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David Yoder: Developer and community booster ‘made the world a smaller place,’ his sons say

When he was around 22 years old, David Yoder lit out for a new land.

Which, in this instance, would have been anywhere outside the confines of his family farm nestled in Somerset County, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Yoder grew up hard-working, yet nurtured, in the Mennonite community there.

He spoke that quadrant of the Keystone State’s version of Dutch with his parents and brothers and sisters.

As a dutiful son steeped in the faith, he left school after his eighth-grade year, in order to tend to his obligations on the farm.

But Yoder, the Morgantown real estate developer and community booster who died last month at the age of 91, always saw beyond the sunset that dipped below the rolling hills of the place where he was born and expected to stay, his sons Jon and Rob said.

He stuck out his thumb and didn’t stop taking rides until he hit the Pacific Northwest.

By the time their dad was done, he had supervised logging crews in Oregon, studied music in Austria and developed Morgantown’s North Hills neighborhood — and those were just three short lines on a very lengthy resume.

“His was a life well-lived for sure,” said Jon Yoder, an architect and professor in the College of Architecture and Design at Kent State University.

Rob Yoder, a WVU grad who stayed in Morgantown to found his Yoder’s Lawn Care company, had more of a work-boot take on his dad’s life and times.

He chuckled warmly in the middle of the musing.

“How many opera singers do you know,” he asked, “who can operate every piece of heavy equipment out there?”

Call him a bit of a Renaissance guy — who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

Curriculum Vitae

Jon Yoder, who has a doctorate in his field, said his father valued education and made a solid climb in the halls of academia, by way of hard work and innate intellect.

While in Oregon, and despite having never attended high school, he knocked his entrance exams, just like those towering trees on the logging crew, to gain admittance to Williamette University in Salem.

His studies boomeranged him back East, for more coursework in Virginia, at the former Eastern Mennonite College and then later at Madison College, which is now James Madison University.

He earned a bachelor’s in music from Goshen College in Indiana in 1957.

From there it was Morgantown, for graduate studies in music, folk literature and foreign languages at WVU.

International opportunities led him to Austria, where he worked on a doctorate in music at University of Vienna. He was also a visiting scholar at the University of Graz while studying opera with a renowned music professor.

Along the way, he worked on the logging crews and construction crews. He drove a truck.

Anything to finance a once-elusive education.

Meanwhile, Jon Yoder remembers the first thing his dad said when he told him he too was going overseas, to study in Germany.

Try to look up Herr Doktor Professor Karl Heinz Tuttner, if you can, the elder Yoder said, referencing that voice teacher in Europe.

“Dad really did make the world a small place,” he said.

Development (and discourse) in Morgantown

For 50 years, David Yoder’s world was Morgantown and Monongalia County, where he raised his family and grew his portfolio.

He was known as a builder — both of houses and other structures, his sons said, and of coalitions, also.

In 1966, he and his brothers Richard and Omar, went in on 100 acres near Morgantown that they turned into the North Hills residential development.

He founded four companies and was the spearhead behind all that construction — businesses, physician offices — along Pineview Drive.

Yoder was twice named “Outstanding Builder of the Year” by the Home Builder’s Association of West Virginia.

He was a Mon County booster on boards and committees well into his 80s and was a key proponent of the runway extension project at Morgantown Municipal Airport at Hart Field, among other causes.

As Rob said, his dad actually enjoyed pouring concrete and running excavators.

“That’s what made him a good boss,” he said.

“He knew how to operate the equipment. He knew how to do every job on the work site.”

He knew how to build teams, too, Jon said.

That’s because he was an intent listener. “Active” was necessarily the word.

He locked in.

“You know, with all his accomplishments, he could have dominated every conversation, but he didn’t,” Jon said.

That carried over to family gatherings at the dining room table. Jon remembers when his daughter, Sophia, was a little girl.

She’d be in the middle of a story or an observation, when, invariably, the adults would start talking over her.

The patriarch would always raise his hand.

“Hold up. Sophie’s talking. She has the floor.”

Rob Yoder said he was impressed that his father never bailed on a deal — for a better deal — after committing to a project.

“If he shook your hand, he was in,” he said. “And that was it.”

Of family, and final wishes

David Yoder wasn’t the only one of George and Lena Yoder’s children to extend their reach from that farm in the heart of Mennonite country.

All went to college.

All were accomplished.

All drew in with their faith and their prayers when their younger sister, Delilah, went missing while hiking the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador in 1976. She was never found.

Both Jon and Rob loved it when their dad would get together with his siblings. They’d break into Pennsylvania Dutch — and finish the sentence in English.

They brought out the serious developer’s gloriously goofy side, his boys said.

Get him laughing, and his face would go beet-red — and he wouldn’t be able to stop, either.

David Yoder peacefully slipped away Feb. 23 at Mon Health Medical Center, just up the road from all his infrastructure successes on Pineview Drive.

During his Morgantown years, he faithfully motored to Springs Mennonite Church in Springs, Pa. — an hour down Interstate 68, near Grantsville, Md. — where he served as music director.

His service will be there at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

The planning of it all has been interesting to watch, both sons said.

That’s because congregants just seem to know what to do, they said.

It’s as if their dad is there, too, they said. Not to “boss” or “direct,” they said. Just to be there.

Jon and Rob have a favor to ask, however.

In lieu of flowers, they are requesting that gifts be made in their dad’s memory to the David H. Yoder Ingenuity Fund, Goshen College, Development Office, 1700 South Main St., Goshen, IN 46526.

Contributions may also be made online at

“Ingenuity Fund” — couldn’t ask for a more appropriate name, his sons said.

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