Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Robert E. Bornemann, Old Testament Professor and music aficionado (updated)

The Rev. Dr. Robert E. Bornemann, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament for 41 years at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), and director of the seminary choir from 1955 to 1990, died Sunday, May 3, 2009, of lung cancer at his home in Philadelphia’s East Mount Airy section. He was 85.

“I think of Bob Bornemann as a true renaissance man because he had so many varied interests,” says the Rev. Dr. Jack White, Hagan Emeritus Professor of Pastoral Care at LTSP who taught with Dr. Bornemann for 30 years. “No one on the faculty had a better rapport with students than Bob did. He especially loved the languages of antiquity and music. When I saw him in the hospital last week and we talked about the severity of his illness, I said to him, ‘But you still have your music,’ and his eyes just lit up.”

"As a young instructor at the seminary, I was invited by Dr. Bornemann to sit in on his beloved course, 'The Church, Music and the Arts'," recalls LTSP President Philip D. W. Krey. "It was among the finest courses I have ever taken. He was a masterful teacher."

LTSP alumnus Steve Jensen, Commander, Chaplain Corps, US Navy (Ret), recalls Dr. Bornemann as teacher and friend. “As a seminarian who needed to work full-time to pay for school, I was overwhelmed with the study load and desire to do my best. The faculty was intimidating and I was not sure to whom I could turn with spiritual, vocational, and life issues. This was during the Vietnam War and few understood or supported my desire to minister to military personnel and their families. ‘Dr. B’ was never too busy to talk and became my mentor and friend."

“We shared a love of music, but also a sense of humor not all would appreciate,” Cmdr. Jensen continues. “While our performances in churches, Lincoln Center, and elsewhere were often tension-filled serious affairs, one of us choir members would frequently break the stress by placing something on his music stand and wait for the giggle. He knew it was out of love and appreciation for him - and we sang our hearts out to honor his efforts on our behalf.”

Dr. Bornemann was a remarkably gifted musician who played the piano, recorder, organ and harpsichord. He built two harpsichords from kits and composed many songs and liturgical settings. His family reminisced this week about many informal musical performances in their home. While directing the seminary choir, he was known for staging performing editions of little-known or unknown dramatic musical works from the thirteenth century, and organized the seminary’s currently popular Advent Vespers series.

In 1974 he was appointed director of the CLCA Heritage Choir, organized for the 1976 Bicentennial. Dr. White recalls that for many years “Bob was in charge of the supernumeraries for the Philadelphia Opera Company. He would recruit non-singing performers, including many seminarians, for such operatic roles and was familiar in many music circles.” At one time he was a frequent lecturer for a Philadelphia Orchestra series entitled “Today’s Concert.” His record collection was legendary.

Though Dr. Bornemann officially retired from his post as the Anna Burkhalter Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew in 1994, his wife of 63 years, Agnes, said this week “Bob never really retired.” He occasionally taught Old Testament courses at the seminary, and was planning a course to be taught this year in the Graduate Religious Studies Program at La Salle University, where he had served as a visiting professor since 1977.

He participated in several noteworthy archeological digs in Israel over a 25-year period, the most recent one about 10 years ago in 106-degree temperatures when he was in his seventies. “The emphasis on archeology is not to prove that the Bible is either right or wrong,” he told the seminary’s PS Magazine upon returning from his last Middle East digging experience. “It’s a study that makes Scripture come alive. It is the realization that God acts in the lives of ordinary, real people. Archeology shows us the dynamics of how and the way people lived.” Dr. Bornemann noted the Scriptures don’t present history “in the usual linear sense. The Bible is a theological history that records how people experienced God within their lives.” Study of the Bible, archeology and geography “make it clear that not everyone connected with Israel had the same experiences,” he said. Dr. Bornemann called the land where the Bible unfolded a “sometimes barren land that can be unpleasant. But it gets hold of you. Many scholars and archeologists think of the Holy Land as a kind of fifth gospel.” He was active in a variety of Jewish-Christian dialogues.

An avid badminton and handball player, both Dr. White and family members describe Bornemann as having been “fiercely competitive.” Agnes Bornemann said his highly competitive winning attitude played out even in board games. The family loved tent-camping and hiking experiences in northern New Hampshire, and Dr. Bornemann climbed Mount Washington and the Presidential range frequently.

Born and raised in Willoughby, OH, near Cleveland, Dr. Bornemann earned his BA degree in literature and philosophy from Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH, in 1945. He was awarded his MDiv degree from LTSP in 1946 and a Master of Sacred Theology degree from LTSP in 1948, with a concentration in New Testament. He pursued graduate studies at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1948 to 1950 in New Testament and biblical theology while serving as a parish pastor in a stated supply position at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hightstown, NJ. Before beginning his teaching career at LTSP, he served as parish pastor at Atonement Lutheran Church in Asbury Park, NJ, (1950-53) during a period when the congregation built a new church. He was called to the seminary in 1953 and was appointed Burkhalter Chair in 1970, the year he earned his PhD in Hebrew Bible from Dropsie College. His special PhD interest was in Canaanite and Hebrew Poetry. Among his publications was A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (1998).

