His father was a faculty member at Bloomsburg State Teachers College (now Bloomsburg University), following an early teaching career at Goshen College. John acquired lifelong interests growing up in Bloomsburg, including love for the natural world and for music. A student of piano and violin, he spent high school summers at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where he played under the direction of composers Howard Hanson and Percy Grainger.
In 1943, John entered Goshen College, his parents’ alma mater. He prepared as a pre-medical student while also studying literature, ultimately choosing English as his major.
Drafted into World War II, John interrupted his studies to perform alternative service, laboring in soil conservation at the Civilian Public Service Camp in Powellsville, Md., and working as a ward attendant in a mental health unit of Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan, both formative experiences.
At Goshen College, John met fellow student Pauline Clemens. They married upon graduation in 1948, forming a joyful partnership that would last 66 years.
Following college, John did his graduate work in English at the University of Pennsylvania, focusing on Irish satirist Jonathan Swift, before returning to Goshen College to teach in 1953. He served on the faculty of Goshen College for 39 years until his retirement in 1992.
John was a broadly educated, witty and creative teacher. His understated way with words was unerringly on target. An advocate for the liberal arts, he influenced and encouraged many types of students — including those who had not expected to enjoy literary study or writing. Numerous former students paid respect to him as a mentor. He also took satisfaction in collaborations with Goshen College colleagues in English and other disciplines, as in 1966 when he teamed with music and theater faculty to direct a rousing campus production of John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera.”
With Pauline, he led Goshen students for several summers to study Shakespeare at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. In 1987, the couple led a Goshen College Study-Service Term in the city of Jena, then part of East Germany.
In 1971, John began a 30-year project directing memorable Goshen College summer courses on literature and peace in Ireland. Early student tours included travel by bicycle and lodging in hay barns. Through their long association with Ireland, John and Pauline introduced scores of students to Irish landscapes and culture and fostered friendships throughout the country, including lasting ties with emerging Irish poets who later visited Goshen College, including Paul Muldoon, Peter Fallon and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney.
Following his retirement from teaching, John continued to be an active scholar of Mennonite writing. He directed the JustPeace Seminar series and was instrumental in establishing Just Help, an Elkhart County legal advocacy center. He also engaged fully in the organization Seniors for Peace, in which he remained vitally involved at the time of his death.
In recent years, John continued to savor lifelong friendships while cultivating many new friends among residents and staff in his Waterford Crossing retirement community, and virtually wherever he encountered people.
John was a wise, deeply intuitive father and grandfather whose compassionate presence enriched all generations of his family.
He is survived by his wife, Pauline (Clemens) Fisher, as well as two daughters, Susan (Lee) Fisher Miller of Evanston, Ill., and Margaret (Jeff) Aeschliman of Salem, Ore., and five devoted grandsons.
Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1, in the Gathering Room at College Mennonite Church. A memorial service will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, at College Mennonite Church, where John was a member for over 60 years.
Memorial gifts can be made to Goshen College or Mennonite Central Committee.
Yoder-Culp Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.