​In the 1950s, Doris Swartzentruber Snyder played the organ for Luz y Verdad (Light and Truth), a Mennonite radio program in Puerto Rico. Photo from MCUSA Archives.

By Lynda Hollinger-Janzen
Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Doris Swartzentruber Snyder Stephenson Wydman, who embodied God's welcoming love and proclaimed God's faithfulness through many difficulties, died Oct. 30.

Doris D. Swartzentruber Snyder Stephenson Wydman, 101, had a passion for making God's faithfulness known wherever she found herself — in Argentina, Puerto Rico or the United States. She died peacefully in the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Margaret and Daniel Schipani, in Elkhart, Indiana, Oct. 30.

"She lived her missional vision, both explicitly and implicitly," Daniel said. Whether Doris was formally on assignment with Mennonite Board of Missions (MBM), a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, or whether she was building "intercultural understanding and teaching language skills, she served from a Christian perspective," Daniel said.

Born May 22, 1922, in Petersburg, Ontario, Canada, Doris was the oldest child of Amos and Edna (Litwiller) Swartzentruber's three children. She grew up in Argentina, where her parents were missionaries with MBM, which contributed to her fluency in both English and Spanish. In 1940, Doris attended Goshen College for one year, before she returned to Ontario, where she met Clifford Snyder in the youth group at First Mennonite Church in Kitchener.

In 1943, Clifford and Doris married. Four years later, they and their two children, Margaret and Clifford Arnold, set sail for an MBM assignment in Argentina. Doris' husband, Clifford, died of a cerebral hemorrhage on the journey and was buried at sea, but Doris continued with their work in Argentina, as a single parent. She prepared Bible study guides for use in Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Argentina (Argentina Mennonite Church) and taught in congregations. She also taught music at the Colegio Bíblico (Bible College) in Bragado, Buenos Aires Province.

Doris completed the MBM assignment in 1950 and returned to Goshen College, where she graduated with a teaching degree in home economics and Spanish in 1952. That same year, she accepted an MBM teaching position at Academia Menonita Betania (Bethany Mennonite Academy) in Pulguillas, Puerto Rico. She was also involved in church activities and played the organ and piano for Luz y Verdad (Light and Truth), a Mennonite radio program.

In 1959, Doris returned to the United States. She taught home economics and Spanish in Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, before completing a master's degree in library science at The University of Oklahoma, in 1974. This degree permitted Doris to engage in what she considered to be one of the most significant activities of her life — setting up a bilingual branch of the Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) Public Library. Through this work, she became deeply involved the local Spanish-speaking community. She organized community programs and English classes.

"She loved connecting with people from other cultures," Margaret said. "She also enjoyed hosting gatherings and cooking for a crowd, making everyone feel welcome in her company."

In 1976, Doris married Del Stephenson, a widower with three adult daughters, and together, they welcomed their blended families and friends into their home in New Jersey. They also toured North America in an RV, before moving to Bonita Springs, Florida, in 1988. In this community, Doris recognized the literacy needs of migrant workers and began a program, in which she trained tutors from local congregations. This program, the Literary Program of Bonita Springs, is supported by friends, volunteers and the Rotary Club, and continues today as the Literary Council Gulf Coast, with more than 2,500 students. Doris received numerous awards in recognition for this work. Del died in 1998. 

In 2006, Doris married Perry Wydman. They enjoyed traveling, especially for short-term mission projects and visiting family and friends. Doris continued to teach Spanish in a variety of settings into her mid-90s. Perry died in 2015.

The following year, Doris moved to Elkhart, Indiana, and became an active member at Belmont Mennonite Church. Even after she celebrated her 100th birthday, she continued to care for others by knitting caps and blankets for babies and chemo caps for the local hospital. She also hemmed many comforters, by hand, for Mennonite Central Committee relief programs.

Doris was preceded in death by her parents, her three husbands, her brother, A. Orley Swartzentruber, and his wife, Jane; stepdaughter Suzanne Geerdink; and brother-in-law Raúl O. García. She is survived by her daughter, Margaret (Daniel Schipani); son C. Arnold Snyder; stepdaughters Bonnie Dwyer and Nancy (Jim) Kresge; sister Anita Swartzentruber de García; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Doris' memorial service was held at Belmont Mennonite Church, Nov. 25.

 

 

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​Lynda Hollinger-Janzen is a writer for Mennonite Mission Network.

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