John D. Unruh Jr. was born Oct. 4, 1937 in Marion, South Dakota to John D. and Amalia Tieszen Unruh who survive at Freeman, S.D. He married Elda Waltner in 1967 and she survives. He was a graduate of Bethel College and received his Ph.D. from the Univ. of Kansas in June 1975.
He was a professor of history, 1967 - 1976, at Bluffton College in Ohio. His father, John D. Sr. (1903 - 2006), had been a high school teacher, principal and coach, partner in a wood products industry, mayor of the town, president of district church conference, member of a church board of the denomination, president of Freeman Junior College, holder of a doctorate in history from the University of Texas.
John's mother, Amalia Tieszen Unruh, enjoyed a long life, 92, born February 13, 1904, and died Sept. 6, 1996. She was the youngest of ten children in the family of a Mennonite pastor, Derk P. Tieszen. She was a talented student: valedictorian of her Freeman Academy graduating class in 1924 and receiving her B.A. from Yankton College in 1929, graduating Summa Cum Laude. She taught many years in public schools and engaged in a wide range of community and church activities.
John D. Unruh Jr. came to Bluffton College as a fulltime member of the history department in 1967. His personal ideals, most notably his peace witness, reflected his Anabaptist upbringing in South Dakota. On a cold winter day in January of 1976, news reached Bluffton from a Toledo hospital that John had not survived an operation to remove a cancerous brain tumor.
John is best known for his book The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-1860,
published in 1979 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.
John was a member of First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio. Rev. Walter Gering and Dr. Lloyd Ramseyer officiated at the service.
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