Chapter 9, Part 2: The Golden Years, 1967-1984

Bill and Meta's hospitality and vigorous engagement of their children's friends who visited the farm, invariably made an impression on such visitors. One of them, Dennis Doyle, a friend of Richard Harris from New Jersey, later wrote to Sharon, "Your dad was the first avowed pacifist I knew. I remember sitting in the living room of the farmhouse in Kansas . . . . I was struck by (Bill's) conviction. I had never had a talk like that with an adult." Doyle was also impressed by the "conservation" on the farm. "Everything was jarred and home grown. Even the windmill power generator (that captured natural energy and left no pollution) inspired me to be more environmentally conscious."

Meta has Bill test the casserole for the rehearsal dinner
before the wedding of Janet Juhnke and Ted Hale. 1975.

While studying in the English department at the University of Kansas, Janet met Ted Hale from upper New York state, who was also studying English. Janet and Ted were married in the Eden Mennonite Church on December 27, 1975. It was, as Jim wrote the next day, "a beautiful wedding, with string quartet music, dark velvet gowns, and excellent candid photography." (Jim was the candid photographer.) A special feature of the wedding ceremony was a conversation between Janet and Ted in which they talked about their relationship, how they were alike and different from each other, and how they related to family and friends. Jim found it "natural and spontaneous--really nice." The wedding brought the entire Juhnke family together for the first time in several years. For three evenings in a row the family played charades--a favorite game that indulged the Juhnke family's penchant for word play, brisk competition, creative gesture, and raucous laughter.

Bill Juhnke Sr. acting in a
charades game. 1975.

In the 1970s Bill turned his creative energies to the writing of local histories and family dramas. Between 1972 and 1976 he researched and wrote a series of articles about local villages, townships and school districts. The articles, richly illustrated with historical photographs, were published in the Moundridge Journal. Bill's research involved investigation of published and unpublished sources, in addition to personal visits with old-timers to get their stories of the early days of settlement. The articles carried titles such as "Criss-crossing the Turkey Creek in Fact and Fancy," "The Real Story Behind King City," and "Looking into Lone Tree Township." The writing was personal, folksy and impressionistic. Along with the historical information and anecdotes, Bill invoked a broader significance for his stories by quoting from famous philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and historians such as Arnold Toynbee. In his Turkey Creek article, for example, Bill wrote, "There were times when freedom and community were hard to keep in right balance. There were the unregenerate and the self-centered. There were those struck by the malady which Toynbee would call 'Ego-centric.' (Toynbee) sees this as a remaining, central problem for Western man." In another article, Bill tossed in an imagined conversation with Henry Ford, taking issue with Ford's statement that "history is bunk."

Bill received many laudatory comments on his writing. One person wrote to the Journal editor about one article, "Mr. Juhnke did a marvelous job in his research. It must have taken much time and patience on his part." In a letter to his children, Bill wrote, "We have gotten no end of comments practically all of enthusiastic interest in the story." One of Bill's friends, Herb Stucky, told him that he subscribed to the Moundridge Journal just to read Bill's stories. The entire set of articles might have been edited and made available as a separate publication. But Bill did not pursue that option. The articles were very dependent upon the photographs which he had returned to their owners. He probably suspected that his writing was too eccentric and disjointed to be published in pamphlet or book form.

In the spring of 1973 Bill fulfilled a life-long dream by joining an Anabaptist-Mennonite historical tour group to the homeland of his ancestors in western Europe and the Ukraine. Harley Stucky, Bill's former student in Moundridge High School, was the leader of this "Agro-cultural" tour. Bill's report of the tour reflected upon the differences between the migrants of 1874 and the tourists a century later. The tour was a good warm-up for the Swiss Volhynian celebrations in 1974 of the centennial of their immigration to America. Bill compiled an extensive Mennonite history study guide for the event. The Swiss Mennonite Cultural and Historical Association (SMCHA) organized a series of public events for the celebration. At the site of the original immigrant house near the Hopefield Church, they created an impressive historical monument--a large globe topped by a cross and surrounded by bronze plaques that told the story of the life and faith of the Swiss Volhynian immigrants. In subsequent years Bill was active as a member and officer of SMCHA, as well as of the McPherson County Historical Society.

