"Life and letters are made up of small things, mostly," wrote Bill Juhnke to his family. In his letters Bill celebrated the small things, the ordinariness of life. He recorded what he saw in the room around him, what family members had said in the last five minutes, or what Meta had prepared for lunch.
Bill also had visions about the big things. In another letter, reflecting on his reading of Here I Stand by historian Roland Bainton, Bill wondered whether current (1959) world political reform movements "could be made decent and strong with modern-intellectual-mennonite-anabaptism, neomuntzerism without the sword."
This account of the shared life of Bill and Meta Goering Juhnke includes many things both small and large. As a family historian, I pray that the small details that I have plucked out of the confusion of family documents and memories may somehow stand with integrity for the larger themes that defined lives well lived. The choice of what details to include involves an art of creative reconstruction as well as the science of truthful recording what actually happened.
Bill and Meta lived in a twentieth century of rapid social change. But their life in family and community was more notable for its stability and continuity than for its disruptions or upheavals. They were rural Mennonites in south-central Kansas who never moved far from home, either geographically or spiritually. The Mennonite church was the center of their social life as well as the source of their most basic beliefs and ideals. Contrary to popular images of Amish or Mennonite isolation and social conservatism before the 1960s, Bill and Meta were politically engaged, socially progressive, anti-war activists. Their local church congregation, the Eden Mennonite Church, had (and to this day still has) a strong peace tradition and a vibrant corps of progressive Christian pacifists.
Bill and Meta's basic commitments continued into the next generation. They passed on their religious and social values to their six children. All six (Jim, Janet, Bill Jr., Sharon, Ruth, and Candace) with their spouses became church-going, anti-war, socially progressive citizens who usually voted Democrat. Although none of them were family farmers on the pattern of their parents, they all stayed married to, and reared children with, their same partners. They all lived long term in single-family houses. And they all stayed at their same jobs (three college teachers, one legal analyst, one law librarian/receptionist, and one nurse) for decades. In an American world of high geographical and vocational mobility, as well as a divorce rate that would have astonished our ancestors, such family stability is quite remarkable.
My siblings helped me to write this book. I thank them for their shared memories and for their critical reading of the text. I apologize for all the important small and large things that I left out, for irrelevancies or embarrassments that I included, as well as for matters of interpretation or emphasis that may seem off the mark. I especially thank my daughter, Joanne Juhnke, for her work in formatting this manuscript for publication both on the web at juhnke.com and in print form. Joanne helped with editing in ways that improved the manuscript. Thanks are also due to my wife, Anna (who died in 2005), for organizing Juhnke family photographs and documents. Anna conducted an excellent series of tape-recorded life-history interviews with Meta while Bill and I were attending Bethel College football games.
The front cover shows Meta and Bill in their golden years standing in the poppyseed garden behind the house east of Elyria, Kansas.
The title of this book comes from Bill Juhnke's quotation of a funeral sermon by Gordon Kaufman, a Mennonite theologian. Gordon, along with his father, Edmund G. Kaufman, influenced the thinking and inspired the commitments of Bill, Meta, and their oldest son. Those of us in this story indeed have much to be thankful for.
James C. Juhnke
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By James C. Juhnke, firstname.lastname@example.org
Web page by Joanne Juhnke, email@example.com
Last updated 8 August 2009.