Chapter 3, Part 1: Willie and Meta
in School, College, Church, Courtship

Meta Goering was in the eighth grade in Pioneer school (1928-29) the first time she became aware that Willie Juhnke was something special. One of her friends had attended a party, maybe it was at the "Dicke" ("Fat") Pete Stucky place, and reported that Willie had entertained the crowd with crazy stories. Meta thought Willie would be an interesting person to meet. The next year (1929-30) Meta was a freshman student at Moundridge High School where Willie was a senior. They did not have their first date until Meta was a junior. By then Willie had completed two years at McPherson College and was teaching at King City grade school, where he had attended as a child.

Both Willie and Meta were baptized at age fifteen in the Eden Mennonite Church--June 12 1927 and June 14, 1931. Willie's parents were members at Hoffnungsfeld, but troubles in that congregation led them to take their family to worship with the Eden congregation for about ten years (ca. 1924-33). Their children, however, joined the Eden congregation: Anna and Emma (1925), Willie (1927), Alvina (1929), and Elsie (1931). Anna died October 21, 1929, and was buried in the Eden cemetery. When their troubles with Hoffnungsfeld were resolved, Ernest and Alvina Juhnke returned to that congregation and took their younger children along. But Willie remained a member at Eden.

Willie's baptism class included twenty-two members. They had all grown up in the church and were about the same age. The catechism class--in the German language--was held every two years. The instruction was traditional, mostly memorization of questions and answers from the old "Elbing catechism" first published in Prussia in 1778. To be baptized at Eden was not a testimony to crisis conversion, but rather marked an event of Christian growth and church membership. Elder C. J. Goering (Meta's great uncle) baptized them by pouring a small amount of water on their heads as they knelt, after asking them a number of questions (in German) about their confession of sin and belief in salvation through Christ. It was a moment of commitment which Willie took seriously. Meta was baptized four years later, June 14, 1931, in the same way with a class of twenty-four candidates. That class included Willie's sister, Elsie.

Both Willie and Meta had good high school experiences at Moundridge. Bill got mostly B's and C's in high school. His favorite courses were history, geometry, Latin and civics. Meta excelled academically in all classes, including Latin and Bible. She participated in debate, dramatics and choir ("glee club"). Her transcript of yearly grades, a total of twenty-four grades, had straight A's, except for a B and B+ in physical education, one B in glee club, and an A- in typewriting. She was valedictorian of her senior class--and had a date with Willie for the graduation exercises.

Moundridge was a thriving town of about 750 people in the 1920s when Willie and Meta attended high school there. In 1927 the school built four additional classrooms and a gymnasium-auditorium. The high school principal was I. T. Dirks, a Mennonite who had been a conscientious objector in World War I. For the Goering and Juhnke families, transportation to high school was something of a challenge. From farm to school for the Juhnkes was ten and a half miles and for the Goerings five and a half miles. (They drove along section lines. Highway #81 along the Missouri-Pacific tracks between Moundridge and McPherson had not yet been constructed.) For two years, Willie boarded during the week with his uncle and aunt, Chris S. and Mary Kaufman Goering, who lived just west of Moundridge. Aunt Mary was a sister to Willie's mother Alvina. Willie appreciated the extended family hospitality, but found Uncle Chris somewhat austere. At mealtime there was a honeypot in front of Uncle Chris's plate, and no one else ever seemed to dare to ask for honey.

In November of 1926, during Willie's freshman year and while he was staying at the Chris Goering home, Willie's sister Emma sent him a short letter--one of the few scraps of primary historical documentation surviving from those years. Emma, age twenty-one, had married Joe Stucky five months earlier and was visiting her parents and helping with child care while the men gathered fuel "in the woods" for the winter. Their younger brother, John, was three and a half years old. Emma wrote, "Yesterday he talked English nearly all day." That was evidence that the younger siblings were learning English much earlier than Emma, Anna and Willie had. Emma also wrote that John had learned a little poem--an apparently proud achievement in 1926 but also evidence of grass roots racism that is embarrassing for later generations:

Teacher, teacher, don't whip me. Whip that nigger behind the tree.
He stole money and I stole honey. Teacher, teacher, isn't that funny?

Emma ended her letter with an admonition for Willie. "Better be a good student. . . . Have a good time at the Lyceum course."

For his senior year in Moundridge, Willie's father helped him to purchase a Model A Ford with a rumble seat--from Roth Ford Motor Company. He took turns driving to school with his cousin, Willard Kaufman, who also lived near Elyria. The Model A gave Willie social status and experience with engine and machine repair. It also provided transportation to high school and college and was good for double dating.

