Chapter 3, Part 2: Willie and Meta in School, College, Church, Courtship

Meta was still dating other fellows that year, but Bill was beginning to get possessive. Early in the school year Meta and her friend Gustie Plett went over to the boys dormitory and played cards with Vernard Yost and Harold Schmidt. Later she heard by the grapevine that Bill was upset and had disgustedly told someone that if he wanted Meta he could have her. Meta's grades in college were good--mostly A's--but not as consistent as in high school. She did best in the strictly academic subjects, but not quite as well in physical training, dramatics, costume design, public school art, and methods and principles of teaching. She did her practice teaching in the Newton school system.

In the summer of 1934, Ed. G. Kaufman, Bethel College president, personally visited Bill to convince him to attend Bethel rather than return to McPherson College. "McPherson has a better football team," Bill told Kaufman. "For the future," Kaufman replied, "McPherson can have the brawn. Bethel will have the brains!" Bill was impressed. Although he enjoyed sports, he had never excelled in competitive athletics. He was more interested in ideas, especially religion, politics and history. Kaufman also personally recruited Raymond Juhnke, Bill's cousin. Bill and Ray were roommates at the Leisy Home dormitory on twenty-fourth street, the south edge of the Bethel campus.

Bill and Meta saw each other a lot more as students at Bethel in 1934-5. In later years they could not remember just when they had gotten engaged. There was no engagement ring. Bill gave Meta a wrist watch during her sophomore year at Bethel, which he apparently considered something of an engagement present. But Bill didn't want to commit to a marriage date until his vocational plans were more clear.

Bill's two years at Bethel were rich in intellectual discovery. Here he found a sense of direction for his life. His favorite teachers were excellent scholars who had PhD degrees from top universities: Peter S.Goertz in philosophy (Yale University); Ed. G. Kaufman in comparative religion (University of Chicago), and E. L. Harshbarger (Ohio State University). These men, and others at Bethel, were deeply committed to the Mennonite church as well as to the ideal of liberal arts education. Bill found it exciting to learn from former missionaries (Goertz and Kaufman) that there were truths to be found in non-Christian religions. As a history major, Bill took the most courses from Harshbarger, a master teacher who, as Bill said, "had everything worked out." Harshbarger was well informed on current political affairs, and had a grand civic vision for the relevance of the Mennonite teachings of peace on the national and world scene.

Bill's grades at Bethel still were not as high as Meta's, but significantly improved over his past record. On weekends in the fall and spring he returned home to help with the farm work. On campus he threw himself in extracurricular activities, including the cheerleading team. He was chosen to be president of the student council and editor of the school paper, the Collegian. For a time he was both student council president and Collegian editor. In the fall of 1935 he applied for exemption from the physical training requirement because, as he argued, he got plenty of exercise on weekends at the Juhnke farm, plus having to walk to downtown Newton twice a week (at least) "carrying the Collegian Material to the Kansan office." The school paper in those years was produced as a page in the town newspaper. This experience in journalism gave Bill the skills and knowledge when he founded a newspaper for Mennonite youth, the Western District Tidings.

Graduation requirements at Bethel in 1936 included written and oral comprehensive examinations in the major field and in the general liberal arts. The written evaluations by Bethel professors in Bill's file show his strengths and limitations: Dr. J. E. Linscheid, English professor, wrote: "Has a tendency to attempt soaring phrases and involved sentences. This sometimes hinders clarity of thought. . . . I believe his religion is rational rather than sentimental. . . . This man is a scholar and has an intense interest essential to scholarly work." Dr. E. L. Harshbarger, history professor, wrote: "Introduced much irrelevant matter. The facts in the main were accurate in his chosen field. . . . Has some trouble in organizing and assimilating pertinent materials, but is a good worker and has learned something about research." But the overall committee evaluation was quite positive: "Recommended for teaching and graduate work with high distinction on basis of this examination." Bill was also nominated for Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities.

