Today’s blog is tangentially related to Ontario Mennonite history, since I would likely not be in Canada to write about Ontario Mennonite history without this incident.
It can fairly be said that my move to Canada in October 1968 partially resulted from an experience shared with a number of other students at Goshen College (Goshen, Indiana) in September/October 1967. This was a one month experiment with an underground “newspaper” called Menno-Pause.
Although Menno-Pause has been most closely associated with the four young men who were expelled from the College because they signed their name to the title page, the editorial team included a fifth member, and a number of other students assisted in its design, production and circulation.
The five editors included Jim Wenger, a brilliant English major certain to have a future in academia. He was a voracious reader and a lover of ideas, as well as being a gifted pianist. Lowell Miller, a farm boy from Ohio, was another English major who enjoyed theological debate. In fall 1967 Jim and Lowell were roommates in Yoder Hall.
Tom Harley was a political science major with an incisive wit, a love for both Joseph Haydn and the Beatles, and a passion for trout fishing. I was a political science major, a photographer, and a lover of urban blues. Some thought that I was also a faux rebel. In fall 1967 Tom and I were roommates at the other end of Yoder Hall in Room 201. Verlin Miller, a religion major with a rich curiosity for people and ideas, was a staff assistant on another floor in Yoder Hall.
We were friends before Menno-Pause started. I had been the photographer for the Maple Leaf yearbook in 1966/67 when Jim was its editor. Tom and I were the only political science majors at the college. Verlin and I roomed together part of the summer of 1967 with shared interest in blues and underground newspapers. Lowell I didn’t know until our adventure began.
We were all young, naive Mennonites (except for Tom, who was just young and naive). We were part of a “publications Brüderhof” at the college, loosely connected to The Record, the official student newspaper, the Maple Leaf (annual student yearbook), and Foolscap (student literary publication). I was the photographer and Tom was a regular columnist for the Record, and Jim and Lowell also wrote for the Record. Sue Clemmer, the Record editor, was part of the Brüderhof, as was Carol Beechy, the Maple Leaf editor. Jim and Lowell were on staff for Foolscap.
Jim Wenger was the intellectual leader of our little band. He had studied the growing phenomenon of underground newspapers in spring 1967 for the Communication and Society course. He was a convinced adherent of the free speech movement, and wished for a living example at Goshen College. He also wanted to shake his “egghead” reputation because he had a near 4.0 grade average.
I was a convinced adherent of the New Left movement through membership in the Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.). This philosophy was articulated in its Port Huron statement and the buzzword of “participatory democracy” (which believed students should truly participate in shaping their own education).
The summer of 1967 Verlin and I saw a modest underground newspaper prepared by two Voluntary Service workers in Chicago, Steve Stucky and Mark Wagler. We mused about the possibilities.
In early September the five of us began to plan, mostly in Yoder 201, often against the backdrop of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” By September 10 we were serious about producing an underground paper. Tom gave us the name of the paper. We co-opted others to help. They included Carol Beechy (women’s perspective), Doug Swartzendruber (design), Eric Yoder, and Bill Horrisberger. We delegated Jim and Lowell to give Sue Clemmer a “head’s up” that our alternative publication was coming.
Since our work on the paper was an open secret, four of us decided to sign the masthead of Menno-Pause issue #1. We encouraged Verlin to leave his name off the masthead, since he had an official role that might be jeopardized by a visible connection to the paper. For reasons I no longer recall, the individual articles were all unsigned.
Jim drafted our purpose statement thusly: “The Menno-Pause is a gadfly (poking and prodding the GC sacred cows), a watchdog (checking and analysing disciplinary action), a critic (positive or negative analysis of GC education), an extended student opinion board–and general all-around crap.” We characterized ourselves as the “campus underground newspaper team.”
On the evening of September 28, Sue Clemmer provided us access to the English department’s stencil cutting and mimeograph machines. Verlin frantically typed the stencils. We had blank space that needed filling, so we added a list of unacceptable words that been “deleted,” including shucks, goodness gracious, and fuck (37 times). Peg Mullet and Kathy Helmuth assisted us in printing the two-sheet, four page paper. Lenny Preheim agreed to circulate issues in the dining hall the next morning. Four hundred copies were gone in less than 30 minutes.
The reaction was mixed, but there were many requests for left-over copies. Critical comments suggested we had come closest to meeting the last point of our purpose statement (“general all-around crap”). Even our friends at the Record later editorialized: “Unfortunately, the first issue was cruder than it was funny.”
