NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Over the years, the history department at Bethel College has conducted several oral history projects – they’ll be recalling the first one at this year’s Fall Festival.
Fall Festival is an annual celebration for Bethel alumni and friends and often includes a special program at Kauffman Museum on campus.
Since 2017 is the centennial year of U.S. entry into World War I, museum staff have created an exhibit called “Voices of Conscience: Peace Witness in the Great War,” currently on display at the museum and scheduled to travel to the World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City later in the month for a special conference.
The Bethel history department’s first major oral history project took place from 1968-78, and involved collecting the stories of people directly affected by conscientious objection during the First World War.
Bethel’s emeritus historians, Keith Sprunger and James Juhnke, are hosting a reunion of the students who were involved in collecting those stories. There will be a panel Oct. 14 during Fall Festival, at 2 p.m. in the museum auditorium.
“In 1968, the Schowalter Foundation provided a grant to fund the collection of audio interviews from World War I persons,” Sprunger said. “It became known as the Schowalter Collection, composed of approximately 300 taped interviews.
“Most of the interviewees were men who had been drafted during World War I, and who took the conscientious objector stand,” he continued. “Most were Mennonites, but [the interviews] also included some Quakers and Church of the Brethren persons.
“Also included were some non-draftees, such as women active on the home front and church leaders, and some who did military service. The emphasis was to collect the stories of courage, faith and the stand for conscientious objection.”
The project began 50 years after the end of the First World War. “Time was urgent,” Sprunger said, “since the people [who had experienced WWI] every year were slipping away. Many were in their 70s or more.”
Sprunger and Juhnke conducted some of the interviews, but the majority were done by 11 history student interviewers.
It’s now 50 years after the interviews were collected, and the reunion will bring together most of the 11 – a number of whom are local – to reminisce about their project and to discuss and evaluate the work of oral history.
The 11 student interviewers were Sondra Bandy (Koontz), Newton; Carolyn Cox (George), Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; David Haury, Newton; Don Holsinger, Edmonds, Washington; Roger Juhnke, Newton; Joe Miller, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Dale Schrag, North Newton; Greg Stucky, Saint Simons Island, Georgia; Allan Teichroew, Silver Spring, Maryland; John Waltner, Hesston; and Fred Zerger, Albuquerque.
Sprunger said Holsinger, Stucky, Teichroew and Zerger plan to attend, along with local interviewers.
The taped interviews are now preserved in the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel.
Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges 2017-18 and in the Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.
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