Chapter 6, Part 2: Establishing the Farm, 1944-1950

An informal rule held that elementary school teachers should not stay more than two years at the same school. So in 1946 after two years at King City in nearby Elyria, Bill took a job at the one-room Pleasant Ridge school, seven miles directly south of the Juhnke farmstead and even more close to the center of the Swiss Volhynian Mennonite settlement. By that time Janet was ready to start the first grade. Bill took Janet and Jimmy along with him to Pleasant Ridge, thereby increasing to fifteen the number of students in that one-room school.

Pleasant Ridge One-room Grade School.
Janet barefoot front right; Jimmy second from the left
in the second row. 1948-49.

Three of the grades had no students. Few people in the community realized that one-room schools would soon disappear. There were fifty-nine one-teacher schools in McPherson County in 1948-49, plus one one-teacher Lutheran parochial school. Pleasant Ridge disbanded two years after Bill left in 1950. (The King City school kept going until 1974, when it, too, was consolidated out of existence.)

In the 1949-50 school year Bill published an irregular monthly newsletter that he called "Pleasant Ridge Echoes." No mimeograph machines or spirit duplicators were available. Bill used the hectograph or gelatin duplicator technique, which involved transferring the original text and design to a pan of gelatin, and making copies by pressing individual sheets of paper against the gelatin. It was a painstaking process, but he could produce print runs of twenty or more copies for distribution to his students and their families. From faded blue-print copies of the "Pleasant Ridge Echoes" we learn that Janet had the top score in spelling for the first semester, that Jimmy got a "superior" rating with a cornet solo at the McPherson music festival, and that Bill had been reading the story of Moses for school opening exercises. For an assembly program on January 20, 1950, Janet played the role of Pharaoh's daughter who discovered the baby Moses in a basket in the bullrushes.

For the school Christmas program in 1949, the seventy-fifth year since the Swiss-Volhynian had migrated to Kansas, Bill wrote and produced a ten-scene drama about the migration of 1874, "From Katazufka (sic) to Kansas." He assigned students to play the roles of their own ancestors from seventy-five years earlier. The drama climaxed with a Christmas crèche scene in the original immigrant house that the Santa Fe Railroad Company had built for the immigrants. Fritjoff Mark, who taught music lessons at Pleasant Ridge as well as King City, led the school "orchestra" in a rendition of the favorite German-Mennonite Christmas hymn, "Nun ist sie Erschienen." At Pleasant Ridge there was no separation of church and state. Bill had his students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and added the phrase "under God," before it became officially mandated. Mennonites were using the public school system for education into the ways of their ethnic-religious community. The families of all but one of the students were members of the Eden Mennonite Church. The other family attended the Hopefield Mennonite Church.

Bill's science teaching, as surely as his original dramas, were creative and relevant to the lives of his students. At the Pleasant Ridge Parent-Teacher Association meeting of October 17, 1949, the students reported on their wheat germination project. Students had brought samples of grain from their farms. They tested germination by laying out a hundred seeds between two pieces of moist paper-ten rows of seed each. They tested five varieties of wheat in eleven sample plots: Pawnee, Blue Jacket, Red Chief, Hungarian, and Early Triumph. Pawnee and Early Triumph had the highest germination--97%. One of the Red Chief plots was lowest--66%. The student reports to the PTA program included diagrams of wheat seed, and explanation of the research design. Committees of three family groups took turns in planning the monthly PTA meetings.

During their two years in Buhler, Meta and Bill had kept their church membership back at their home church, Eden, located one mile east and four and three-fourths miles south of their farm. Eden was thriving in the 1940s, with a membership of about 800 and average attendance of about 700. One pastor, Walter Gering, was responsible for pastoral leadership. In 1947 the church adopted a new constitution, and continued to exclude women from voting--contrary to Bill and Meta's wishes. That same year the church decided on a building expansion that allowed for a total seating of 1,030 people. The remodeled church also included indoor toilets, a controversial modern addition that Meta strongly supported.

