Omar Elias Eby, 85, a resident of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community in Harrisonburg, VA died Monday, January 4, 2021, after a six-year struggle with vascular dementia.
Born on December 21, 1935, in Hagerstown, Maryland, Omar was a son of the late Noah Reuben and Catherine Martin Eby. A graduate of Lancaster Mennonite High School (LMHS), Omar went on to earn a B.A. in English from Eastern Mennonite College (now EMU), and held graduate degrees in journalism from Syracuse University and creative writing from the University of Virginia.
Omar spent his life as a teacher of writing and literature and was a friend and mentor to many aspiring young authors. His one break from the classroom was a three-year stint early in his professional life, writing for the Mennonite Central Committee in Akron, PA. Omar began his teaching career at LMHS, followed by six years in east and central Africa, including Mogadishu, Somalia; Musoma, Tanzania; and Kitwe, Zambia. Upon returning to the States, Omar was a professor at EMU for twenty-seven years before taking early retirement to pursue his own writing. Omar published many essays, articles, and poems, as well as nine books of fiction, biography, and personal experience.
Omar deeply appreciated the arts—listening to classical music, singing, attending the theater and museums, creating, reading, and writing. These experiences were reflected in the rich homelife he helped fashion for his family and in his extensive writings. Omar’s skill as a speaker and his keen wit and ability to directly address what others may avoid was also greatly valued. For much of his life Omar was a fruitful gardener who fondly recalled learning from his mother. Through this work he sought to bring back “a piece of Eden” for his family. A long-time active member of Weavers Mennonite Church, Omar moved to Park View Mennonite Church upon retirement. Both communities have provided sustaining relationships for Omar and his family.
On August 25, 1962, Omar married Anna Kathryn Shenk, who preceded him in death on March 31, 2016. Omar and Anna Kathryn shared a lifetime partnership of love and friendship, supporting one another in their careers as teachers, enjoying their shared interests of books, writing, politics, travel, East Africa, family and their many friends. They were known for their generosity and welcoming home.
Surviving Omar are his children Katrina (Michael) Yoder of New York City, Maria (Brent) Lahman of Greeley, CO, Omar Lawrence Eby of Weyers Cave, VA; grandchildren, Lauren Mica Yoder, Noa Kathryn Yoder, Makayla Dawn Eby, Joshua Omar Eby, Martin Byard Lahman, and Anna Catherine “Kate” Lahman; and Omar’s sister, Ada Showalter of Hagerstown, MD.
In addition to his parents and wife, Omar was preceded in death by his siblings, Edwin Eby, Glenn Eby, and Lydia Diller.
Pastor Phil Kniss of Park View Mennonite Church will conduct a memorial service via live stream on Saturday, Jan. 23 at 2 pm. The service can be viewed by visiting www.pvmchurch.org/omareby. There will also be a link on the funeral home website under his obituary page, and a phone option will be made available through PVMC for those without video access.
Due to the pandemic there will be no viewing or visitation. At Omar’s request his body was cremated and a graveside burial will be held privately for the family.
In lieu of flowers Omar’s children request that memorial contributions be made in his honor to EMU’s Language and Literacy Department: emu.edu/giving/lang-lit. Gifts can also be made by mail by indicating "In Memory of Omar Eby" on the check and mailing to: EMU, Attention: Development Office, 1200 Park Rd., Harrisonburg VA 22802.
McMullen Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Online condolences may be made to the family by visiting their website: www.mcmullenfh.com.
Omar, Dad, Daddy, O — always strove to direct his life toward God.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
Tributes to Omar Eby
by Eastern Mennonite University
James Bomberger, reading Carroll Yoder