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Goshen College musical mainstay Mary Oyer dies at 100 years old

Mary K. Oyer died this month at 100 years old. She taught at Goshen College from 1945-1987
Photo provided, Goshen College
Mary K. Oyer died this month at 100 years old. She taught at Goshen College from 1945-1987

A trailblazer for musical education in Goshen and among Mennonite circles, Mary K. Oyer died earlier this month.

According to a release from Goshen College, where Oyer taught for 42 years from 1945 to 1987, she passed away on Jan. 11 at 100 years old.

Oyer grew up in Goshen and graduated from Goshen college before going on to a prodigious career of musical teaching and instruction that opened doors for music and fine arts in the Mennonite community.

“Mary was a teacher, musician and scholar ahead of her time in so many ways,” said Goshen College President Rebecca Stoltzfus. “She introduced Goshen College to a truly global soundscape and fundamentally shaped our strong arts and music culture. We are forever indebted to her.”

Oyer graduated from Goshen College in 1945 and began teaching there the next year. She taught in Goshen for decades, but in that time, she traveled extensively in Africa and compiled a collection of musical tapes from around the continent, which she brought back to the area. The 150 tapes from these visits have now been digitized and are part of the Mary K. Oyer African Music Archive at Goshen College. She also served as a visiting professor at Kenyatta University in Kenya in 1985-1986.

But Oyer is best known for her work in helping to form a canon of Mennonite hymns, which were compiled in 1969 and 1992 versions that are widely used in Mennonite worship. She also taught those hymns in a variety of settings both locally and nationally and became an integral figure in Mennonite worship music.

After retiring from Goshen College in 1987, Oyer continued teaching at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.