Willie and Meta's first date was to the party which followed one of the combined youth Christian Endeavor (CE) meetings of Eden and Hoffnungsfeld-Eden congregations. Meta was on the program for a duet with Erna Schrag. Meta had gone to CE with her cousins, Erwin and Anna Goering. The family commented about her not going home with her cousins, as her mother said, "on account of a Juhnke!" The Juhnkes were still outsiders at Eden, probably in part because the Juhnkes had not been in the Swiss-Volhynian immigration of 1874. Perhaps the tensions between the Hoffnungfeld and Eden congregations had something to do with Katie Goering's comment about the Juhnkes.

It wasn't Meta's first date. The Sunday evening parties, held at a different farm home each week, were a way for young people to get acquainted in an informal group context. In winter time the parties were indoors and the young people gathered around the piano to sing songs or sit around the room and play games such as "Wink 'em" and "Opinion." The Jonas Goerings were not able to host indoor parties because the young people were too noisy for Grandma Anna. In summertime the party activities included outdoor folk games and dances such as "Jimmie Crack Corn," and "Turn the Whisky Bottle Over." The informal dating pattern allowed young people to go with many different partners. Meta had dates with twenty-one different fellows at these after-CE parties. She kept a record of her dates in a notebook diary. Some typical entries:

  • Sept. 11, 1932: Went from church & CE to the party at Gus Krehbiels with Bill Juhnke in company with Ray J. & Anna Krehbiel. Had a keen time.
  • Jan. 8, 1932: I had a date with Ed Krussel. Melven & Leona G, Bill J. & Erlene were along. After church we upset! No one got hurt except the car. Party at Tillies.
  • Feb. 14, 1933: I saw the show "Hello Everybody" with Kate Smith with Bill Junhke. (sic) Mose & Ella were along. Swell time!
  • March 31, 1933: I went for a ride with Bill Junhke. (sic) Jess & Leona were along. I have a future date with Bill in 10 years, March 31, 1943. Ha. Ha.
  • May 17, 1933: After our Senior picnic I was going to go to the May Day with Bill. On the way there it rained & hailed so we stopped at "Scotts". Ruth & Carl were along. Quite a thrilling & exciting experience.
  • August 1, 1933: Mose took me to the show "Peg ‘O My Heart." Joe & Ella and Jess & Verna Howdy were along. Keen show.

Some conservative church members thought the parties were too raucous or worldly. Especially the talk of folk dancing was questionable. Meta's parents did not oppose the parties, but they did not allow her to skip Christian Endeavor meeting. On April 2, 1933 she had a Sunday evening date with Ed Krehbiel who took her to see a movie. They didn't go to church at all. When Meta got home her father gave her a very stern scolding. "I got bawled out terribly," she wrote in her diary.

At times Meta found a way to take the initiative with Bill. In 1932 she attended a "literary" meeting in Peaceful school where Bill was one of three featured speakers on the Kansas gubernatorial campaign. The three candidates for governor that year were Alfred M. Landon, Republican; Harry Woodring, Democrat; and John R. Brinkley, Independent. Bill was assigned to speak for Brinkley , the famous "Goat Gland Doctor" who had become a millionaire with his operation to restore male virility by transplanting goat gonads into the scrotum of impotent males. When the state revoked his license to practice medicine, Brinkley decided to run for governor--in both 1930 and 1932. His campaigns were helped by the great economic depression which discredited the two main parties. No doubt Bill told the audience of Brinkley's proposals for free school textbooks and a lake in every Kansas county. After the program Meta went up to Bill and asked him, "You don't really think that Brinkley has a chance, do you?" "Sure," said Bill. "I'll make you a bet," said Meta. "If Brinkley wins, I'll take you to a movie. If he loses, you pay." The bet was on. Brinkley lost to Alf Landon, who got into position for the Republican presidential candidacy in 1936. Bill and Meta had a great time at a movie starring Shirley Temple, a double date in Newton. Willie picked up the tab.

Willie's enrollment in McPherson College in the fall of 1930 was something of a culture shock. He commuted to college from home, and stuck close to his neighbor buddies who were also at McPherson, Milo Stucky and John W. Goering. His enrollment advisor startled him by suggesting that "Willie" was not a respectable name, and should be replaced by "William"--if in fact that was his real name. Willie had never been called by any other name. He asked his parents and learned that his official name was indeed William Ernest Juhnke. For many years his choice of name was not consistent, although it eventually came down to William for official purposes; Bill among his friends; and Willie at home. As late at 1937, however, the Eden Mennonite Church record book recorded his name as "Willie E Juhnke" for Bill and Meta's marriage.

McPherson College was sponsored by the Church of the Brethren, a pacifist denomination of German Pietist-Anabaptist background. Bill's grades at McPherson College were those of an average student. All were B's and C's, except for an A in psychology and a D in English literature. Bill's most influential teacher at McPherson was Maurice Hess, the speech and debate teacher. Hess was a member of the conservative Old Order River Brethren. During World War I he had been an absolute conscientious objector and had been court martialed and imprisoned for his convictions. Hess wore a beard and was considered eccentric by some people, but he was one of the great teachers at McPherson College. Later when Bill applied for admission to Bethel College, he listed Hess as one of his references.

