John A. Lapp, former provost and academic dean, dies at 90

John A. Lapp, former provost and academic dean at Goshen College, died Dec. 5 at the age of 90 in Goshen. He served the college for 12 years, from 1972-1984.

John Lapp

Lapp was born on March 15, 1933 in Lansdale, Pennsylvania to John E. and Edith Nyce Lapp. He married Mary Alice Weber on August 20, 1955.

“John deeply believed in Goshen College’s mission,” said Vic Stoltzfus, president emeritus. “He was a talented synthesizer and could distill complex discussions into a few sentences, asking, ‘Is this what we mean?’ His global perspective, honed through wide travel and history training, and his personable nature made him highly respected across the campus.”

Lapp in 1976

Lapp dedicated his life to the pursuit of knowledge and the betterment of others. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in 1954. After two years of alternative service as a conscientious objector to the military draft, he taught at EMU from 1956-69, taking some time off to pursue a master’s degree at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and then a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

In the 1960s, he accepted a call to direct the Peace Section at Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Akron, Pennsylvania, broadening his worldview. In 1963, Lapp witnessed and participated in a pivotal moment in history – the 1963 civil rights march in Washington D.C., where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Lapp in 1980

In 1972, Lapp joined Goshen College as the academic dean, bringing with him a passion for education and a commitment to fostering an environment of intellectual curiosity. He was then appointed provost in 1979, serving as both dean and provost from 1979-1981. His tenure as provost, which lasted until 1984, was marked by visionary leadership, guiding the institution through a period of development and service.

Beyond college administration, Lapp’s impact extended into the hearts and minds of those he encountered. Colleagues fondly remember his unwavering dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, his mentorship and the ability to inspire all community members to reach their fullest potential.

Lapp in 1983

Following his work at Goshen, he returned to MCC as executive secretary of the relief, development and peace organization until 1997. During retirement, Lapp’s commitment to education remained as he taught courses at various institutions and directed Mennonite World Conference’s Global Mennonite History Project for 16 years, publishing five volumes. His legacy endures in the generations of students he nurtured, the institutions he served and the global impact of his work.

“John was gifted in writing, history and administration, yet foremost a devoted disciple of Jesus,” said John D. Roth, professor emeritus of history. “A voracious reader, he seamlessly connected global perspectives to administrative details. As coordinator of the Global Mennonite History Series, John helped to orchestrate a masterpiece, recognizing the power of storytelling to shape our theological identity. He leaves a legacy of wisdom and faith.”

Lapp (right) in 1995.


In the 1990s, Lapp returned to Goshen College as a commencement speaker, captivating audiences with his wisdom and reflections on the transformative power of education.

For most of his retirement years, Lapp lived in Pennsylvania, but in 2011, he and Alice moved back to Goshen.

Lapp was preceded in death by his parents and beloved wife, Mary Alice. He is survived by his children: John Franklin ’82 (Sandra Shenk Lapp ’82); daughters Jennifer Lerch ’84 (Robert) and Jessica W. Lapp ’86 (Phil Hertzler); grandchildren Sophia (David ’11) Lapp Jost ’13, Eva Lapp ’15 (Sam Smucker ’15), J. Ethan Lapp ’20, Sarah Lerch ’12 (Stefan Kuhns ’12), Robert T. Lerch ’14, J. Nicholas Hertzler; one great-grandson, Timothy Lapp Jost, and one great-granddaughter, Morgan Lerch Kuhns.

A memorial service in celebration of John’s life will be held at a later date at College Mennonite Church in Goshen. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to College Mennonite Church, Mennonite Central Committee, Goshen College or Eastern Mennonite University.

Read more about John’s life and impact: