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The Mennonite Community At Meade

“Used with permission from “Mennonite Life” July 1951

Copyright Mennonite Life (http://www.bethelks.edu/mennonitelife/)

  

The visitor to the Meade, Kansas, Mennonite community is likely to be impressed by four or five pronounced characteristics.

Characteristics 

First is the impression that the Mennonite settlement is very compact, spelling group solidarity. Second, as the visitor becomes acquainted with the people and their homes, he will note the characteristically large farm families. A third impression is the unique pattern of dual farming. Not only do practically all of the farmers raise cattle and grain, but it seems as if every farmer has a side line in the form of a shop, small factory, commercial service or part-time job in town. A fourth noticeable characteristic is the dominance of the church in the community. It is the focal point of all activity in the community. It is literally and figuratively the source of the community’s strength, the repository of its best ideas, the very fountain of its collective life. Finally, the visitor is impressed with the way the community holds its youth. The Mennonites have their own high school and thus control the character of their secondary educational system in which their young people are trained. Few Meade young people go to college. Most of them find jobs locally or are provided with farms where they settle down in homes of their own not far from their parents.

There is a certain colonial frontier pattern of settlement reflected in the Meade area. Families seem to be settled in kinship groups. As one drives through the settlement under the guidance of such a well-informed and promising young community leader as Henry Loewen he is told that in this area live the Reimers, there the Loewens, beyond the Bartels, the Friesens, the Rempels, the Wiens, the Edigers and others. This settlement by families is due to the larger tracts of land which the early settlers bought and then divided for their sons and sons-in-law. There is still much of the atmosphere, flavor, and appearance of the open prairies. Trees are found only around the homesteads and buildings.

The Mennonite settlement is located ten to twenty miles south of Meade running in an east-west direction. At the present time the settlement expansion is in a northward and eastward direction. As one drives south from the town of Meade, he can see both the Cimarron River and the hills of northern Oklahoma. Here and there a number of the original settlers are still living on the homes they acquired forty-five years ago.

Among the oldest of the residents is Peter F. Rempel, one of the first two Mennonite settlers, now seventy-six years of age. He is still on his original farm and occupies himself by carving hundreds of birds and farm animals and other toys out of wood. He claims one hundred twenty-five direct descendants, most of them living in the Meade community.

At the time he came to Meade, all the land was in the form of vast ranches. Only a few small ranch houses dotted the landscape at great intervals. The ranchers had homesteaded, but were glad to sell to the Mennonites who came to establish their families and settle down to growing wheat and raising families. Rempel moved to Meade in September of 1906, along with the Jacob B. Friesen family, both from Jansen, Nebraska. The Mennonites introduced winter wheat into this part of Kansas, and later also introduced motor power in farming. It is claimed that the Loewen Brothers used the first wheat combine east of the Rocky Mountains. The mammoth machine had a 30-foot cutting bar and was pulled by a steam engine. Wheat is now the chief cash crop on all Mennonite farms in the area with cattle second. In recent years oil and gas booms have come to the southern half of Meade County where the Mennonites are located. Almost all of their land is now leased for oil or gas.

Rural Industries

Nowhere else in the United States or Canada has the writer found so many shops and industries located on farms as in the Meade, Kansas community. Almost all of these enterprises are operated in addition to farming. They provide a useful service to the community, steady employment to the farmers and their growing sons, and provide supplemental cash income for the families. To the casual observer it may appear as though the garage or machine shop on the farm is used exclusively for the mechanical work done on the individual farm; but upon investigation one finds complete sets of machinery, and completely-equipped places of business equal to the small shops found in towns and cities. If one is present during the week, he discovers that they are well patronized by customers from near and far.

One of the earliest of the machine shops established was that of George J. Rempel who lives four miles east and three south of Meade. He came to Meade in 1906 with his father. In 1924 he married Marie Friesen, daughter of Abraham H. Friesen. In 1927 he moved on his present half-section of land and began his general auto repair work a year later. He started in auto mechanics by working in his father’s repair shop draining crank cases in old model-T Fords and learning the trade of blacksmithing. As cars began to appear and horses disappear, he shifted from blacksmithing to mechanics. At the present time Rempel has a fine large concrete-block structure, fully equipped to do all kinds of motor overhauling and repairing on tractors and cars. He employs two boys in addition to himself. Besides the work on the garage, the family farms three quarter sections of land, most of it in wheat. The Rempels have a family of thirteen children. Herman, 22, and John, 19, help their father; Willie, 21, is in voluntary service in California while Margaret, the oldest daughter, spent some time in voluntary service at the MCC Brooklane Farm, Maryland. Although not all families are as large as Rempels, families of five to eight children are common throughout the Meade community. The high birth rate of Mennonites in the Meade area is also reflected in the large number of children in churches and Sunday school on Sunday morning.

Other rural shops and small industries on farms are Dick Klassen’s and Alfred Friesen’s repair shop; and Henry L. Friesen’s machine shop; Dick Friesen’s auto repair shop; and the Friesen Brothers windmill company, operated by Cornie and Henry. This company specializes in erecting the Fairbury windmills and doing general household plumbing. The Friesens with Pete Bartel are now engaged in drilling wells.

Henry L. Isaac has a splendidly-equipped and well kept wood-working shop in which he specializes more in cabinet work and general finishing. Peter J. Rempel and sons, Henry and Edward, build houses and farm buildings; Klass H. Reimer and his boys engage in the carpentering and building business; Henry K. Friesen operates a fleet of gasoline and oil bulk transports and hauls grain in season.

Another interesting establishment is the Classen Country Store which was started in August, 1949. At first only books were sold, later a line of groceries was added. Now the thriving little store also sells gas and has a pick-up truck which is used to make deliveries to and for his customers. The store is in the open country about a half mile from the Meade Academy. People leave cream at the store and Dave Classen takes it to town three times a week. The Classen Country Store thus becomes a genuine farmers’ service center. The Singer Sewing Machine Company picks up and delivers machines for repairing at stated intervals. The gross business is about $2,000 a month, far beyond what the size of the space would indicate. The store provides fresh fruits, frozen meats and vegetables, and in the summer time becomes the watermelon center for the community bringing in truckloads at a time. Following a dual industry as all the other repair shop and contractors mentioned do, Dave Classen farms in addition to carrying on his regular business.

A Village Pattern

Among the interesting discoveries that the visitor makes is a village which might be called the Loewen-Friesen village. In this quaint settlement live H.F. Isaac, Henry L. Isaac, Isaac L. Friesen, Mrs. A. H. Friesen, one of the first settlers, Mrs. John L. Friesen, Isaac W. Loewen and Dan C. Loewen. All of these people are in the same family or kinship group. All of them are primarily dependent on farming, but a number of them specialize in some side line. Isaac L. Friesen operates a modern dairy and furnishes grade “A” milk. He is being assisted by his nephews, Lawrence and Leroy Friesen. Henry L. Isaac has a newly-equipped cabinet shop with a full line of machinery and is reputed to be a highly skilled craftsman. He started in 1932 by filing saws; gradually he got into wood working. That he is mechanically inclined is demonstrated by the ingenious toy ferris wheel which he made of scrap parts and operates with a clock spring. He made his own jigsaw out of a sewing machine, a model-A Ford water pump and some model-T Ford parts.

Isaac Loewen, another member of this village and the father of eight children, operates a farm on a rather large scale. He too, manifests a mechanical genius. Twelve years ago he bought an old 1926 model, 15-foot Case combine for $42.50. The owner thought of it as good only for junk. Loewen repaired the combine and has used it ever since. He installed an automatic oiler and greaser with parts from an old Hart Parr tractor. He put on two old B-29 airplane tires and an electric lift that can be controlled by the tractor driver by merely pressing a button. His entire combine can be greased automatically by means of tubing from a central location. Isaac Loewen generally has about ninety head of cattle, around 700 acres in pasture and 420 in cultivation. He has an automatic lift for his silage so that he need not climb into the silo and throw it out by hand. Other farmers may operate on a larger or smaller scale but Loewen’s farm program is somewhat typical for his area.

Church and School

At the present time there is the Emmanuel Mennonite Church and an Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Church. The attendance at services, whether morning, afternoon or evening, is good. Christianity for these people is important and taken seriously. The register board in the Emmanuel church indicates also a high per capita Sunday school giving. On Sunday, March 18, there were 265 present with an offering of $65.16 or about twenty-five cents per person as the average contribution. On the following Sunday the attendance was 261 and the offering $84.50 for an average of about thirty-two cents. This compares favorably with the six to ten cents as the average per capita giving in most Mennonite Sunday schools.

The seriousness with which the Meade Mennonites take the matter of Christian faith and training of their youth is found manifested in the establishment and maintenance of the Meade Bible Academy whose principal at the present time is F.B. Klaassen. Four teachers are employed—Anna Regier, Andrew Classen, and Henry and Eldora Wiebe. In the Academy all four years of high school training are provided. In addition, a specialized course in Bible and Sunday school teacher training is conducted in the evening. This course is open to all adults as well as students of high school age. Of interest is a random selection of statements from the Meade Academy student’s creed. Here are several samples.

  •   “I will not allow myself to become angry.

  •   “I will not worry. If a thing can be helped, I will help it. If not, I will make the best of it.

  •   “I will plan for at least a half-hour of quiet, for reflection, for prayers, for real communion with Christ.

  •   “I will do somebody a good turn that is not expecting it of me.

  •   “If any person does me wrong, I will not bear him a grudge. I will try to forget it.

  •   “I will be more honest, square and prompt than business requires, more kind than charity requires, more loyal than friendship requires, more thoughtful than love requires.”

Not only have we an interesting insight as to the ideals of the Meade Academy; we have an argument for parochial education which can provide moral training and ethical ideals as well as the acquisition of mental discipline.

The Future

As Christian communities go, the Meade area seems destined to a bright future because the people put the church and her Lord very much at the center of their living and thinking. There are, however, evidences of change present which promise to make themselves felt in the future. There is pressure for expansion and the large families require additional land for the establishment of the newly-married young people. In 1939 seven or eight families moved to De Ridder, Louisiana where they settled on cut-over timber land. The price was low and it was felt that a new community might be established. By 1941 all of the families had returned, concluding that Louisiana was not the place for them. Early in 1924, five or six Meade families moved to Mexico where most of them remained and eventually assimilated with the Old Colony Mennonites.

 

 

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