Sixty-eight young men from Eden had been drafted in World War II. Forty-four had served in Civilian Public Service, the option officially supported by the Mennonite denomination. Thirteen had had gone into military service, and eleven into noncombatant military service. The church's constitution called for the exclusion of members who engaged in military service, but the enforcement of that policy was highly debated. After prolonged discussion and debate, the congregation eventually loosened the earlier policy of rejecting veterans. In this discussion, Bill took the position that "the church should discipline professing Mennonites who have been in the army." In a written statement, he attempted to clearly and fairly state the arguments for a more tolerant policy: Why discipline for this sin and not others? Why be so coercive? But finally, Bill wrote, the church's message to returning veterans should be:

You are no longer a Mennonite. We are sorry. We want you to again become a Mennonite. You will have to leave your army medals, your army uniform, and all that; we want you to take communion with us. With your medals and your uniform and the blood of other human beings on your hands, we can not let you in. We could not be happy with you in the group. Maybe you could be happy with some other church. . . . You are always welcome to come back. Won't you even now come with us to worship Him Whom we now and our Fathers before us believed to be the Real Jesus. . . . but you will have to repent.

Two of Bill's cousins, Marvin and Roland Juhnke, who grew up a mile and a half north of the Ernest Juhnke farm and who were members of the Eden Mennonite Church, had gone into the army and air force. Bill might have had his wayward cousins in mind. But Bill's recommended policy did not prevail at Eden, and his cousin Marvin remained a member there without formally confessing his sin. Roland and nearly all the others in regular military service did leave. Bill did not dwell on this issue in coming years. He had good relations with former Eden members who were veterans and who had left the church. He bought Chevrolet cars from Joe W. Goering, the Chevy dealer in Moundridge who had left Eden over military service issue.

Another point that showed the depth of Bill's conviction about war and peace, and his disillusionment with America's involvement in the war, was a discussion about the possibility of Mennonite migration to another country. While they lived in Buhler, an FBI agent had visited Bill and Meta's home and asked questions about two young Mennonite men who had applied for conscientious objector status. Bill, an outspoken anti-war activist, began to suspect that the government had bugged his house and was listening for incriminating conversations. Even though the pressures on German-American pacifists were not as severe as in World War I, Bill worried that conditions could get much worse, if casualty lists mounted and patriotic vigilantes began to attack pacifists. In a speech at the Eden Mennonite Church on November 14, 1943, titled "Intolerance and One Solution," Bill suggested that it was time for a Mennonite denominational committee to look into prospects for migration to another country. He identified countries that might welcome immigrants--Canada, Australia, Brazil, or central Africa. He noted that "to immigrate is to run away from the problem, but our fathers did it." Some might consider such a suggestion madness, he said, but "to be sane in a world of madmen is in itself a sort of madness." As it turned out, American hostility toward German-background pacifists did not become more intense than in World War I, and the war ended without excessive Mennonite suffering. Bill dropped the issue of emigration. But three decades later, in 1974, when his son, Jim, wrote in a book that Mennonites "had found a permanent home in America," Bill asked him, "Are you sure of that?"

Bill was disappointed that the Eden church pastor, Walter Gering, did not share his vision for ecumenical youth work. Bill helped to organize a McPherson County Christian Endeavor organization and was elected to the administrative committee. But Gering opposed Bill's ecumenical involvement. Gering, along with many of the Mennonite denominational leaders, had apparently learned from the wartime experience, when mainstream Protestant churches had become so militaristic, that Mennonites should focus on themselves. Bill was bitter: "I never did forgive him (Gering)," he said. "I always thought that was bad judgment on his part. He thought Eden was more conservative than it really was."

In 1944 Bill withdrew from his official leadership roles with the Mennonite Western District Christian Endeavor. He had served as president of the organization since 1938, and had edited the Western District Tidings (a periodical he had both founded and largely funded) since 1939. As district president, Bill had been a popular speaker at local Christian Endeavor meetings and banquets. The invitations from churches and schools kept coming after he left office in 1944. His notes for these speeches, often briefly sketched on three-by-five cards but sometimes written out more completely, revealed his social and religious vision. Among the topics were, "The Christian's Post-War Responsibility," "The Everlasting Father," "Who is the Ideal Mother?" "Easter Means a Living Christ," "The Hand of God in History," and "The Value of Reading Biography." For a speech in 1947 on "The Needs of Mennonite Young People in General" he quoted at length from a book by his Bethel College mentor Edmund G. Kaufman, The Growth of the Missionary Interest among the Mennonites of North America, especially Chapter Two on the "Sect Cycle and the non-Missionary Mennonite Mind." Bill asked, "Are we to survive as a sect? . . . We do not want isolation since it goes with the non-missionary mind."

In a public school speech shortly before the national election of November 1944, Bill reviewed the positions and achievements of the major candidates. He was critical of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, running for an unprecedented third time, for his "broken promise not to send boys to fight in foreign wars." Thomas Dewey, Governor of New York and the Republican nominee, was "identified with big business." Bill clearly favored Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate, who was for the "little man," for little countries, and for cooperatives. Bill outlined the four positive aims of socialism, including to "abolish poverty by wise use of resources." Bill, and perhaps Meta as well, voted Socialist in 1944.

