Elaine Sommers Rich, 94, died peacefully on Sept. 27, 2020, in North Manchester. She was born Feb. 8, 1926, to Monroe and Effie (Horner) Sommers in Plevna, where she grew up as the oldest of five children during the Depression era. The children’s novel Hannah Elizabeth is semi-autobiographical about her childhood. She committed her life to Christ and joined the Howard-Miami Mennonite Church as a young teen.
She skipped her last year of high school and went to Goshen College from which she graduated in 1947. She began teaching at Goshen that year and later received a Master’s degree from Michigan State University. She met Ronald Rich of Washington, Illinois on a Mennonite college trip to Europe in 1947 and they were married on June 14, 1953 in the Goshen College Chapel. Ronald died in 2014.
Elaine was a writer, teacher, homemaker, and church worker who could recite scores of poems by heart. Everywhere she lived, she would either find or start a Writer’s Group. For 67 years she kept a journal, in which, alongside the mundanities of life, she recorded her private thoughts, reactions to the news, analysis of what she was reading, and snatches of poetry. Among her books were Hannah Elizabeth, Breaking Bread Together, Mennonite Women, Prayers for Everyday, and Pondered in her Heart. For over 30 years, she wrote a column called “Thinking With” for the Mennonite Weekly Review. She taught at Goshen College, Bethel College in Kansas, the International Christian University in Tokyo, and Bluffton College, as well as being an adjunct professor at North Carolina State U., Bowling Green State U., Findlay College, and Owens Community College. She was a TESOL instructor in the Ada and Bluffton Ohio public schools.
She was active in the First Mennonite Church in Bluffton as well as in the church at large. In Tokyo, Japan, she chaired Church Women United. In Bluffton, she coordinated World Day of Prayer observations for many years and served on the United Church Board. She served twelve years on the Commission on Education of the General Conference Mennonite Church until its merger in 2000. She was interested in fostering international peace and went to Hebron, Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams; taught English at Chongqing University (summer 2000); and attended Mennonite World Conference in Calcutta, India (1997).
She was a loving mother to her four children who survive her: Jonathan (Tai) of Union City, Calif.; Andrew (Sally) of North Manchester; Miriam (JB) of Blacksburg, Va.; and Mark (Kathy) of Yellow Springs, Ohio. She is also survived by six grandchildren: Sarah, Joseph, Rebekah, Jonathan, Louisa Rich, and Hannah Brown. A memorial service will be held at Eel River Church of the Brethren at a later date.
She was a small but mighty woman who loved people, big ideas, and the worldwide church.
Arrangements are entrusted to McKee Mortuary