We delivered a personal copy to Dan Hess, the faculty adviser for student publications. He was soon asked if he could provide the administration a copy. By Saturday afternoon we had received our first letter to the editor–a critical analysis by a professor of Lowell Miller’s graph and analysis of “the decline and fall of the covering [prayer veil]” in the student yearbook over the years.
By Monday (October 2), it was clear that President Paul Mininger and other administrators were very unhappy. Dan Hess advised Jim to gather a folder of articles that would provide background on the underground press movement for President Mininger. Hess also advised us to prepare a second issue as quickly as possible to provide a better example of our intent.
We thought this advice was good, and immediately began work on the next issue. There was one conflict within the editorial board. Should we pursue the use of “obscene” language? Tom said it was not crucial to the paper. Jim was not sure. I thought we should not go out of our way to use it, but that we should claim the right to use it as the situation demanded. We decided to discuss the issue of obscene language in the second issue, and delegated the task to Tom, since he would probably have the coolest head in writing it. Jim found a quote from Eberhard Kronhausen that seemed to fit the front page very nicely, and we also found a little piece by Malcolm Boyd that addressed the issue.
We also wanted to present something positive. So Jim wrote a piece about Dr. Mary Oyer, a real academic hero of his. I opposed this, but was overruled by the other editors.
That Thursday we were pulled out of class for a meeting “in ten minutes” with President Mininger and Dean of Students Russ Liechty. They expressed concern about “the word on the back page,” the combination of letters in the name of our team, and the name of the paper. We talked about the nature of underground papers and satire, that this was a first effort. I defended our use of the language.
After the meeting with the four of us, Jim and I were kept for individual meetings with President Mininger and Dean Liechty. In my meeting they expressed great disappointment because of my earlier infractions at the college. I claimed that in my re-admission from a previous suspension I had specifically retained the right to speak to issues at the college. I suspect I was fairly defensive.
None of the rest of us editors knew that Jim was in the process of sorting out his sexual identity. That summer he had placed an personal ad in the Berkeley Barb soliciting a male partner. An alumnus of the college had seen the ad, and had sent a copy to the Goshen College administration. Despite this, however, Jim was also then still open to exploring a romantic relationship with a female member of our publications Brüderhof. I assume the administrators discussed the ad with Jim, though I don’t know that as a fact. He did not mention it to me.
Our second issue came out on Monday, October 9. Copies again were snapped up in short order. In the aftermath Jim and I were invited to participate in the campus church on the following Sunday to talk about dissent on Christian campuses.
As it happened, all the decisions we had made about content in issue #2 were used against us in the ensuing decisions. Even the article about Mary Oyer was interpreted as being destructive to the integrity of the college community.
Both issues of Menno-Pause are available as a pdf download by clicking on the image to the left. My apologies for the poor quality of the original issue #1.
Wednesday night the four publicly-identified editors meet individually with the Faculty Discipline Committee. In my meeting President Mininger read a lengthy statement on the goals and purposes of Goshen College. I was then asked why I should be allowed to remain at Goshen College. I responded, likely with limited coherence, that I thought I could make a contribution to the life of the college. When asked if I had regrets, I said I regretted that we had failed to properly communicate our goals. The three other editors had similar experiences.
A Presidential Forum for all students was announced for Thursday evening, October 12, in the church-chapel. The meeting was scheduled for 8:30 pm. Since a faculty meeting had gone on most of the day, we did not learn our fate until 7:30 that evening. The four public editors were suspended for the remainder of the academic year.
The administration asked us not to attend the Presidential Forum. For reasons I don’t recall, we agreed. At the forum a large majority of the students supported the suspension with a round of applause. Verlin, and other members of the publications Brüderhof were surprised by the intensity of the support, and felt it was directed against them as well.
The next days involved contacting family, sorting out logistics and making plans. Some of the editors had a debriefing at Dan Hess’ home. Sunday afternoon the editors were interviewed by Sue Clemmer as part of a two-page spread in the Record. After a “last [spaghetti] supper” prepared by Forreyce Lewis for the editors and their friends on Sunday night, the four of us left for Chicago.
Two things attracted us. The Voluntary Service unit on Chicago’s south side housed Steve Stucky and Mark Wagler, the two guys who had shown us an underground paper the previous summer. And Dan Leatherman, Goshen’s sole political science prof, was studying that year and lived with his family near the VS unit.
Tom and Lowell soon left Chicago and returned home. Jim and I moved to the northern edge of Chicago and got jobs at the Evanston Hospital–Jim in the kitchen, myself as a supply clerk. Jim was able to use his work to fulfill his alternative service obligation to the Selective Service System. He remained working in the hospital kitchen for the rest of his life. I worked at the hospital for about six months until I destroyed my draft card and was dismissed from the hospital.
