John Zehr

John Zehr

URBANA – Dr. John E. Zehr, 88, passed away during the evening on Monday (Feb. 5, 2018) at home in Clark-Lindsey Village in Urbana.

He was born Dec. 29, 1929, on a farm near Foosland to the Rev. Harold and Alma Zehr. On Dec. 7, 1951, he married Betty Louise Birky. Together they were parents of four children: Terry, Randy, Brent and Rhonda.

John was a longtime professor and head of the Department of physiology and biophysics at the University of Illinois as well as giving leadership in many capacities to the Illinois Heart Association. Following his retirement from the University of Illinois, he and Betty moved to Newton, Kan., where he assumed the presidency of Bethel College, a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Mennonite Church. These years were very rewarding for John and Betty and involved much traveling and entertaining on behalf of the college and building many friendships across the country.

Education was tremendously important to Dr. Zehr, and he took great satisfaction in watching his children and grandchildren, as well as many others, discover the joy of learning.

As a man of faith, he served the local and larger Mennonite Church in many capacities. As someone gifted with a voice for singing, John served as song leader for many years at churches he attended. He and Betty sang in many duets and quartets in their younger years and were often heard singing around the house as their children grew up. As a person of intelligence and kindness of heart, his wisdom, guidance and generosity will be missed by many.

Surviving are Terry (Cheryl) Zehr of Elkhart, Ind., Randy (Cathy) Zehr of Columbus, Ind., Usha Barwale Zehr of Dawalwadi, India, Rhonda (Charles) Gibson of Champaign and six grandchildren: Brian, Ben, David and Justin Zehr, and Emily and Jonathan Gibson. Also surviving are his siblings, Allen (Carol) Zehr of Bedford, Ind., Hazel Yoder of Bloomington and Lila (Ron) King of Harrisonburg, Va.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife Betty, his son Brent and siblings, Edith, Rachel, Dean and Jay Zehr.

Following his wishes of cremation, a service of celebration and singing will take place at First Mennonite Church in Urbana at a later date.

In lieu of other expressions of sympathy, the following may be considered for John E. Zehr memorials: the Student Scholarship Fund at Bethel College (Newton, Kan.), First Mennonite Church (Urbana) or the American Heart Association.