After his two years at McPherson College, Bill taught the first four grades for two years at King City primary school (1932-34). His father, Ernest, and his uncle, Simon Stucky, were on the school board that hired him. Bill had a good time with his teaching colleague (and second cousin), Milo Stucky. Bill's starting salary was sixty dollars a month. This was a good income during the national economic depression, especially as Bill lived with his parents at the Juhnke farmstead, a mile east and a quarter south of Elyria. He could trade work on the farm for room and board, and was able to save money to continue his college education.

Bill was active in "Literary" and drama events at King City and neighboring schools. He had a lead role in the rural comedy "Yimmie Yonson's Yob," produced by the King City Literary Society. His gift of gab and improvisation helped at one point in the public performance when cast members forgot their lines. He ad libbed for a while and then, needing to get off the stage, looked out the window, said, "Oh, the hogs are getting out," and made his exit! The drama, written by Lillian Mortimer and published in 1923, included racist lines that were acceptable in that era. To refer to an unexplained problem one spoke of "a nigger in the woodpile."

In the summer of 1933 Bill got a ride on the Moundridge butter truck with his cousin, Marvin Goering, to the World's Fair in Chicago. There he bought a purple banner to remember the occasion, and a special gift to Meta later. He reported on the World's Fair at a meeting of the Pioneer Literary Society, Meta's home school.

Bill Juhnke, King City schoolteacher, on farm by windmill

While teaching at King City, Bill completed a correspondence course on "Christian Evidences" from the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. The course certificate, dated March 7, 1934, claimed that the course covered "the divine origin, moral beauty, genuineness and authenticity of the Bible; a brief study of Archeology, miracles, Prophecy and comparative religions." Bill put the Moody certificate in a glass-covered frame, suggesting his interest in educational certification. Moody Bible Institute represented a nondenominational, conservative, and fundamentalist religious influence. At the same time, Bill was being pulled in a progressive Mennonite denominational direction.

August 1935 was the diamond jubilee meeting of the General Conference Mennonite Church denomination in Upland, California. The Hoffnungsfeld congregation chose Ernest and Alvina Juhnke as delegates to that meeting, perhaps as a gesture of reconciliation. Bill agreed to drive the family car (an Essex) to Upland. It was Ernest and Alvina's only major trip out of state, an exciting event recorded in photographs for the family album.
Just before departure of Bill, Ernest and Alvina for General Conference in Upland. Bill shaking hands with Walt; Marie and Martha in front of parents.

At the Upland conference Bill received a vision for the wider history and ministries of the Mennonite denomination. He was inspired by the preaching of Ed G. Kaufman, Bethel College president, especially on the peace issue. Viewing the conference exhibits, Bill wrote into his notebook extensive information on the history of the General Conference Mennonite Church. He went to the conference bookstore and said he was interested in a "liberal Bible commentary." The bookstore manager, retired missionary Peter J. Wiens, said "I've got just the thing for you," and brought out A New Commentary on Holy Scripture by Charles Gore, Henry Leighton Goudge, and Alfred Guillaume (Macmillan 1929). Bill paid $3.25 for the dense 743-page book. The three authors, who were British Anglicans, used modern historical and literary methods to understand scripture in a wide context. Bill returned to Kansas armed both with new inspiration for church work and with a modern tool which would enrich his understanding and teaching of Sunday School classes for the coming decades. He did not follow up his contact with Moody Bible Institute.

Meta's first year as a student at Bethel College was Bill's second year of teaching at King City. She lived in "Irish Castle," in the ladies' dormitory built with funds from the famous Irish-American industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie Hall was ahead of its time in its format of separate modules (rather than long hallways ) which encouraged small group friendships. Many of Meta's Irish Castle mod mates became friends for life. The modules all had separate access to the outside, which made it easy for students to violate the rules about closing time. After one occasion when Meta and Bill had stayed out too late, she later wrote to him, "I sneaked into the Dorm Sunday nite at about 12:30 after a hilarious time with the boy friend. The next morn I checked Ella & me in for Monday morn."

One of Meta's most interesting classes at Bethel was psychology under Dr. Schellenberg. In one letter she wrote to Bill, "In our today's Psychology lecture, Dr. Schellenberg talked of daydreams, free association, etc. He said that all our dreams are wish fulfillments either of the conquering hero or suffering hero type. All of our daydreams, though they generally have a different start culminate upon one main image and recross it time and again." Meta went on to imply that Bill was her main image.

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By James C. Juhnke,

Web page by Joanne Juhnke,
Last updated 13 August 2009.