Dr. Bornemann married Agnes (Grant) Bornemann in 1946, the year he was ordained a Lutheran pastor in the United Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor body of the current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He and his wife are members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Germantown, where he served on the music and worship committee.

In addition to his spouse, Dr. Bornemann is survived by a son, John and and wife Collette Bornemann of Hyde Park, VT; and three daughters, Annamary, wife of Tom Anderson, of Craftsbury, VT; Elizabeth, wife of Stanley Kozakowski of Milford, NJ, and Kate, wife of Alan Ayers of Seattle, WA; eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. added 5/6: He is also survived by a sister, Ruth and her husband Francis Hemry, who live in Willoughby, Ohio, and their children Susan Hemry of Lyndhurst, Ohio, and Tim and his family, of Novelty, Ohio.

The funeral service is planned for 1:30 pm Thursday, May 7, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Germantown Avenue and Queen Lane, Philadelphia. Memorial gifts may be made to the Robert Bornemann Fund at LTSP, 7301 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19119 or online at Ltsp.edu/give.

Publication quality versions of the images used here can be accessed by clicking on the appropriate image. From top: The Rev. Dr. Robert Bornemann, Dr. Bornemann with the LTSP Choir in the Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel in an undated photo; Dr. Bornemann following the score in a recording session; Dr. Bornemann while in Israel on an archeological dig.

added 5/6/09: The Philadelphia Daily News has an obituary in today's issue: http://www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/20090506_Bob_Bornemann__85___a_true_renaissance_man_.html
added 5/7/09: The Philadelphia Inquirer has an obituary in today's issue: http://www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/20090507_Robert_E__Bornemann__85__scholar.html


Steve Jensen said...

I'm simply in shock and in tears. My thoughts will be insufficient.

Dr. B & I had planned to spend some time together in June catching up & talking about a recent trip I took to the Holy Land. I was truly looking forward to time with him & Agnes and grieve that there will be no more opportunities. We did manage some time together last year in company with Mark & Lynn, but nowhere near enough. At least I was able to tell him how much he meant to me while he could hear it. He also knew I made some contributions in his honor to the scholarship fund - and I was glad he knew it was an expression of my admiration and gratitude.

As a seminarian who needed to work full-time to pay for school, I was overwhelmed with the study load & desire to do my best. The faculty was intimidating & I was not sure to whom I could turn with spiritual, vocational, and life issues. This was during the Vietnam War and few understood or supported my desire to minister to military personnel and their families. Dr. B was never too busy to talk and became my mentor and friend. Whether at "The Annex" (Burba's), the choir room, after class, or in his home, he made me feel that I had much to give and that God would guide me as he did him. His encouragement and insight empowered me to continue with my decision to serve in ministry in the parish and military cha plaincy - and to give my all.

We shared a love of music, but also a sense of humor not all would appreciate. While our performances in churches, Lincoln Center, and elsewhere were often tension-filled serious affairs, one of us choir members would frequently break the stress by placing something on his music stand and wait for the giggle. He knew it was out of love and appreciation for him - and we sang our hearts out to honor his efforts on our behalf.

Sadly, I did not keep up with my Hebrew. But on my trip to Israel, one of the songs he wrote in Hebrew for the choir came to mind as I stood at the Pool of Bethesda. "And he shall draw waters from the well of salvation..." [Please have someone correct my Hebrew: Ki ve sim 'cha te se'u, U ve' shalom tuvalun. He harim u' hag va'ot. Yif se hu rin ah...] He had the choir sing it first slowly and unenthusiastically, as people sometimes say the Lord's Prayer - thinking little about the words and just going through the exercise. The next time was with a glimmer of hope; the third with some expectation; and finally with dancing, cymbal and dancing in exultation. Picture those, he said, who would go down to the well day after day because it was said God could heal them there. Yet they did not really believe it and would go through the ritual with no expectation. But then came Jesus and the stories of the Rabbi who healed. Could it be? He's here. ; He took pity on me and healed me. Praise be to the God of Israel!

I didn't do it loudly or as a performance. I did it for Dr. B & me. I did it out of love and gratitude. I must have looked crazy. He would have laughed - then smiled. I told him last summer & he said, "You got it! Well done." One more word of encouragement from my Hebrew prof and mentor.

Dr. B, you got it. You understood how to live as a man of faith, to use your God-given talents to praise Him and inspire others. You never took yourself too seriously, but took seriously your role as one of God's chosen and a leader for those who wished to do the same. In song, in word, in jest, and in love you made the lives of others who knew you better. Thank you. I love you and I will miss you.

(Posted by LTSP Communications for Steve Jensen. Portions were used in the above post. -ed)

Pam Wynne said...

I really enjoyed learning with Dr. Bornemann.

Jeanne said...

