Remembering Arthur M. Climenhaga
Arthur M. Climenhaga, the fifth president of Messiah College, died on April 25, after savoring a brilliant sunset with his wife, Lona, and some friends, while on vacation in Black Water Falls, West Virginia. He was 89. Climenhaga's illustrious career spanned seven decades and included leadership roles in missions, higher education, national religious institutions, and the Church.
From the beginning, Climenhaga's life was intertwined with Messiah College's history. The grandson of S. R. Smith, Messiah's first president, Climenhaga drew his first breaths on the College's campus, born to faculty members John and Emma (Smith) Climenhaga in the president's home.
During his presidency at Messiah, 1960–1964, Climenhaga deftly guided the College to achieve regional accreditation, worked to recruit and retain a gifted faculty, and increased the size of Messiah's student body. Regional accreditation broadened the College's appeal to a more varied denominational pool of faculty and students, and cleared the way for accreditation of the College's teaching programs. Advocating that Messiah College play a more prominent role in the Harrisburg region, he strengthened relationships between the College and surrounding community leaders, and became involved in community organizations, such as the Rotary Club.
Messiah's current president, Kim S. Phipps, in her memorial service tribute to Climenhaga, emphasized his lasting influence at the College: "Dr. Climenhaga established a foundation of academic quality that has enabled Messiah College to mature and thrive as an institution of academic excellence firmly committed to the Christian faith with a deep and abiding appreciation for its Brethren in Christ rootedness."
In 1964, Arthur Climenhaga resigned from Messiah College to serve as the executive director of the National Association of Evangelicals, one of many prestigious leadership positions he held during his lifetime.
Before becoming president of Messiah, Climenhaga served as president of Upland College, Upland, Calif., but "his heart continued to throb for world missions," notes Darrel Winger, a Messiah College trustee and general secretary of the Brethren in Christ Church. Climenhaga returned to the mission field of Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia), where his parents had ministered during his formative years, and later became bishop of Brethren in Christ Missions in Zambia and Zimbabwe, endearing himself to the nationals by mastering the intricate clicks and utterances of their Ndebele language.
His expansive career also included positions after his Messiah college presidency as vice president and dean of Western Evangelical Seminary, Portland, Ore.; director of academic affairs, Ashland Theological Seminary, Ashland, Ohio; and various leadership roles within the Brethren in Christ denomination.
An accomplished orator, Arthur Climenhaga will be vividly remembered for his resonant bass voice and his precise and expansive lexicon. A colleague once remarked that, with his commanding public speaking abilities, Climenhaga could "read the yellow pages and make it seem like the Decalogue [the Ten Commandments]."
Arthur Climenhaga's influence will continue to be felt in various spheres of church and society. In her tribute, President Phipps compared him to a lantern, quoting educator Marian Wright Edelman who wrote, "Oh God, I think you for the lanterns in my life who illumined the dark and uncertain paths, calmed debilitating doubts and fears with encouraging words, wise lessons, gentle touches, firm nudges, and faithful actions along my journey of life back to you." Phipps added, "Arthur Climenhaga was such a lantern for hundreds of students and colleagues throughout his life. We thank God for the gift of his life and ministry in our midst."
— Rebecca Ebersole Kasparek '96