Peacebuilder Legacy: Glenn Lapp '87

By Jake King, Contributing Writer

On a hiking trip 2,300 miles from home, GLEN LAPP ’87 saw a sign in downtown Supai, AZ detailing a local clinic’s need for a nurse. Hiking and camping in the canyons over the following days, he couldn’t get it out of his head, says mother Mary Lapp, and he applied at the small-town clinic before flying home to Lancaster, PA. There, he was only recently back from a period as a traveling nurse, spending a few months each in Portland, OR and New York City before returning to Lancaster. He got the job in Supai, and in no time moved himself west for the next year, to a place he knew almost nothing about.

This wanderlust defined Glen Lapp. From travels around the U.S. to hiking in Nepal and South America, Lapp was known for his calming spirit and ability to make friends quickly. Family, colleagues, and friends say it was these traits that made him a natural peacebuilder—a memorable, assuasive presence and a witness to peace throughout his career, travels, and volunteer work.

Lapp was one of ten aid workers killed in Afghanistan in 2010. In 2008, he embarked on a two-year commitment with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner International Assistance Mission (IAM), providing eye and medical care in Afghanistan. He and the IAM team were returning from holding a medical, dental, and optical camp in the mountains of rural Afghanistan when they were ambushed in a shooting incident.

During his time in Afghanistan, says Mary Lapp, Glen had expressed interest in more materials on peacemaking and conflict resolution as his natural penchant for building friendships became more academic. In an end-of-term report submitted to MCC in 2010 shortly before the incident, he wrote, “Where I was [Afghanistan], the main thing that expats can do is to be a presence in the country. Treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world.”

Lapp was an ‘87 graduate of LM. After graduating from Eastern Mennonite University in ‘91, he returned to Lancaster where he coached men’s volleyball at LM and worked as a dorm advisor in on-campus student housing. He returned to school a few years later for a 13-month intensive, completing a 2nd Bachelor’s degree in 1995, this time in Nursing from Johns Hopkins University. That, says Mary Lapp, was a conscious career decision to enable his wayfaring lifestyle: “Glen knew that nursing could feed his financial needs and his sense of adventure. He liked variety, and he got it.”

To Lapp, his final journey into the mountains was par for the course. He’d spent the better part of his adult life doing one adventure or another, and he had a knack for seeing his wide-ranging wanderings and friendships over the years come full circle, no matter how far from home. Hiking in remote Afghanistan in his first 18 months as an MCC volunteer, he stumbled into another American hiker who, they came to realize, was married to Glen’s supervisor eight years before in Supai. “Glen was one of the most genuinely curious people,” says longtime friend and fellow LM & EMU grad PHIL HESS ’87, “He had an incredible aptitude for making friends and connections quickly, so that kind of thing happened to him a lot.”

In 2010, after Lapp’s death, a cousin orchestrated an informal volleyball tournament in honor of Glen’s life. The volleyball tournament has since become a formal LM event, and January 2020 will mark the tenth annual Glen Lapp Memorial Volleyball Tournament, now a fundraiser for the Glen D Lapp Endowment for Student Aid. Between the tournament and charitable donations, the endowment has grown to over $50,000.

True to Glen’s global perspective, the endowment was created to provide scholarships for immigrant and refugee students at LM—it has issued over $10,000 in student aid in the last few years.

And, true also to his easygoing disposition, the tournament is played “Glen style”—no refs, and players call all their own lines.