During Bill's senior year at Bethel (1935-6), Meta was teaching at Greenfield, a rural one-room primary school in Marion County. Greenfield was about twelve miles north of Bethel College. Meta's salary was $56 per month, $15 of which went to the Frey family for room and board. Her father said she could spend what she needed for her expenses, but that she should give the rest to the family until she was age twenty-one. Her "expenses" included a new coat, a suitcase, and a two-year subscription for American Magazine. Meta's "debt" for college expenses was about $400. Jonas Goering wanted all his children to be able to study at least two years at Bethel College. Meta's brother, Elmer, was at Bethel that year.

Meta was responsible for everything at Greenfield--teaching all subjects to all students (including sewing, woodworking, and "German school"), starting the fire in the stove on cold mornings, organizing literary programs, directing a girls' choir, and playing basketball with the pupils at recess time. She felt a sense of failure when the school-community play she had planned did not materialize because the cast members did not show up for practice. She planned a cake walk or pie social to substitute for the play. She borrowed some ideas from Bill's classroom "plan book" from his teaching at King City. "When I look at your plan book I can tell that you were a good teacher," she wrote to him.

Meta's letters to Bill during her year of teaching at Greenfield suggest that she was not altogether happy with her situation. By late October she was pleased to attend an education conference in Wichita in order to "get away from here for a little bit anyway." She had some discipline problems with the children. In one letter she wrote to Bill that "the community as a whole has not grasped my aim to make the school 'child centered.'" Nevertheless she seemed to get along reasonably well. She joked about her role as a "Swiss" among the "Low Dutch": "Instead of changing their low dutch pronunciation or improving it, it seems I'm acquiring their dialect." Meta hoped to be hired back for a second year of teaching at Greenfield, but the school board decided to hire someone else. From Meta's viewpoint, the position was something of a political football, with a primary prize being the privilege of providing room and board for the teacher. Fifteen dollars per month meant a lot for a farm family in the midst of the Great Depression.

The letters that Meta and Bill wrote to each other show that she was the better writer. She expressed her ideas more clearly and her emotions more easily. In one letter, apparently after they had quarrelled, she wrote, "I'm sorry I was provoked and sorry I told you so. Will you forgive me? Please do. Knowing you, I probably shouldn't send this but that's the way I feel. I'm still in love with you and want you to come see me again." (March 16, 1936) For his part, Bill seemed incapable of expressing affection without turning it into a riddle or joke. His typical tactic was to approach the subject of love obliquely and then suddenly back away and turn a somersault. For example, on August 27, 1934, he wrote about Meta's picture on his desk--ending with a quotation from Patrick Henry's famous line in the Virginia House of Burgesses:

It's really the cheery smile and the general gladdening appearance that this girl before me presents that makes me scribble to her now. . . . Another thing that I might mention is the sweet time that I had with her just a few moments ago. . . . Please don't consider this a new love proposal, I don't want that. I want a continuation of our old joint serenity of souls. If this is treason make the most of it. Affectionately yours, William E. Juhnke.

For another example, on November 8, 1935, writing from Bethel College, Bill wrote,

You may have heard things about me, which if not properly related may lead to rather erroneous conclusions. I am not particularly in love with anybody else, even if I take them to a show. At least you must agree that is quite possible, do you not? Neither am I particularly in love with somebody, if the other party (or plural) keeps chasing after me all the time. This is quite possible too, is it not? You see I took Andy Douglass to a 10 cent show last night and Dr. Doell [biology professor] has a pet dog that keeps following me every-place I want to go.

When Bill followed Meta's lead in signing his letters with "love," he wrote a P.S., "I'm stealing your stuff." Occasionally Meta's letters included comments about current political events and religious ideas--such as the Supreme Court declaring the Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional, and the doctrinal orthodoxy of Kagawa, a Japanese Christian leader.

