Jason B. Kauffman
If I had to choose one word to describe the work of the Mennonite Church USA Archives over the last several months it would be: “productive.” In September I welcomed Eva Smucker Lapp as the new archives assistant, along with a Goshen College intern and two more regular volunteers. They joined a small, but dedicated core of long-term volunteers who have worked for years to process collections, build our online database of obituaries, and add images to our online collection of historical photographs. Together we made much progress this fall toward arranging, describing, and cataloging collections that accumulated before I arrived and while I was preparing for the move from Goshen to Elkhart.
Some processing highlights include:
- Sizable donations of institutional records from Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission and the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference. The MC USA Archives is the official repository for the records of the IN-MI Conference. Some interesting new records include files documenting communications between conference leaders and congregations that decided to close or withdraw membership. The AIMM records are composed of over 130 linear feet of materials documenting the organization’s evolution from the 1910s to the present. I hope to complete cataloging for this collection by spring 2019.
- Elaine Sommers Rich Papers: personal papers of a Mennonite writer and columnist for the Mennonite Weekly Review. The collection includes personal correspondence, teaching materials, and manuscripts and project files for writing projects and speeches.
- Willis and Byrdalene (Wyse) Horst Papers: personal papers from Mennonite Board of Missions workers who served in the Argentine Chaco for 38 years. The collection documents their efforts to support the indigenous churches in the region through Bible study, translation, and inter-cultural dialogue. The collection will grow in 2019 when I receive additional materials from the family. It joins a number of other collections documenting the establishment and growth of the Mennonite church in Argentina, including the papers of Josephus Wenger Shank, K. and Mae Hertzler Hershey, Elvin Snyder, and Albert and Lois Buckwalter.
- Joseph Daniel and Minnie Swartzendruber Graber Papers: personal papers of two Mennonite missionaries to India and, in later years, both prominent Mennonite church workers. J.D. was general secretary of the Mennonite Board of Missions from 1944 to 1967 and Minnie was president of the Women’s Missionary and Service Commission from 1950 to 1959. The collection includes diaries, extensive correspondence, sermon notes, and a large collection of J.D.’s published and unpublished writings.
- Melvin and Verna Roth Gingerich Papers: Re-processed personal papers of the longtime director of the Mennonite Church Historical Committee and archives, including diaries, correspondence and personal research files. The collection also reflects Gingerich’s activity in the broader church, including his work as editor of several Mennonite publications, his role as research director for the Mennonite Research Foundation, and his multiple periods of service with Mennonite Central Committee. It also includes a box of correspondence and other materials from Melvin’s spouse, Verna Roth Gingerich.
- Several smaller manuscript and organizational collections, including the Jacob S. Gerig Family Papers, the Ruth and Rhoda Ressler Papers, the Phalo Club Records, the David W. Mann Papers, and the Willard Swartley Papers.
I am grateful for colleagues, interns, and volunteers who keep things moving behind the scenes at the archives. They help complete the necessary work of organizing materials, rehousing and refoldering documents, and creating online finding aids so researchers can discover our new collections. Without their work, it would not be possible to make these important and fascinating collections available to researchers and the broader public.
And researchers are finding and using the collections. For example, a doctoral student from Canada spent three weeks in 2018 researching the Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission records for her dissertation project. Two other professors from universities in Canada and England recently consulted the Melvin Gingerich Papers for sources documenting his involvement (through MCC) with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and Seagoing Cowboys trips to Poland after World War II. And, of course, other researchers near and far continue to make creative use of many of the thousands of other collections housed at the archives.
I am amazed at the richness of our collections and am grateful that I can continue to make them accessible to researchers. I look forward to seeing what new discoveries await in 2019.