Lectures and Historical Notes

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Lecture"19th Century Insights from the Hildebrand Chest of Papers".
2013 Spring Lecture presented by Carol Moser at the Hildebrand Mennonite Church in Augusta County.

Lecture"The Medical Practice of John Kline".
Spring 2012 Lecture presented by Christopher Eads on April 14, 2012, at the Lindale Mennonite Church.

Lecture"In Her Own Words: Civil War Stories of Mennonite and Brethren Women in the Shenandoah Valley"
Fall 2011 Lecture Presented by Kirsten Eve Beachy on Nov. 13, 2011, at Mt. Pleasant Church of the Brethren

Lecture"Shenandoah Anabaptists and the Secession Crisis"
Spring 2011 Lecture By Steve Longenecker. See more photos of this event.

"Annabaptist Witness Against Slavery"
Fall 2010 Lecture By John W. (Jack) Lowe, Jr.

"Decorative Arts in the Shenandoah Valley" and Decorative Arts Slide Show
Spring 2010 Lecture By Scott Hamilton Suter

"Lift Your Glad Voices: Nurturing the Four-Part A Cappella Tradition"
Fall 2009 Lecture By Wendell Nisly

"Why Purchase More Land Now? A Vision for the Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center"
Fall 2008 Harvest Picnic Address By Cal Redekop

"My Discoveries in Local Mennonite History "
Fall 2008 Lecture by James O. Leman

"Seeking a New Perspective: Brethren Missions at a Crossroads,"
Spring 2008 Lecture by Joan Daggett

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Nancy Heisey

"They Also Serve: Reflections on the Brethren Mennonite Service Experience," Fall 2007 Lecture by Nancy R. Heisey

"Remembering who we are from generation to generation"
2006 Lecture by Sara Wenger Shenk
(click to download in pdf format - Acrobat Reader needed for download)

"Brethren and Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley During and After the Civil War"
2005 Lecture by Rev. Robert Alley
(click to download in pdf format - Acrobat Reader needed for download)

"Transforming History in Legacy: The Valley Brethren-Mennonite Story"
by Dr. Philip Stone
(click to download in pdf format - Acrobat Reader needed for download)

"On the Threshold, Keeping the Legacy Alive"
by Dr. Myron Augsburger

The Faces in the Diamond

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The faces in our logo represent particular persons and unique stories in their journeys of faith and conscience. The heart of our heritage is people. The program at the Center will tell stories about people ­ sometimes inspiring, occasionally embarrassing, usually shaped by the events of their time. It seems fitting for the symbol of the Heritage Center to feature faces of authentic people. The biographies below share their stories and journeys.

Jacob Kyger: Unionist and Abolitionist

Adapted from the Winter, 1995 issue of the Harrisonburg Rockingham Historical Society's newsletter and from information provided by Elizabeth Kyger, widow of M. Ellsworth Kyger, who was Jacob's grandson.

It was a tough decision for sixteen-year-old Jacob Kyger, son of Alexander Kyger, a farmer and blacksmith of the Mill Creek community. War clouds were heavy that winter of 1861. Slavery and secession were on everyone's mind, and people were in no mood to compromise.

Jacob's mother was bitterly opposed to slavery. Although she died when Jacob was eleven, she had convinced him of the immoral nature of slavery and he became an abolitionist. To Jake, secession was the twin evil of slavery.

But it was one thing to be an abolitionist and Unionist; something quite different knowing what to do should war come. After considering his choices, Jake decided to go to the North to stay with his aunt in Ohio.

In Ohio, he attempted to join a Union regiment but was not accepted because he was too young. Later he went to Iowa, where he lied about his age and was accepted into the 35th Iowa Infantry Regiment. His regiment fought along the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, Nashville, and Mobile as well as other battle sites.

At one time, Jacob was detailed to guard Confederate prisoners of war. One of the prisoners proposed that they write a letter to each other's family that they were alright and post the letters across enemy lines. And this is what they did. After the war, Jacob learned that his father had received the letter. It is speculated that this letter may have spared the Kyger's barn from the burning as proof that the family had a son in the Union Army.

