​Joe Richards, on the far right, with other missionaries and church leaders in Japan. Photo provided. Click on image for high resolution version.

By Wil LaVeist
Wednesday, May 18, 2016

E. Joe Richards was a former mission worker to Japan, educator, and co-conference minister who was passionate about sharing Jesus, pottery, flowers and music. He died May 8 at the age of 86.

Funeral services were held May 14 at Salem Presbyterian Church in Venedocia, Ohio. A memorial service will be held June 4 beginning at noon at College Mennonite Church, 1900 S. Main St., Goshen, Indiana. Visitation with the family will begin at 11 a.m.

Richards was born in the Welsh farming community of Venedocia on June 11, 1929. He was a graduate of Bluffton College (now University) and Goshen (Indiana) Biblical Seminary, which is now Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Richards was also an alumnus of the 1947 Seagoing Cowboys, who delivered livestock via ships to war-torn Europe. Richards and his wife, Emma Sommers, served 12 years in Japan, from 1954 to 1966, under Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency to Mennonite Mission Network.

Nobuyasu Kirai, executive committee chair of the Japan Mennonite Christ Church Conference, wrote in a letter to the Richards family that "Joe-San" was vital to the development of the congregations of Hokkaido, Japan. Richards had served faithfully in a "heartfelt way."

"We have lost a prominent guide of our faith, but we are thankful to share the same faith in the resurrection," Kirai wrote.

After returning to the United States, the couple began teaching careers in Illinois. Richards became the pastor at Lombard (Illinois) Mennonite Church in 1968. During his tenure, Emma Sommers Richards became the first woman officially installed (1972) and ordained (1973) as a minister in a North American Mennonite congregation. (In 1911, Ann Allebach was ordained by the General Conference Mennonite Church, but she was never installed as a pastor.) The couple served as co-pastors at Lombard until 1991. They then served two years as interim co-pastors for Illinois Mennonite Conference. The Mennonite Peace Center was established and the Mennonite youth study travel groups to Europe began during their tenure.

Richards was also a school administrator with Glen Ellyn, Illinois, District 89 for 20 years. He helped to create and execute the Outdoor Education Learning experience.

Richards and his wife retired to Goshen (Indiana) in 1996 and joined College Mennonite Church. Richards helped to create the Lifelong Learning Institute of Elkhart County and the Goshen College Welcome Center.

Richards was preceded in death by his wife, and brother, Donald (Delphos, Ohio).
He is survived by his children, Evan (Laura) of Villa Park, Illinois; Kathy Beckwith (Jon) and Lois Woods (Jim), both of Hillsdale, Michigan; his nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren; an older sister, Marian Morris (Van Wert, Ohio); and a twin sister, JoAnn Wise (Mount Pleasant, Michigan).

A memorial service will be held in Goshen on June 4, 2016.

 

 

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