Four years later, in 1948, the national political candidates were the embattled Democratic President Harry S. Truman; the Republican Thomas Dewey, strongly favored to win on his second try; and the Progressive Party candidate, Henry Wallace. Wallace had served as Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture for eight years, and as vice-president 1941-45. Bill appreciated Wallace's internationalism and desire for post-war accommodation with the Soviet Union. Wallace's opponents accused him of associating with Communists. Bill's votes for Norman Thomas in 1944 and for Henry Wallace in 1948 demonstrated his alienation from main-stream American politics and his belief that Mennonite principles dictated a more peace-minded, internationalist, and egalitarian course. Meta most likely voted the same way as Bill, although she did not talk about this in later years.

Bill enjoyed participating in local baseball and softball teams. For several years he played second base on a local baseball team that competed in Sunday afternoon day games against other teams in the region. The team wore green uniforms. In the spring of 1948 Bill helped to organize an "Elyria Softball League" of eight teams that played on Tuesday and Thursday summer evenings on a lighted field just east of the town. With his eight-millimeter movie camera, an instrument that recorded important family events for posterity, Bill briefly photographed Marlin Wedel and Victor Goering as they constructed the outdoor lights on an alfalfa field donated by Herman Schrag. For two years Bill served as one of the team managers. Many of the players had served in Civilian Public Service during World War II. For five years (1948 through 1952) the Elyria Softball League was a vibrant center of community social activity as well as of exciting athletic competition.

In 1950, not long before they moved to Lehigh, Bill and Meta took advantage of an opportunity to buy eighty acres of land north of Elyria. At the time it seemed a momentous step to go so far into debt. Meta complained, good naturedly to be sure, that Bill was more willing to invest in land than in a new and more modern house. Jim, between sixth and seventh grade, was impressed with the family talk of foregoing normal luxuries to pay off the debt. He worried that this would mean sacrificing Coke and Pepsi and ice cream cones. As it turned out, the land purchase was a wise investment, and the family continued to drink sodas and eat ice cream.

Bill and Meta's life at the farm near Elyria was thoroughly immersed in the activities of Mennonite community and family. They did their business with Mennonite businessmen in Elyria, Moundridge, and McPherson. They got medical services from their brother-in-law, Dr. Delbert Preheim, in Moundridge. They provided mutual aid in times of family need and transition--as when Bill's parents, Ernest and Alvina Juhnke--retired to a town home in Moundridge. In December 1946, at Ernest and Alvina's forty-second wedding anniversary, Bill wrote a fifteen-verse poem in the Swiss-Volhynian dialect that was their mother tongue. The opening verse and the closing lines were as follows:

Es var mol a bachelor--hat a fra notvendig,
Hat gefun a Alvina--dann bissle elendig
Sie var schon, er ach, un beino immer gesund.
Mit predigers maeda hat er sich verbund.
Bis heit varen dazu sibe un zwanzig seele.
Eppas vun der geschict ver me uns verzahle. . . .
. . . .
. . . Der Liebe Gott hat uns geliebt und gefuert bis hie her!
Ihm preis, lob, un ehr fur Euch un fur all immerdar.

(Rough translation: There once was a bachelor who needed a wife. He found an Alvina, who was then somewhat in need. She was beautiful, as was he, and in addition always healthy. He bound himself to a preacher's daughter. By today twenty-seven were added unto them. I will tell you something of their story. . . . The loving God has loved and led us thus far. Praise, honor and glory to him for you and forever.)

In the summer of 1947, Bill got some help with farm labor from Hubert Moore, a former CPS worker who stayed on for several weeks with the family after attending a CPS reunion in the Juhnke grove. Moore built a wooden flat-bed trailer for hauling hay, and did other farm work. He visited King City school, and was convinced that that two- or three-room rural schools were superior to larger urban or consolidated schools. In an appreciative letter from his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan that fall, Moore offered his blessing to the family and noted his memories--a window to Juhnke family life in the farm years between Buhler and Lehigh:

I hope you each are growing in every respect. I would love to taste some of your good cooking, Meta; and help you build a trailer, Bill; and let Jim teach me another Psalm; and listen to Janet pray at meals; and see Junior on the tractor. . . . With warm appreciation. --Hubert Moore

Forward to Chapter 7, Part 1

Back to Chapter 6, Part 1

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

By James C. Juhnke,

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