David Alvin Wenger, Akron native, mental health worker, on MCC board, NY church founder

By on September 26, 2018

David Alvin Wenger, Bronx, N.Y., was born on March 9, 1947, to Clayton Monroe and Mary Louetta Sieber Wenger in Akron. He died peacefully, surrounded by family and friends, on Sept. 16, 2018, after a short, but intense struggle with mantle cell lymphoma.

On Aug. 8, 1970, he was married to Ruth Naomi Yoder (June 3, 1949 in Meyersdale), who survives. They had three children: Stefan David, married to Rachel Wynne, Sebastopol, Calif.; Kirsten Naomi, married to Marvin Cooper, Bronx, N.Y.; and Marin Ruth, engaged to Brendan Lantz, Tallahassee, Fla. Also in Dave and Ruth’s care over a seven-year period were Paul Ramasco, who lives in Yuma, Ariz., with his fiancée Carol Vasquez and her son Aaron; and Serena Perzov Heinrichs, who lives in Belgrade, Mont., with her husband, Aubrin, and their five children: Arianna, Aaliyah, Amber, Reuben, and Jaron.

He had two grandsons: Nathaniel Lexington Cooper, Bronx, N.Y.; and Tadhgh Beacon Wenger Sebastopol, Calif. Dave is also survived by his two sisters: Cornelia Horst of Broadalbin, N.Y.; and Grace Heck Merritt of Sierra Vista, Ariz.; as well as numerous nieces and nephews and several grand-nieces and -nephews.

Dave earned his high school diploma at Lancaster Mennonite School in 1965, a B.A. in psychology at Eastern Mennonite College in 1969, and an M.A. in sociology of religion at Northwestern University-Garrett Theological Seminary in 1972.

Dave and Ruth moved to New York City in 1971 for further graduate studies. He attended Seventh Avenue Mennonite Church in Harlem, where Dave played piano for the youth choir. Classically trained, he learned to play gospel music in order to embrace the musical style of the choir. In 1986, he and Ruth worked together with other lay leaders to start North Bronx Mennonite Church, which Ruth has been pastoring since 1995. A much-loved and highly respected leader in the congregation, he demonstrated a deep commitment to the Way of Jesus, to scripture study, and to peace and justice.

He served for many years on the board of Mennonite Central Committee East Coast. He was an early member of Bronx Action for Justice and Peace, a grassroots community group formed to promote positive response rather than bigotry and violence after 9/11.

In his professional life, Dave held various positions related to mental health. In 1978 he began working at the New York State Office of Mental Health, where he focused on policy writing and program analysis and evaluation. Along the way, he earned an MSW from Hunter College. He retired from OMH in 2014.

Dave was a big man with big hands and a big mind and a big laugh and an even bigger heart. A caring, gentle man, always eager for conversation, generous, hospitable, kind, and self-deprecating, he received in his last days the appreciation and gratitude of many persons whose lives he had touched, especially young men who needed a dad like him.

His farewell service was held Sept. 22 in New York. His ashes will be strewn at a later time.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be given in memory of David Wenger to Mennonite Central Committee, PO Box 500, Akron, PA 17501-0500, or mcc.org. MCC shares God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice in the world.

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