Meet David Koss
In May of 2009, the graduating classes of Garrett Biblical Institute (GBI) and Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETS) celebrated their 50-year reunion by returning to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary for commencement. One of these alums was David H. Koss, a 1959 graduate of ETS who had not returned to the seminary since his graduation. Koss participated in reunion activities, including senior chapel, a special dinner with trustees and old friends, and commencement at First United Methodist Church in Evanston. He also heard a presentation on Garrett-Evangelical’s Forging Our Future: Phase Three campaign and learned more about the seminary’s long-term goals. He was so moved by his experience that he revised his estate plans when he returned home and made major changes in the disposition of his assets.
After celebrating 75 years of life, Koss passed away in a hospital near his home in Jacksonville, Illinois on July 23, 2011. Shortly thereafter, with surprise and gratitude, the seminary learned that Koss had designated a $500,000 unrestricted bequest to Garrett-Evangelical.
Born and raised in Barrington, Illinois, Koss earned a B.A. from North Central College and a B.D. from Evangelical Theological Seminary. He also earned a Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University. Koss grew up in the Evangelical United Brethren, later the United Methodist Church, and was an ordained Presbyterian minister.
For five years, Koss served as a United Methodist pastor in Earlville, Illinois before accepting the position of associate professor of religion at Illinois College in 1972. He reflected fondly upon his time as a pastor, but Koss found his home in academia. In 1991, just a few years after being promoted to professor of religion and philosophy (1985), Koss was installed as the Scarborough Professor of Religion and Philosophy, becoming only the fifth person to occupy this distinguished chair since its endowment in 1924. Koss was twice awarded the Harry Joy Dunbaugh Classroom Teaching Award, the highest teaching award given at Illinois College. It was not uncommon that his courses entitled “Religion in America” and “Renaissance and Reformation” would draw crowds, leaving Koss with over a hundred students per semester. Koss also served as the Illinois College organist. Koss was known for his passion and expertise in genealogy, which he approached with uncompromising scholarship. His research led to numerous published articles, including “Unscrambling the German-American Churches” in the Winter 1984 edition of Palatine Immigrant.
Koss enjoyed traveling to Europe to nurture his interests in history, theology, genealogy, and music. Over his lifetime, he and his long-time friends from Jacksonville, Illinois, Rudy and Sharon Zuiderveld, shared many domestic and international travel experiences. His fondest travel memories included his time of research at the Marburg State Archives in Germany and his road trip from Illinois.
Koss’s faith was not merely an academic exercise, but a central aspect of his life and identity. He held a deep faith, which brought him to active worship and service at First Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, where he shared his pastoral leadership, teaching, and study. He regularly attended three studies each week and co-led a contemporary theology class on Sunday mornings.
Shortly after Koss’ visit to Garrett-Evangelical, he decided to include the seminary in his will. His friend, Rudy Zuiderveld, said that David was impressed with the seminary and its strategic vision for the future and, therefore, had decided to remember the seminary in his will. The Zuidervelds were named co-executors of his estate and worked gladly and carefully to fulfill Koss’s wishes. The Zuidervelds also gave Koss’s extensive library of journals and pamphlets from his Evangelical United Brethren collection to Garrett-Evangelical’s library. Speaking of her dear friend, Sharon Zuiderveld wrote of David, “His mild manner and deference to friends belied his strong convictions and scholarship, even in his retirement.”