifer, and Jessica. John died on 5 December 2023 in Goshen, Indiana.

John’s parents strongly supported education for their children. John set the pace for his eight younger siblings, proving adept in school from an early age. John always had a passion for history, moving on from Kulpsville Elementary School to Eastern Mennonite School in Harrisonburg, Virginia and then to Eastern Mennonite College. He graduated with a B.A. in History in 1954.

With the Korean War draft still in place, John and Alice moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he fulfilled his 1-W alternative service assignment as a hospital orderly. While in Cleveland, Alice taught school, and John worked on his M.A. in History at Case Western Reserve University. After he completed service, and with graduate degree in hand, he returned to teach at Eastern Mennonite College (EMC) in 1956 and began work on a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in the British Empire. His doctoral dissertation, completed in 1965, was entitled "The Mennonite Church in India" and was published in 1972 by Mennonite Publishing House.

John’s interest in 20th century religious and cultural movements was intense and he was soon offering his view of current political and social events to the Mennonite Church via monthly columns in the church magazine, "Christian Living." Among important issues that sparked his attention was the civil rights movement -- John and several friends took time to participate in the landmark "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" in 1963. John was instrumental in the formation of the Harrisonburg chapter of the Virginia Council on Human Relations, along with fellow EMC history professor Samuel Horst, formed the committee largely responsible for the desegregation of Harrisonburg, Virginia schools and hotels.

Along with careers and social/academic activities outside the home, John and Alice gave ample attention to their three children, taking them on trips throughout the United States, and frequently to the family homesteads in Pennsylvania.

In 1969 John accepted an invitation to lead Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) Peace Section and the family moved to Akron, Pennsylvania. John began what became lifelong frequent international travel. In 1972, he accepted an invitation to become Academic Dean at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. During his tenure from 1972 to 1984 as Dean and later Provost, John built deep friendships with Goshen’s faculty and staff. He continued traveling, both internationally in support of Goshen College’s nascent international education program, and nationally as an accreditation committee member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. He also published two additional books in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with chapters largely drawn from his magazine columns.

In 1985, John again accepted an appointment at MCC, now as its fourth Executive Secretary. He served in this position until 1996. He also served on the board of directors of Mennonite Weekly Review from 1991 to 2003.

He and Alice continued traveling, even after retirement in 1996. The couple concluded their MCC assignment serving in Kolkata, India.

In retirement, John led a Mennonite World Conference project known as the Mennonite Global History Project from 1997 to 2012, documenting the planting and growth of Anabaptist-Mennonite churches in the world. He fundraised and supervised an international team that ultimately produced five separate published volumes on Africa, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and North America. In 2006 he was honored as executive emeritus of Mennonite Central Committee.

Lapp’s perspective was steeped in history and was he deeply committed to the church. John read widely and had a global perspective that stemmed from his academic training and his travel and contacts with church leaders throughout the world. He dedicated his life to the pursuit of knowledge and a commitment to fostering an environment of intellectual curiosity.


Cornell, Ryan. "In Memoriam: Dr. John A. Lapp ’54, EMC History Professor and ‘Major Player’ in School Desegregation." Eastern Mennonite University. 14 December 2023. Web. 23 December 2023.

In Memoriam: John A. Lapp (1933-2023). Mennonite World Conference. 10 December 2023. Web. 23 December 2023.

"John A. Lapp, Former Provost and Academic Dean, Dies at 90." Goshen College. 8 December 2023. Web. 23 December 2023.

Lester, Marla Pierson. "Remembering John A. Lapp: A Legacy of Service to MCC and the Church." 11 December 2023. Web. 23 December 2023.

Obituary. Yoder-Culp Funeral Home (Goshen, Indiana). December 2023. Web. 23 December 2023.

Author(s) Richard D. Thiessen
Date Published January 2024

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MLA style

Thiessen, Richard D.. "Lapp, John A. (1933-2023)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2024. Web. 25 Jul 2024.,_John_A._(1933-2023)&oldid=178089.

APA style

Thiessen, Richard D.. (January 2024). Lapp, John A. (1933-2023). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 July 2024, from,_John_A._(1933-2023)&oldid=178089.

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