Cancer claims multi-talented contributor


Jonah Kliewer, best known for his musical contributions at Tabor College, poses with a wood-craft he made for the college in this 2006 photo. Kliewer died Saturday following a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Jonah C. Kliewer, a multi-talented man best known for his contributions in music education at Tabor College, died July 12 following a battle with pancreatic cancer.

He was 75.

A native of Isabella, Okla., Kliewer came to Tabor as assistant professor in 1975 and served out the rest of his career in a variety of roles. When he retired from full-time teaching in 1998, he was appointed emeritus professor of voice and choral music in recognition of his service to the college.

His choirs were well received and Kliewer himself served as a guest soloist, sharing his rich baritone voice in a variety of settings, including several summers with a professional performing group in Santa Fe, N.M.

?I am confident that the heavenly choir welcomed him and together they are now singing praises beyond our description,? said Tabor College President Jules Glanzer.

?We were all touched by his life, ministry and music during his stay on earth. The world is a better place because of him and the face of heaven is different because of his ministry on earth.

?We will all miss Jonah, and our prayers are with the family during this time of grief.?

In his retirement years, Kliewer found time to become involved in numerous civic causes, including the Hillsboro Tree Board, which he had been serving as chairman during his illness, and the Friends of the Hillsboro Museums, which he was serving as president.

?He was so involved with anything we needed to have done,? said Mayor Delores Dalke. ?We really appreciated the way he took a leadership role with the different groups after his retirement from Tabor.

?You never had to ask him twice to do something?he always got those things done,? she added. ?In fact, sometimes he kind of gave the rest of us all a push to make sure we did our part.?

Shortly after his appointment to the Tree Board, Kliewer took it upon himself to compile a ?sidewalk survey? of all the tree species growing in Hillsboro.

?Nobody would have thought to do something like that, even as a group,? Dalke said. ?But he did it all by himself.?

In recent months, Kliewer was spearheading the board?s effort to establish a downtown park near the post office on North Main.

Five days before his death, Kliewer, weakened by the cancer and confined to a wheelchair, joined with family members on the Tabor College campus to plant a ?centennial tree? he had nurtured at his home from an acorn.

The young tree is an indirect descendent of an old English oak in the Heubuden Mennonite Cemetery in the Vistula Delta of Poland, formerly known as Prussia, a region where Mennonites, including Kliewer?s ancestors, spent nearly 300 years before immigrating to the Ukraine.

?It was a moving time for all who were gathered as we both celebrated Jonah?s investment in the future and remembered the significant contribution he has made in the past,? said Law?rence Ressler, Tabor vice president for academics and student development, who led the dedicatory prayer.

In addition to his commitment to trees, Kliewer exhibited considerable wood-crafting skills, creating original, ornate furniture for both Tabor and his home congregation, Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church.

?He dedicated his life to his music and his work at the college, then in his retirement turned around and showed us all the other talents that he had,? Dalke said. ?He had so many talents.?

Born in Oklahoma May 8, 1933, Kliewer graduated from Tabor in 1955 and received his master of arts degree from Kansas University in 1957, and his doctorate from the Univer?sity of Southern California in 1970.

On June 24, 1955, he was married to Elinor Ewert, who survives in Hillsboro.

He is also survived by three sons, Jan of Powell, Wyo., Kenneth of Hillsboro, and David of Newton; a daughter, Joan Kennedy of Omaha, Neb.; brothers Vernon of Newton and Steve of Isabella; a sister, Mary Elinor Gaede of Reedley, Calif.; 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 22, at the Hillsboro MB Church. His remains were cremated.

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