One would expect resentment toward Jacob for having fought his neighbors, and this was true. Family relations remained strained with his Uncle Chris who had lost his slaves and was in financial straits. Jacob was notorious for holding grudges, and he held one against this Uncle who had opposed Jacob's abolitionist views before the war. Interestingly, his best friends after the war were Confederate veterans.

Jacob married Virginia Saufley and raised a family of ten children, dying in 1909. In later years, he seemed to have a compulsion to recount his war stories. As his health declined and his activities slowed, he apparently reflected on his life. He obviously felt apologetic about his participation in the war, saying at one point that he regretted the example he had set for his children. He joined the Presbyterian Church, but soon left, saying they preached too much that war was all right. Next he joined the Mill Creek Church of the Brethren and finally he joined the "Progressive" Brethren Church at Pineville. This is where he and his wife are buried.

Catherine Showalter: Faithful Supporter
Based on information from The Olive Branch and from Emmert Bittinger; Professor Emeritus at Bridgewater College

Catherine Showalter was born into a long tradition of faithful living according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Clearly, this included the belief that war and the bearing of arms against one another is contrary to these teachings. Catherine's ancestry reads like a family tree of Brethren pioneers:
  • Benjamin Bowman, Sr. (1751 - 1829) married Catharine Shoemaker. Founder of the Greenmount Brethren Congregation. He was an Elder at Greenmount.
  • Their son, Benjamin Bowman, Jr. (born 1775) married Catherine Wine (born 1775). Benjamin Jr. succeeded his father as Elder at Greenmount.
  • Benjamin, Jr. and Catherine Wine had a daughter, Elizabeth Bowman (born 1818) who married Elder Jacob Miller, one of the ministers of Greenmount.
  • Jacob Miller and Elizabeth Bowman had a daughter, Catherine Miller who married Jackson Showalter. She is the face pictured in the diamond.

Two groups of Brethren and Mennonites left their homes in the Valley in March, 1862 to go West to escape conscription into the Confederate army. Jackson Showalter, Catherine's husband, was one of these. His group, about eighteen in number, was captured near Moorefield and returned to Harrisonburg by way of Woodstock and Mt. Jackson.

There were several opportunities when some in the group could have escaped their captors but did not, fearing it would make the situation more difficult for those who remained. In Woodstock, their horses, saddles and bridles were taken from them, so the remainder of the journey to Mt. Jackson and then Harrisonburg was made on foot.

An account by Brother J. M. Cline of Knightly in Augusta County is quoted in The Olive Branch: "When we arrived at Harrisonburg, we had the honor of having our home for about two weeks in the courthouse. Here we were fed principally by friends who brought us boxes and baskets of good things to eat. After we were there a few days we all got a kind of epizootic and had it not been for Brother John Kline, it did seem that we could not have lived. It did seem that the Lord had him to come there to take care of us. As a physician he took care of us in our sickness, and as a minister he preached for us several times at night, and on each Sunday."

Catherine was one of the women who brought food regularly to the men incarcerated in the Rockingham County Court House. In her faith tradition, she demonstrated her support for the efforts of the men to take a stand in opposition to participating in the Civil War.

She would probably be surprised to find her face as a part of the CrossRoads diamond. And yet, she is an example of a believer quietly living her faith, serving those in need, supporting the community, and passing a noteworthy legacy.

Roberta Webb: Teacher and Quiet Feminist
By Nancy Bondurant Jones

Love of learning imprinted her early life ­ along with racial codes of the South. Living with her grandparents while her mother traveled for work, she grew up hearing tales of slave days. Her grandfather Wilder was a rarity, an ex-slave who'd been taught to read in direct violation of law.

Webb's own education began in a rural North Carolina school established by a white landowner. The building was furnished, but educational materials weren't. Parents provided supplies for their own children and for those whose parents couldn't afford the materials.

"Oh my, there was such rigid segregation. You'd have thought we were poison," she said.

