By DL PERRIN
SHIPSHEWANA — The theme for the Menno-Hof’s 25th anniversary is “reunion.”
The event took place Saturday was exactly that — a reunion. Between the volunteers and the visitors attending the Menno Simons presentation, it was old home week.
The volunteers are the life-blood of Menno Hof, according to Director Jerry Beasley.
“Menno-Hof is a wonderful outreach of the Anabaptist community,” he said. “We couldn’t operate if we had to make payroll for all of our volunteers. They donate their time. They keep us going.”
Al Bontrager and his wife Mary were both volunteering Saturday. Al has been a volunteer for more than 15 years.
“We live in Goshen and attend College Mennonite Church,” he said. “Volunteering is a great way to spend time. You meet people from all over the world. We have been visited by people from 75 different countries and every state in the union.”
As he spoke a couple wandered out onto the porch to leave after their tour.
“We’re here visiting from Dallas, Texas,” said Bruce and Jan Harbour. “It was a very interesting tour. I learned quite a bit. I am Baptist so it was all new to me. I did not know about the early settling in Pennsylvania. It is a very nice operation they have here. We enjoyed it very much.”
After she bade them farewell, Mary Bontrager opened the guest book and said, ”Do you know, just today we were visited by people from six different countries. There is Brazil, Macedonia, Spain, Poland, Austria and Canada. It is amazing.”
As a fundraiser, Menno-Hof decided on a community haystack supper to kick off their 25th anniversary. Beasley said it took a group of 18 volunteers from local churches to get together and put on the supper.
“We met on the third of July and here it is, 10 days later and supper is served,” Beasley said. He said two board members Alvin Yoder and Orie Lehman gathered all the volunteers needed to make it happen smoothly.
The tables were filled and the plates piled high over at the haystack supper under the Shipshewana open pavilion on VanBuren Street. After topping off the meal with some homemade pie, the community was invited to a reserved seating, special program presented at the Menno-Hof meeting room.
Gerald R. Brunk
Brunk had the meeting room audience captivated as he did his impersonation of Menno Simon’s writings, “His Road to Decision.” You could have heard a pin drop during his recitation. Afterwards during the question-and-answer session, the conversation was lively.
Brunk taught European and (Mennonite) church history for 36 years at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. He has been doing his presentation of Menno Simons for nearly 30 years. After his presentation a few men were in the foyer shaking hands. It was a reunion of men who had known Brunk and his family, back in the day.
Paul Gingrich of Goshen said he was Brunk’s Sunday school teacher back in Harrisonburg, Va.
“His father was a very well-known evangelist, Gingrich said. “He would fill a 10,000-seat room. His brother would run the sound and Dr. Brunk would sing. They were an amazing family. A lot of the people here tonight know him from the university days.”
Although she didn’t know Brunk from college, Jesse Schlabach from Jefferson said she learned a great deal from the program. “I didn’t know Menno-Simons had a family and I was unaware of the history leading up to the persecutions,” she said. “It was very educational.”
Menno Simons comes alive
“In 1986 to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the founding of the Mennonite Church as a result of Menno Simons leaving the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church,” Brunk said. “The college president was going to give a lecture that history. He called me two days before the event and asked me to take over, he was ill. Being a history professor, I knew how much students paid attention to history lectures. I decided I was going to do the program in first person. I was going to become Menno Simons.”
“It was well-received by the students,” Brunk said. “That night and ever since, I have had a great deal of positive feedback and I do no marketing. People hear about me through others and invite me to appear at their functions. I can adjust the presentation to accommodate the room and any amount of time they require. Sometimes when I perform during a sermon they only want me to speak for 20 minutes. Yes, even I can be brief.”