Rev. Kevin Michael Horak holds a large light bulb he used as a teaching tool in his first few weeks at The Church in Aurora. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

Retired Aurora Rev. Kevin Michael Horak reflects on a life of service

Since Rev. Kevin Michael Horak began serving The Church in Aurora in 1981, he performed 499 baptisms, 489 confirmations, 547 weddings, 358 sermons and 505 funerals, as well as constructed several programs for youths and adults, including an intergenerational and leadership development program, the first of its kind at the church.  

In December 2023, after 42 years, Horak retired at the age of 67.

Horak grew up in Akron and Barberton and attended Akron East High School, graduating in 1973. He was a member of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church, where he first met his future wife, Kathleen, at the church’s youth group in 1967. The two were in junior high school at the time. 

After high school, he attended the University of Akron and received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. He then became a teacher for the Barberton City Schools. 

Kathleen and Kevin Horak. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

It was at the Barberton schools where he came to realize that there was a need for leadership among youth.

“These kids were just kind of crying out in their own way,” Horak said, “and sometimes in orneriness, and other times just very sad. I thought to myself, ‘I think I’m going to help these kids,’ and that just kind of continued to grow.”

But he remembers his spiritual path beginning to manifest even before his mother, Betty, unexpectedly died when he was 10 years old.

“I remember sitting at the kitchen table at our house,” Horak said. “This was with my birth mom. She was ironing, and just out of the blue I said, ‘I think I want to be a minister someday.’ And my mother said, ‘That would make me very happy.’”

Horak as a child. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

After his mother’s death, his father, Joseph, married Theda Romeyn, a devout Christian and the person who introduced Horak’s family to Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church.

In 1978, Horak married Kathleen and, a year later, the two of them moved to Massachusetts so Horak could attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he graduated with a master’s degree in religious education. 

“We had been involved, I don’t know, 10 years in our home church, through Christian education and choir,” Kathleen Horak said. “So I think we always knew church was going to be important to us. So, as we got married, did we know we were going to, a year later, be in New England? No. But Christian education was that important to us.”

While at seminary school, he saw a job posting in the mailroom for a position at The Church in Aurora, so he ventured back to Ohio in 1981 with Kathleen and their first daughter, Hannah, who was born earlier that same year. Their second daughter, Sarah, was born in 1983.

The church hired him as the director of Christian education, a position geared toward youth, and one that Horak said was in line with what led him to enroll in seminary school to begin with.  

Horak has many keepsakes from his time at the church. He recently stumbled upon an item that triggered memories from his first couple of weeks on the job — a light bulb that he used to teach a children’s lesson to show that sometimes bigger is not better.

“I have a giant light bulb that is probably about a foot tall,” Horak said. “We had a bag with that big one [light bulb] in it and then assorted sizes down to a real tiny one. I asked the kids which is the most important and, of course, almost everybody picked the big giant light bulb. I said, ‘Do you know what? Not in this case, because the bulb that I need to replace is in this little night light, and I don’t really have any fixtures that would use that.’”

His discerning expertise regarding church programming led to a rapid increase in congregation numbers, leading the church to build an addition in 1987. 

In 1988, Horak received his master’s of divinity at Ashland University and was ordained on Feb. 12, 1989. 

After being ordained, his pastoral duties at the church expanded to associate minister. 

A picture of The Church in Aurora, gifted to the Kevin after his retirement. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

In his final yearly report as associate minister, written late last year, Horak said the first several weeks of his pastorate felt like he was pushed into the “deep end” of the pool; just three days after his ordination, he conducted his first funeral. He wrote that “reassurance came in knowing that there was indeed a lifeguard on duty.”

He celebrated with thousands of people and mourned with them, as well.

Former Senior Pastor Bill Schnell, who served alongside Horak for 22 years, said Horak filled a needed role at the church.

“He is a kind-hearted gentleman,” Schnell said. “There’s a lot of different functions in ministry, but one of them where he was really outstanding was pastoral care. He was just always available to anybody who had a need, and a very compassionate, patient listener, and a just real comforting presence. For the ministry, that’s very important, and he was a top-notch pastoral caregiver.” 

Horak said he couldn’t have imagined being associate pastor without the help of his wife, who helped in several capacities at the church, as well as took on the responsibility of administrative assistant, a position she still holds.

He also served as historian of the Aurora Community Theatre and performed in 40 plays.

“I think I’m known, probably, more through the theater than I am as a minister,” Horak said. “Aurora Community Theatre really became a second home. I got to know more people pretty quickly as a result of my affiliations there. They were great times. But one of the best roles in my life was being able to be the associate minister at The Church in Aurora.”

Life beyond pastoral service is something that Horak said is going to take some time getting used to.

“It’s kind of like somebody slammed on the brakes,” he said. “I’ve spent so much time invested in other people’s lives, and the families of those folks, I’m hoping to have a time, at least maybe for the first year, just kind of collecting myself and thinking, where do I go from here? What are some of the needs locally, in a different context.” 

The next foreseeable step for the Horaks is a vacation to Alaska in 2026, the only state in the union they haven’t visited.

Jeremy Brown
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