Robert O. Epp, farmer and peacemaker, of Henderson, died on Aug. 27, 2019.
He was born on July 20, 1923 to the Rev. Heinrich D. and Elisabeth (Richert) Epp in Henderson. He grew up there on the family farm and in Lincoln while his father attended graduate school at the University of Nebraska. He attended Bethel College in N. Newton, Kan. in 1941, and during World War II served a farm deferment on the family farm.
In the fall of 1945, Robert worked as a horse wrangler on a ship transporting 700 horses to war-torn Europe, under a project of the Brethren Service Committee and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. His ship was among the first to land in the Polish port of Danzig after the end of the war, where he saw first-hand the terrible destruction and death wrought by heavy bombing and ground combat in that city and the surrounding area. The experience left a lasting impression on him, shaping his lifelong commitment to peace and social justice.
After the war, he studied animal husbandry at the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1950, and then joined into a farming partnership with his older brother Carl. They farmed together until retirement, raising wheat, corn, soybeans, and Holstein dairy cattle.
On Sept. 29, 1961, Robert and Amelia Becker, of Marion, S.D., were married by his father, the Rev. H.D. Epp, and they settled on the farm in Henderson, forming a loving partnership and raising two sons, Charles and Timothy.
Robert served his local and global communities throughout his life. He was baptized in 1942 and became a lifelong member of the Bethesda Mennonite Church. In the 1950s and 1960s he worked with church leaders in draft counseling and support for conscientious objectors from the Henderson area. He served from 1967 to 1984 on the Henderson School Board, for much of the period as President, helping to lead the initiative that added a theater and other facilities to the Henderson public school. He also served on the board of the Upper Big Blue Natural Resource District and as president of the Nebraska Holstein-Friesian Association.
Robert retired from farming in 1987 and joined the international peace organization Witness For Peace, learning Spanish and driving an ambulance as an international observer in the war zone in Nicaragua during the Contra war. He lived among and supported communities directly harmed by guerilla attacks. After his year in Nicaragua he returned to Henderson and in the 1990s and 2000s took many service trips, and served as a wartime peace-observer and election-observer, in Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, southern Mexico, and Cuba.
A lifelong supporter of Nebraskans for Peace, he served for many years on its board of directors. Robert received the University of Nebraska-Omaha School of Social Welfare’s Gandhi Award for Social Justice and Social Action in 2004, the University of Nebraska Alumni Achievement Award in 2008, and the Nebraskans for Peace Peacemaker of the Year Award in 2009.
An avid reader, Robert read Mennonite publications, the daily newspaper, and books on history, politics, and social justice almost until the day he died. He loved international travel and learning to know people from many countries and cultures. Reflecting on his time in the Nicaragua war zone, he observed, “At times I thought this must be a movie I’m watching, not real life, but it was very real. Through it all I developed a profound respect for a people who have endured much hardship, much of it for being in the shadow of ‘El Norte,’ the big power to the north, and their struggle to maintain their dignity as human beings.”
Robert was preceded in death by his parents; sister, Dorothea Heath; brother, Carl and his wife Amelia. He leaves two loving sons and their families: Timothy and wife Heidi Schmidt, of Hyattsville, Md. and their children Dietrich, Lydia, Tristan, Jalilah and Kenisha and Jalilah’s daughter Bailey and Charles and wife Lora Jost, of Lawrence, Kan. and their son, Nicholai. He will be remembered as a caring and committed dairyman, peacemaker, and loving father and grandfather.
Graveside services will be held at 9:15 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 at the Bethesda Cemetery northeast of Henderson. A memorial service will follow at 10 a.m. at the Bethesda Mennonite Church in Henderson. Visitation will be from 1 - 9 p.m., on Friday with his family greeting friends later that evening from 7 - 9 p.m., at the mortuary in Henderson. Memorials may be given to Mennonite Central Committee, Bethesda Mennonite Church, or Nebraskans for Peace. Condolences may be sent to his family at www.metzmortuary.com.
Metz Mortuary in Henderson is handling arrangements.