She moved north in 1901. She went to work for a white family, trading housework for room and board and the chance to continue school. She was 11 and blessed with employers who nurtured her potential for learning. "I spent many happy years living with the Middleditch family. They made my education possible. They didn't judge people by their color, only their attitude" ­ a lesson that marked her attitude for life.

Ambitious to teach, she attended Hampton Institute, one of the nation's first all-black colleges. She taught at the "colored" school in Elkton and later in Harrisonburg until her marriage - married women weren't allowed to teach.

By the time her three daughters were in school, the country was in the Great Depression, and Webb saw the need for a nursery school for working parents. She responded by starting one in her front rooms, a move that would be the first of many responses to community needs. Later, she cared for homeless elderly men; her home became an early nursing home.

Webb joined Broad Street Mennonite Church in 1943. In the 1930's, the church was facing a major controversy ­ the question of allowing black membership. Finally, on March 16, 1941,the church held its first desegregated communion. Two years later, Roberta Webb joined the Mennonite church. Through the next two decades, she continued as one of the most active members. In 1966, she became the first black resident at oak Lea Nursing Home. The barrier she had known in youth and adulthood had finally been removed.

There was no bitterness. In her final years at Oak Lea, she expressed gratitude for former pastors who had explained Scripture "so that when it was time to live your religion on Monday, you knew what to do and how to think."

Certainly, this quiet feminist lived her religion on Mondays and through each day of the week. Roberta Webb died in December 1990 at nearly 102, after a lifetime of caring for and educating others.

Christopher Kennel: Continuing the Journey
Christopher Kennel, Harrisonburg native and EMHS graduate, traveled to Thailand in 1996 through Goshen College's cultural exchange program. There, he worked with Mennonite Central Committee teaching language, culture, and advocacy issues to refugees from Burma. This training served not only to educate but also to empower.

As Chris shared Bible stories in a different civilization he recognized the impact of culture on their interpretation. Most intriguing was the story of the woman washing the feet of Jesus. In Thai culture, parts of the body have special significance; the head represents authority and feet are considered dirty. Lowering your head to the level of someone's feet demonstrates humility beyond our comprehension.

In 2000 he graduated from Goshen, married Marija Dubrick, and moved to Indianapolis where his wife was in Medical School. In Indianapolis, Chris worked in public health interviewing patients with sexually transmitted diseases, locating their partners and recruiting participants for research projects on behavior. These were primarily adolescents who had no discomfort discussing their sexual activities and partners; it was Chris who had to learn how to deal with his embarrassment, to be more assertive and non-judgmental.

Church in Indianapolis was non-traditional, diverse, "on the fringes," and yet it felt like family. Members shared freely about personal difficulties; this lack of pretense was liberating. It was a period of spiritual growth through participation in such a close faith community

Earlier this year, Marija and Chris went to Nepal for clinical training for her medical school. This allowed exposure to yet another culture. In Nepal, being a Christian results in ostracism from your family. In Chris's view, being a Christian is fashionable in our culture; it requires no sacrifice. With our affluence, it is hard to feel like we need God, hard to appreciate our blessings, hard to have a global perspective.

Chris and Marija live in Denver now where she works in family practice. He is looking for a job that uses his skills, pays well, is healthy (outdoors, physical) and is socially responsible. Economic reality limits job options: he struggles with wanting to look prestigious in the eyes of the world.

It is important to him to follow the teachings of non-violence, the Sermon on the Mount, to pray for people who harm others. "It is not what you do but who you are that matters," he believes.

Chris is embarrassed at being a living symbol of CrossRoads. "I'm really not a very good Mennonite," he explains.

This fourth biography completes the stories of the faces in the diamond. Christopher Kennel is unique among these faces: he is still living; obviously, his story is not complete. He is self conscious at being a "poster boy" and wonders why he was selected. His inclusion is intentional. He represents all of us who are still carrying out our faith traditions through daily living, who are in the midst of our Journeys of Faith and Conscience, who do not know where our Journeys will lead.