I have fond memories of seminary choir--anyone in choir between 1976-1980 will remember (again apologies to the transliterated Hebrew) "Hine-ma-tov Una maim, shevet a him gam yahad" sung much like the style Steve recalled in their other song. I remember the twinkle in Dr. B's eyes, his easy way with students, the invitations to his home and how awed we were at his record collection, and the "after choir" beers at a local pub. Well done, good and faithful servant!
Jeanne English '80

Judith said...

Dr. Bornemann was a wonderful teacher and mentor and model ..... we both learned so much from him. We enjoyed being in his choirs, and sharing coversation (and beer and pizza!) and music and scripture and archaeology and so much more. He helped shape us into the pastors we have become and we are profoundly grateful.
We devoutly hope he is enjoying some laughter and conversation with Dr. Reumann and others of the faculty who came into the heavenly Feast before him.
Judith Bahrs Boggs '80
A. Michael Boggs '75

Anonymous said...

I thank God for a teacher like Dr. Bornemann! Simply irreplaceable and gifted in teaching scripture.

Because of Dr. Bornemann, I have a better understanding of what it means to share about God's "judgment" - being a saving act!

~ Romeo Dabee '05

Gordon Lathrop said...

Robert Bornemann was an excellent scholar, a caring teacher, a fine artist, and a loving colleague. His knowledge of the liturgy of the church was genuine and deep. Among the faculty he was one of the greatest supporters of the Seminary Chapel and one of its most gracious and grace-filled preachers and presiders. Even in retirement, he would put on his beautiful chasuble and lead us with dignity and depth. I will miss him more than I can say. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.

Gordon Lathrop, Seminary Chaplain 1984-2004

Joy Wartluft Tomlinson said...

May 12 My daughter Becky Wartluft Knox, alum, sent me the article on Bob's death. There are tears in my eyes and an emptiness in my heart for the lose of such a dear friend. He was such an inspiration for all of us, especially to David Wartluft, and a dear friend of mine. Heritage Choir was what came to mind first--the hard work and laughter in rehearsals, the popping of the 1/2 peppermint lifesavers from his pocket during concerts, his humor, smile and crazy jokes. Especially I remember (and still have my copy) the cantata he wrote for the Heritage Choir when he was leaving as our director. During that last summer, what began as a short piece became a 33-minute cantata, which because of its length, we in the choir and Bob heard for the first time in full length during its first performance in concert. What a thrill!! A visionary, musician, theologian, and dear friend--he will remain in my heart always! With love and sympathy to Agnes and the "kids" (as I knew them growing up), Joy (Wartluft) Tomlinson

John Schweitzer said...

Although I might have acquired more factual knowlege from a few of the other outstanding professors at Mt. Airy, it was from Bob that I learned the most about the joy of the Christian life. He was the person I would have gone to with a personal problem, although I never had to avail myself of this option. Thanks, Bob!
John Schweitzer, 72

Alec Bornemann said...

I want to thank all of you who posted comments about my Grandfather. I greatly enjoyed reading all of these stories. I only knew my Grandfather in a family sense so I never was able to experience the times so many of you had with him. There are some things that you learn about people only after they are gone. I would like to make a book of some of these stories for my father John, my Aunts Annamary, Kate, Elizabeth, and of course with my Grandmother Agnes. Please contact me with any great experiences (and photos) you had with or of my grandfather at abornemann@vtc.edu any input will be greatly appreciated.
Alec Bornemann

Sigrid said...

I do not know whether this message will get through to his family this late in the game, but I came upon this statement after I happened to think of him this week while going through some of my late father's things, James Berg, who passed away in November 2008. They became friends after meeting at Mount Airy Seminary in the 1950s. I have many fond memories of visiting with him and his wife as a child, both in Philadelphia and in the Wilkes-Barre area, where my father lived. My deepest condolences to the Bornemann family on their loss. Sigrid Berg

Katie Anderosn said...

Robert E. Bornemann or better known to me as "grandpa" was the greatest person I know. I looked up to that strong, warm hearted man who loved his family and friends very much! I always will rememebr the memories of when he and Agnes (grandma) would come up to VT and stay in the cabin. The three of us would go on walks and collect rocks and make flower boquets to put on the kitchen table. That cabin is filled with many great memories and I will always cherish them! <3<3<3 Since my grandfather has died, the cabin is not what it used to be. It's really weird to be there in that cabin and not have grandpa standing there with his camera around his shoulder taking dozens and dozens of pictures. I will and do miss him very much! Love u Grandpa... I will never forget you!

kanderson said...

Robert E. Bornemann, more known to me as “grandpa” is one of the most amazing people ever. He’s a teacher and somebody that one could look up to like me. Ever since I was little, he and Agnes (Grandma) would come up to VT for a visit and stay in the cabin. The three of us, Grandpa, Grandma, and I, would take long walks collecting rocks and bouquets of flowers to put on the kitchen table. I will always cherish these memories forever! <3<3<3 It’s so weird to not see him with his camera around his neck taking dozens and dozens of pictures. But he lived a long life and we all love him. I love you grandpa and I will always miss you!
Katie Anderson