Editor’s note: The Stetson University Religious Studies Department announced in March that Dr. Donald W. Musser, professor at Stetson 1978-2014, had lost a third battle with cancer and died March 12, 2021.
I first met Dr. Donald Musser when I was stationed at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida in 1978, after making a phone call to Stetson University’s Dr. O. Lafayette Walker inquiring as to the possibility of having one of the professors from the Department of Religion lead a weekly Lenten seminar for us at the base.
Dr. Walker suggested that I get together with a brand-new professor in the department, who turned out to be Don Musser.
I vividly recall meeting with him over lunch in the Commons, and afterward … while walking back to Allen Hall … we talked about the U.S. Air Force chaplaincy, with Don saying that he was interested in being a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves!
He shared some highlights of his life with me and how he ended up going from a chemical engineer with a major oil company to going into ministry and then coming to Stetson.
Don was a cancer survivor even way back then; however, he was in total remission, so I fervently encouraged him to apply for the chaplaincy program, which he did. Along with many prayers, he passed the Air Force physical.
As was the custom, Don was attached as a reserve chaplain at Patrick Air Force Base, and attended the U.S. Air Force Chaplains School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
The next thing we knew, Don was then attached to the school there as a part of the faculty. After that it was on to the Air Force Academy!
Don ended up serving with Chaplain Maj. Gen. Lorraine Potter when she was the chief of Air Force chaplains.
Chaplain Potter was the first female chaplain in the Air Force; I was privileged to be in the first clinical pastoral training class with Chaplain Potter as the instructor.
After I retired from the Air Force, Don and I still served together in a variety of ways. One was when I was vice mayor of the city of Lake Helen and then when I was representing Lake Helen in the Volusia League of Cities. Don was my go-to friend when I would be distraught over what was going on in the political realm at the time.
Serving as an elected official was not totally different from serving in a church setting, and Don Musser, aka D.M., always helped me to put things into perspective and then move on.
As a professor — and he was the best —Don treated each one of his students as if they were his only student, and I fondly recall his sending me an email that I needed to give my “young-un” a nudge to get on the ball when our youngest son, Chase, was a student of Don’s.
The church in which I served for 25 years, known as The Pilgrim/All Saints Community Church in Orange City, was also very much blessed by Don’s willingness to serve on our official board.
Don helped us make the transition to the now All Saints/Collective Community Church after I met Pastor Ben Collins, a Stetson graduate and student of Don’s, who had recently become an adjunct professor in the Department of Religious Studies.
Our church had been and wanted to continue being a risk-taking body, challenging ourselves to create places of fun where people felt safe attending. Promoting that was a part of our mission, and something The Collective and Collective Cares, founded by Ben, have been profoundly good at.
At this time in our lives, we look with the utmost gratitude for the life of Don Musser as a husband, father, friend, and for the prime example Don gave us of God’s unfailing love to us and all humankind. We pray that our daily lives may reflect our thankfulness. Amen.
Footnote: Don took care of a family of raccoons in his backyard for several years, and he used to give updates about how each of them was doing. Quite the guy … Donald W. Musser.
— Long lives in Lake Helen. He graduated from Stetson University in 1970. His tribute is one of several to Musser that were published online by Stetson University.