Sometime in late 1967 or early 1968 Jim confirmed his sexual orientation as a gay man, and came out to me and other close friends. Within a half a year or so he had begun a life-long committed relationship with Peter Johnsen. They shared almost 30 years together. Jim died May 31, 1997 initially from non-HIV pneumonia, and finally from a superbug he contracted while in the hospital.
During this tumultuous time in Chicago, Jim and I were visited by various friends from the Goshen publication Brüderhof. As my legal and living situation worsened, they expressed growing concern for my well-being. One friend in particular, Sue Clemmer, persuaded me that Canada was a healthier alternative than prison. I left for Canada during the last week of October 1968. Our courtship deepened, and we were married in Canada on August 2, 1969.
People have wondered if there was ever reconciliation with leaders at the College. Tom and Lowell returned to school; I finished my degree in Canada.
[The following two paragraphs were updated December 4, 2015 and a photo added after discovering a folder of correspondence with Jim from 1994-1996.]
Jim Wenger never returned to academia, and stopped playing music for almost 20 years. He eventually healed enough to begin to play the piano again in the late 1980s and to create tapes of his piano music for friends as Christmas presents. He began to perform as a piano soloist in the early 1990s, including at the Art Association of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Jim and Peter returned to the Goshen College for the first (and only?) time for a weekend in October 1993 as a guest of Dan and Joy Hess. Jim described it as cathartic for himself–“many positive and negative memories flowed.” He also had what he described as a “joyful reunion” with Mary Oyer. In 1995, as recounted by Dan Hess, Jim had one meeting with President Mininger, though we don’t know what was said in that encounter.
I next encountered Paul Mininger around 1980 in the home of Richard Detweiler, then pastor of the Souderton Mennonite Church. Mininger was the preacher at the Souderton Church one Sunday when Sue and I were visiting family. Richard and Mary Jane invited us to Sunday lunch and forced me to sit next to Mininger at the table. We had a cordial conversation.
We later had several longer conversations. In 1991 I made a presentation about my college and draft experience to a Mennonite Historical Society meeting at the Mennonite Church Assembly in Eugene, Oregon. Mininger asked if I minded if he came to the presentation. He exhibited a warmth in our conversations then that I had not experienced when a student. I felt we ended on good terms.
On reflection, the four of us were naive in estimating what a small Mennonite college, still shaking off the traditions of the 1950s and early 1960s, was capable of absorbing. The applause of the student body at our dismissal forced the editorial staff at the Record and the Maple Leaf to reassess whether their left-leaning “self-styled” elite was able to serve the full spectrum of the student community. They worked hard at it in the subsequent months.
Nonetheless I always felt the college administration’s reaction was excessive, exhibiting much greater fear of our power to disrupt the college community than was reality. In addition to the profanity, and the perceived attack on community, our loose association with SDS and Jim Wenger’s working out of his sexual orientation seemed to be held against us in formulating the level of discipline.
For me, the events were life-changing as I was launched into conflict with the Selective Service System. I also had to come to grips with my own response to Jim’s homosexuality at a time when I had not ever considered the issue. And over time I came to embrace the Mennonite Church that finally refused to spew me out, even when many within it may have wanted to.
Over the years Menno-Pause made its way into the folklore of Goshen College’s history. However, I believe the only published reflections on this publication are in Susan Fisher Miller’s Culture for service: A history of Goshen College, 1894-1994, J. Daniel Hess’s memoir reflection, “Menno Pause Revisited” and two chapters in Sue Clemmer Steiner’s Flowing with the River: soundings from my life and ministry (2013).
In 2014 the surviving editors held a reunion at the home of Verlin Miller. It was a time to laugh and remember; it was a time to mourn the loss of our friend, Jim Wenger.
My own experience with the U.S. draft in 1967/1968 has appeared in Melissa Miller and Phil Shenk, The Path of Most Resistance: Stories of Mennonite Conscientious Objectors Who Did Not Cooperate with the Vietnam War Draft. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1982: 95–114 and Samuel J. Steiner, “Alternative Service or Alternative Resistance? A Vietnam War Draft Resister in Canada.” Journal of Mennonite Studies 25 (2007): 195–204. https://jms.uwinnipeg.ca/index.php/jms/article/viewFile/1234/1226. It has also been interpreted in a drama by Rebecca Steiner, Gadfly: Sam Steiner Dodges the Draft.
This reflection on Menno-Pause is undergirded by three unpublished typescripts on the Menno-Pause event written in late 1967 and early 1968. These were by myself, Jim Wenger and Sue Clemmer.