In Bill's senior year at Bethel President Kaufman urged him to go on to seminary and graduate school. Kaufman arranged for Bill to get a scholarship at Colgate Seminary in New York state. A three-year program for a Bachelor of Divinity Degree, possibly to be followed by four or five more years in a Ph.D. program was a daunting prospect. Meta was more than a little worried. In a revealing letter of February 17, 1936, she wrote to Bill,

I surely don't want to send you to New York in these troublous times for 8 years--just think of it, by that time I will have lost my charm and you your attraction for me. I hate to think of giving up all hope. However three years is 5 years less than 8 years and I would say that you should go if you think or feel that it is God's will that you should. Preparation for real service is worth a lot of sacrifice and I'm willing to share, if that is possible. I do want you to rise to the heights you are capable of reaching. Perhaps I could've told you this sometime? You may want to save it for reference or to read to your mother. It expresses my attitude at the present moment to something I don't even know so very much about.

Bill decided to turn down the seminary scholarship. He felt a greater call to public school teaching than to the pastoral ministry. When he was offered a teaching position as history and social studies teacher at Moundridge High School, he decided to accept. It was a fateful decision. Bill and Meta would spend the rest of their lives, except for trips and summer school, within a twenty mile radius of home in south central Kansas. They decided to get married the following June (1937). Each of them lived with their parents in the year before the wedding. It was a time of joyful expectation.

The wedding was on Friday afternoon, June 4, 1937. Bill had a new white suit and Meta had a beautiful new wedding dress. Elder C. J. Goering, Meta's great uncle presided over the exchange of vows in the German language. Three additional pastors also participated in the ceremony. Reverend John C. Kaufman gave a sermon in German, and Dr. Ed G. Kaufman presented one in English. Before the wedding, as the bridal couple was consulting with the pastors, Elder Goering saw out of the window that another Mennonite pastor, H. T. Neufeld had arrived. Goering said he wanted to invite Neufeld to be part of the ceremony. Meta said she didn't want that. Neufeld had come only because his son Abe was engaged to marry Bill's sister, Alvina. But nothing could stop Goering from going ahead with the ritual of pastoral hospitality. Neufeld read an opening scripture passage.

Attention to scripture at the wedding showed how important the Bible was in this community. Meta's father, Jonas, noted in his diary the scripture texts of three of the pastors: H. T. Neufeld's text was Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd . . . ; John C. Kaufman's text was Proverbs 10:23, "The blessing of the Lord gives wealth . . . ; Edmund G. Kaufman's text was Joshua 24: 14-15, "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." However, the Bible quotation from the ceremony which Meta remembered and quoted most often was one that E. G. Kaufman included in his meditation--Amos 3:3, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" There may have been a hint of patriarchy in Kaufman's remarks. But Meta knew the counsel could cut both ways. Not only was she supposed to agree with Bill, but she could sometimes remind Bill that he was to agree with her.

Bill and Meta walked down the aisle together. No one gave the bride away. There was no wedding cake. The refreshments were bread and meat for sandwiches, canned peaches and cookies. Afterwards Bill's mother said, "Es war alles ziemlich gut, aber der Bill hat e bissle laut 'Ja' gesagt." ("It was all quite good, except that Bill said 'Ja' a little loudly.") Bill explained that he had a frog in his throat and he had to push out the sound forcefully. His friends teased him that he seemed too eager! The wedding gifts included ninety-eight water glasses and a surplus of casserole dishes. The bride and groom's parents split the wedding costs, and the relatives provided the food. Bill and Meta spent their first night at the Goering home, but then they moved to the Juhnke farmstead which was to become their own.

Meta's dowry from her home included a cedar chest made by her brother Elmer, some livestock (a cow and calf; two dozen chickens; two small pigs), an old oil stove, bedding and linens, and some food (jars of canned fruit and half a butchered hog). Ernest and Alvina Juhnke in 1936 had bought the William P. Pack farm located a mile north and three fourths mile west of Moundridge. They built a new house there for their family, so their oldest son could start his own farming operation on the home place. It wasn't their last such move. Ernest Juhnke provided a farm with farm buildings for each of his four sons.

Thus it was that Bill and Meta Juhnke began their married life on familiar ground, surrounded by supportive family and community.

Forward to Chapter 4, Part 1

Back to Chapter 3, Part 1

Return to the So Much to be Thankful For Table of Contents

By James C. Juhnke,

Web page design Joanne Juhnke,
Last updated 8 August 2009.