Nighswander, Joseph Martin (1923-2006)

Revision as of 12:03, 19 March 2017 by SamSteiner (talk | contribs) (→‎Bibliography)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Joe and Elsie Nighswander, 2001.
Family photo

Joseph Martin “Joe” Nighswander: farmer, administrator and conference leader, grew up in a conservative Mennonite community near Stouffville, Ontario, Canada. Nighswander was born in Altona, Ontario on 20 November 1923 to parents David B. Nighswander (23 June 1886-14 June 1961) and Nancy (Lehman) Nighswander (14 March 1884-5 March 1969). He was the youngest of four children (Fred, Florence (died in infancy) and Mary). On 9 June 1948, he married Elsie Katherine Drudge (7 May 1925-25 March 2013) in Markham, Ontario. She was the daughter of Menno Drudge (9 February 1894-7 November 1968) and Emma (Reesor) Drudge (2 January 1893-25 December 1979). Joe and Elsie (Drudge) Nighswander would have four children: David (d. 1973), Emily, Helen, and Lisa. He farmed until mid-life (1947-1970), when he accepted the role of Administrator of Parkview Services to Seniors, a post which he held until his retirement in 1990. Joe Nighswander died in Stouffville, Ontario, on 7 January 2006; Elsie Nighswander died 25 March 2013. They are buried in the Altona Mennonite Cemetery.

Following the evangelical influences of the time, in July 1940 at age 17, Joe Nighswander made the decision to give his heart and life to Christ. He was baptized in the conservative Markham-Waterloo Mennonite congregation (previously Old Order Mennonite) in Altona where he, his wife Elsie, and both sets of their parents had grown up.

His work with Parkview Homes brought Joe Nighswander from his home community of Altona to Stouffville, where he would remain for the rest of his life. Despite completing his elementary schooling in five years instead of eight, and against the advice of his teacher, his parents believed it best to end Joe's formal education. His administrative abilities would be honed on the farm and in the church.

A significant piece of his education was through his work as a conscientious objector. For three months in 1940, his parents released him from the farm to work under the auspices of the Non-Resistant Relief Organization, for E.D. Smith & Co. in Winona, Ontario. Later volunteering as a "cowboy sailor," in 1946 he assisted on a ship carrying 960 horses from Baltimore, Maryland to aid in reconstruction in post-war Europe. Travel to Cuba and to Germany and Switzerland also broadened his horizons. His experience as a conscientious objector strengthened his convictions that military might clashed with Jesus' teachings. The time in Cuba taught something of the third world reality and the time in Switzerland gave significant knowledge of his Anabaptist heritage.

In 1963, Joe Nighswander's life changed dramatically. He was appointed to a committee struck to investigate the potential of a cooperative venture by the Markham-area Mennonite churches that resulted in the purchasing of a Stouffville nursing home. By 1970, he had responded to God's call for Christian service by accepting the invitation of the board of Parkview Homes to serve as Administrator. A course on "Administration of Homes for the Aged" at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario provided Joe with the preparation for a task that would engage him for the next two decades. This course of study proved to be an "important milestone," aiding him to "change ... from a farmer to a business man, responsible” ultimately “for the care of 109 Residents and the supervision of approximately 60 staff persons."

From his youth, his family participated fully in church activities which included Sunday visiting, “singings” for young folks, bi-annual communion services, barn raisings, and work bees necessary to maintain the Reesor, Almira and Altona church buildings used by the Markham-Waterloo group, and later administrative boards and committees at Steeles Ave. Mennonite and Rouge Valley Mennonite. Conference work included roles on the Mennonite Mission Board of Ontario, executive (including moderator) of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Québec, as well as Mennonite Central Committee. Community and administrative roles were extensive with contributions to local boards, church boards and committees, Parkview Services to Seniors and a variety of committees and associations largely related to services for seniors.

Joe and Elsie Nighswander served the church extensively and well, but they also experienced deep tragedy. On 13 September 1973 their son David died suddenly and unexpectedly. Late in life, Joe lamented: "Does one ever recover from such a blow? I doubt it." Despite this deep tragedy, Joe reflected positively at the end of his life on the "many opportunities" that "came along following my unconditional promise to God to be available for whatever He wanted me to do. I have not needed to apply for any job at any time, but requests came to me to serve from a wide variety of agencies and people. Opportunities to serve continue to this day, even though I am already 78! Volunteerism can be satisfying and, hopefully, helpful!"


“Joseph Martin Nighswander.” Find a Grave. 12 September 2007. Web. 23 June 2016.

Nighswander, Joseph M. A brief historical sketch of the Steeles Avenue (Markham) Mennonite congregation. Markham, Ont.: J. M. Nighswander, 199-.

--. A history of Rouge Valley Mennonite Church 1986 to 2004. Markham, Ont.: The Church, 2004.

--. Parkview Services for Seniors, Stouffville, Ontario: a history, 1962-1994. Stouffville, Ont. : Parkview Services for Seniors, 1995.

--. The story of my life: from birth until February 2002. Stouffville, Ont.: J. M Nighswander, 2002.

Author(s) Lucille Marr
Date Published March 2017

Cite This Article

MLA style

Marr, Lucille. "Nighswander, Joseph Martin (1923-2006)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. March 2017. Web. 21 May 2024.,_Joseph_Martin_(1923-2006)&oldid=147448.

APA style

Marr, Lucille. (March 2017). Nighswander, Joseph Martin (1923-2006). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 May 2024, from,_Joseph_Martin_(1923-2006)&oldid=147448.

©1996-2024 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.