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Family history topic for Friends of MLA program at Bethel College

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – "Family History beyond Names and Dates" is the program for the next Friends of the Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA) program at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 23 in the Administration Building Chapel at Bethel College, North Newton. Admission to the lecture is free and open to the public. Speakers are Leland Harder of North Newton and Boots and Merrill Raber of Newton, who think of themselves not as genealogists, but as family historians or storytellers.

Harder’s serious interest in family history, a "mantle" passed on to him by his father, began after Leland retired from a 25-year teaching career at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. He records information from the Johann Harder family whose descendants receive a quarterly family periodical, "The Harder Family Review." Leland Harder’s book is "The Blumstein Legacy: A Six Generation Family Saga" (written with Samuel W. Harder), whose title identifies the family village in the Ukraine.

He will share personal stories as well as information about how he determined which family to research, how to handle "skeletons in the family closet" and how family systems theory is relevant to family history.

Harder traces his family history to a Krimmer Mennonite Brethren group that migrated from Russia to Hillsboro in 1874. His parents were Menno S. and Katherine Wiens Harder. Leland Harder graduated from Bethel College in 1948. He received his master’s degree in sociology and anthropology at Michigan State University, seminary training at Bethany Theological Seminary in Chicago, Ill., and a doctoral degree in the sociology of religion at Northwestern University in Chicago. He and his wife, Bertha Fast Harder, have two sons and five granddaughters.

The Rabers' interest in family history began about 20 years ago as they developed their own family pedigree charts. "We found that names and dates aren’t as interesting as the stories about all the people on the fan chart." This has led to the collection of extensive history related to family ancestors.

The Rabers have written a number of books and articles related to family members, beginning in the 1980s when they encouraged Merrill’s mother to write her story. After editing her story, they were surprised by the positive responses by family members and others. This prompted them to continue. They recorded and edited oral stories of Boots’ father and wrote the book, "The Life Story of Henry D."

Most recently they have written the book "The Life and Times of William Jennings" about Merrill’s grandfather. This story and the process of collecting data will highlight their presentation.

Merrill Raber was born in Detroit, Mich., to Frank and Clara Raber. He has a bachelor’s degree from Goshen (Ind.) College, a master of social work degree from the University of Southern California and a doctoral degree in adult education from Kansas State University. He worked at Prairie View, Inc., in Newton for more than 20 years, and is currently semiretired from his private practice of psychotherapy, organization development and mediation.

Boots (Beulah) was born in Pigeon, Mich., to Henry and Barbara Esch. She received an associate of arts degree from Goshen (Ind.) College. After her marriage to Merrill, she was a full-time homemaker while their children were at home. Later she worked for 16 years as administrative manager of the National Society of Tole and Decorative Painters and more recently as office manager for Merrill’s Newton office. The Rabers have three children and seven grandchildren.

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