In 1976 Bill turned to writing historical dramas for the local stage. The first one, titled "Our Town-Our Country" was sponsored by the Swiss Mennonite Cultural and Historical Association (SMCHA) and produced two evenings in September at the Moundridge High School Auditorium. The drama was a remarkable ethnic celebration of the national bicentennial that brought together Anabaptist/Mennonite symbols and American national icons in unprecedented ways. A prologue about the Anabaptist suffering and steadfastness in sixteenth century Switzerland was followed by an opening act that featured the voices and views of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and Abe Lincoln. Act II included scenes of frontier life in Moundridge, Kansas, and climaxed with an antiphonal reading of "I am the nation" and the audience singing "The Light of the World is Jesus." Elaine Sommers Rich, writer for Mennonite Weekly Review, saw "Our Town-Our Country" and commented favorably in her column: "The antiphonal reading at the end pointed away from narrow nationalism toward a universal loyalty to mankind everywhere."

Also in 1976 Bill wrote a play that he titled, "Bi-Centennial Glimpses of King City." That play was not produced on stage. But the following year Bill wrote a more ambitious family history drama for the Napoleon R. Kaufman family reunion (his mother's relatives), produced November 26, 1977, at the Moundridge High School auditorium. This one was titled, "Fannie and Napoleon, They Brought Us To Be." Bill involved wider family members in gathering stories, sending out a questionnaire, interviewing family elders, as well as recruiting family members to take small roles in the drama. Bill wrote, "A family drama is something of a new idea among us. A mixture of both lore and reality, it is hoped the play will inspire all . . . ." The play included sober moments such as the congregation's use of the lot to choose a new leader, as well as humorous moments such as an argument over which breed of horses was better--Percheron or Belgian.

In 1980 Bill revised and expanded his "Fannie and Napoleon" play for a wider Kaufman family reunion at Bethel College. He called his more expansive version "From Steffisberg Into All the World." It ended with an antiphonal reading, "Heroes of 1874-1980," with ten four-line verses. The verses were notable for internal rhyme. For example: "On the hills in peaceful slumber, Rest our loved ones pure and true. Many of their silent number, Having toiled for me and you." And finally, "Awake, Come to, Arise! Go Forth! All of you who know and can; Heaven's grace may yet be open, Now lead forth ye Kaufman Clan." The following year, 1981, Bill wrote and directed another family reunion "multi-media dramatization," this one for a Stucky reunion and titled "Sojourns of a Family." The program listed sixty-four cast members, most of whom had brief roles in short scenes representing their ancestors.

Meta Juhnke was not a world traveler. In 1973 she declined to go along with Bill on the Agrocultural Mennonite history tour to Europe. But in July of 1976, the American centennial year, she seized an opportunity to exhibit her foodmaking skills at the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Her companion at the event was Esther (Mrs. Lester) Schmidt, from the Alexanderwohl community. Esther made "New Years Cookies," a favorite Low German ethnic food--deep fat fried yeast dough balls with raisins. Also representing the Kansas Mennonites at the Folklife festival was a four-member "Schweitzer ensemble" of banjos and mandolins. During the evenings in Washington D.C., Meta and Esther attended special events such as a concert in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Meta had won the honor of going to Washington D.C. when a Smithsonian representative from the Division of Performing Arts had visited Moundridge, Kansas, and tasted her homemade cheese. On the Juhnke farm Meta made cheese from surplus milk for her family and for neighbors. It took two gallons of milk to produce two pounds of cheese. At the Folklife Festival she had to use pasteurized milk, which required the addition of buttermilk and an extra two hours of processing. "It will taste a little different," she told a news reporter, "but they'll never know the difference." Meta seemed surprised by all the fuss made over simple ways of cooking that she had learned from her grandmother. She did not consider herself an exceptionally great cook. "My cooking improves the further from home my children get," she said. Her photo and story appeared in the local newspapers from Moundridge, McPherson and Hutchinson. Meta had never been such a celebrity.

Candy and Bill wrote letters to Meta in Washington, D.C., reassuring her that things were in good hands at home during her absence. They were picking green beans and sweet corn from the garden, and Candy was helping Bill in the field ("the 120") with the disc and plow. "I'd just as soon be in the field as in the garden," Candy wrote. She also went for piano practice with her good friend, Dorothy Stucky. By the time Meta returned, Candy had left with members of the Eden church youth group for a three-week youth camp in Meridian, Mississippi. Back home after her adventure, Meta wrote in her diary, "Everything ship shape at home without me."

In May of 1979, Meta and Bill attended a concert by the Bethel College concert choir, with Candy singing in the soprano section. In a round robin letter to her siblings, Meta noted that this marked the end of an era. "This may be the last concert including one of our children. It's been a wonderful thirty years more or less beginning with Janet's violin recitals and including band, piano, choirs, drama, etc." In good years and lean, Meta and Bill had sacrificed time and money to provide for music lessons for their children--not to mention nagging time for Meta to get them to practice. That effort had been rewarded.

During the 1970s and 1980s Bill gave repeated attention to Juhnke family history. He and Meta made a trip to Knox County, Nebraska, to visit the site of his grandparents' original homestead. He undertook a correspondence with Barbara Beitzel, a distant cousin who had written a family history of descendants of August and Alwina Yuhnke. August (1866-1936) was the son of Bill's great aunt Fredricka. In 1978 Beitzel came to Kansas for a Suenram family reunion and visited at length with Bill and Meta. They later reciprocated with a visit to California to see where the Yuhnke branch of the family had located.

In 1981 Bill wrote a nine-page history of the Juhnke homestead from 1886 forward in the voice of the large cottonwood tree that stood just east of the farm house. He titled the story "A Tree Speaks." Two years later, In 1983, Bill compiled his most extensive history of his own Juhnke family--a 37-page mimeographed and spiral-bound document of family stories and photographs. On the front cover was the title "Juhnke" and an image of his grandfather Karl Juhnke. The narrative took shape as a response to a request for family information from Kevin Neufeld, the grandson of Bill's sister, Alvina Juhnke Neufeld. Alvina had died early in 1983. Bill's family history was both a tribute to his sister and an attempt to pass on the family heritage to future generations.

Bill and Meta were delighted with the birth of each of their grandchildren. (See Appendix A for names and dates.) For example, Bill celebrated the birth of Carrie Juhnke, who was born January 16, 1978 with a twelve-verse poem that had the marks of Bill's writing--traditional sentiment, social and political challenge, and a call to new hope and awakening. The first and the final verses were as follows:

Little drops of water, Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean, and the pleasant land
. . . .
Should you then be happy, with Watergate and such,
Polluted air and water that trouble us so much?

Tainted drops of water, tarnished grains of sand
Make a mighty ocean and a pleasant land?

Bill Sr. holding grandchildren
Joanne and Kevin. Ca. 1969.

Not so, "A child shall lead them!" Awake ye Sons of earth!
New Hope has come to us, Rejoice in Carrie's birth.

On June 1, 1979, Candy Juhnke married Vance Unrau in the presence of nearly four hundred guests at the Eden Mennonite Church. Meta wrote in her diary that day, "Everything went well--beautiful vows--Candy was happy." Vance was from the Alexanderwohl Mennonite community. More than one guest commented that this was another crossing of the cultural divide between the Swiss-Volhynian and the Dutch-Russian Low German Mennonite traditions. The young couple had both completed their sophomore years at Bethel College, with Candy looking forward to a nursing career and Vance preparing for a career in high school teaching and coaching. Their first home was the house in North Newton where Grandma Katie Goering had lived. Eventually they moved to Moundridge, geographically closer to Bill and Meta than Candy's siblings. That close proximity enabled Candy's family to spend more time with her parents in their later years.

The family at Bill and Meta's 45th wedding anniversary, June 7, 1982.
(Click to larger image for complete caption with names).

"Father time and older years are catching up with Meta and me too," wrote Bill in a 1983 Christmas letter to his uncle, Menno Kaufman, weeks before Bill's 72nd and Meta's 68th birthdays in January 1984. There had been hospitalizations that were reminders of mortality. In 1969 Meta had had her gall bladder removed, and later a pre-cancerous skin growth removed from her face. In 1977 Bill had spent time in the hospital for what he thought was a heart problem, but turned out to be an ulcer on his duodenum. The following year, 1978, he had undergone back surgery at St. Francis Hospital in Newton. That surgery had moderated the back pains that had been bothering him for decades, but he had reacted adversely to some medications in ways that foreshadowed problems for future surgeries.

Bill and Meta in poppyseed garden behind the house
by the Elyria road, Spring 1982.

As the years passed, Bill and Meta had gradually simplified and reduced their farming and gardening operations. They planted less milo and more wheat. They stopped milking cows--which meant that Meta did not have fresh whole milk for making cheese. They used the garden more for pleasure than for the production of staples. They increasingly took advantage of commercial canned and frozen produce. They were more inclined to eat meals at restaurants, especially at Bill's favorite Kentucky Fried Chicken in McPherson. Bill was noticing chest pains that would need more radical attention than the medications he was already taking. Father Time was indeed catching up.


Forward to Chapter 10, Part 1

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By James C. Juhnke,

Web page by Joanne Juhnke,
Last updated 11 August 2009.