Salome Bauman: the Soul of Rockway Mennonite School

Salome Bauman grew up as the youngest child in a poor family near Floradale, Ontario. Despite her circumstances, she was a gifted student, and eventually finished high school at Kitchener Collegiate Institute. She became an elementary school teacher in Kitchener, and her life seemed settled.

When she was 36 years old, she was invited to part of a new venture sponsored by the Mennonite Conference of Ontario — to be one of two teachers at Rockway Mennonite School, together with Principal Harold Groh. She accepted, taking a substantial salary cut, and became the “soul” of Rockway Mennonite School for the next 25 years.

She worked hard to improve her skills, and her intensity and dedication were remembered by many former students.

See the article on Salome Bauman in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) for the full article and bibliography.


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Salome Bauman. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo

Salome Bauman: teacher and role model, was born 27 March 1909 on the family farm north of Floradale, Ontario to Silas Bauman (27 August 1861-21 January 1913) and Lydia Ann Groff Bauman (27 November 1862-8 May 1949). She was the youngest in a family of 13 — nine boys and four girls. The family was one of the few in the Floradale community that did not go with the Old Order Mennonites in the division of 1889.

Silas and Lydia Ann became charter members of the Floradale Mennonite Church, and Silas was ordained as a deacon in 1896. Both Silas and Lydia Ann were regular contributors of articles to the Herald of Truth and the Gospel Herald. The early death of Salome’s father from cancer in 1913 (as well as the deaths in 1907 and 1908 of the two oldest sons) meant the family was poor.

Despite her difficult early years, the family encouraged Salome to further her education, and she boarded for a time in Elmira in order to attend “Middle School.” After Lydia Ann moved to Kitchener with the youngest children in the mid-1920s, Salome finished her high school at Kitchener Collegiate Institute, and graduated with the highest marks in Waterloo County. After a year of normal school she taught first grade in the public school system for 12 years.

In 1945 the Mennonite Conference of Ontario launched Rockway Mennonite School in Kitchener as more Pennsylvania-German background Mennonite students pursued a high school education. Conference leaders had concerns about the cadet program, and aspects of the physical education program and science classes in the public system. Harold Groh, superintendent of the Toronto Mission, obtained a high school teaching certificate in 1945, the first Mennonite within that conference to do so, and was chosen at the first principal for the new school. Groh knew Salome Bauman’s sister, Louida, as she had worked at the Toronto Mission for some years. Salome, as an experienced teacher, was invited to become the second teacher at the new school. She consented, taking a 40 per cent reduction in salary.

Salome Bauman taught English, French and Latin at Rockway for 25 years, and for two of those years (1960-1962) served as the principal of the growing institution. She completed her B.A. in 1951, and for a number of summers spent time in Quebec in order to improve her oral French language skills. She moved around the classroom when she taught, and constantly challenged students to do their best work. Occasionally a sharp verbal edge, reflecting the intensity with which she engaged her vocation, would catch students off guard. Salome demonstrated care for her students and would readily lead the class in prayer in times of difficulty, for example for a fellow student’s health crisis. She was a dedicated, inspiring teacher who had little difficulty maintaining discipline in her classes. The school’s historian described Salome Bauman as the “soul of Rockway Mennonite School in its first two decades.”

The later 1960s were less fulfilling for her, as Rockway Mennonite School faced financial difficulties and introduced a less traditional approach to pedagogy. When the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in 1970 held a plebiscite in its churches on whether to close or continue the school, Salome Bauman voted to close the school, though a strong majority of 74 per cent voted for continuation.

Notwithstanding the disappointments of the later years, Salome Bauman helped to shape a generation of Ontario Mennonite students. She also participated actively at First Mennonite Church, teaching Sunday school man;y years, sometimes directing the Vacation Bible School and serving on church council in the 1960s. She wrote a short history of the congregation for its sesquicentennial.

Salome Bauman died 16 April 1986 at Fairview Mennonite Home; she is buried in the cemetery at First Mennonite Church. Her dedication and work ethic provided a strong role model for her students and all those she encountered. Her life as a single woman who fully utilized her leadership skills commanded and received respect.

The Old Colony Mennonite School System in Ontario

My blogs will begin to appear somewhat less frequently than in the past, as I try to give more time to some other projects.

This past week I read an interesting article by Rosabel Fast in the 2015 issue of Preservings: a Journal of the D.F. Plett Research Foundation. It was entitled “All in God’s time: the Establishment of Old Colony Private Schools in Southern Ontario.” It includes some updated information on Old Colony Mennonite Schools in Ontario that I thought worthy of note.

An earlier blog discussed the growth of the Old Colony or Low German Mennonite community in Ontario.

New Reinland Fellowship Mennonite Church

An early Old Colony church near Aylmer, Ontario. When the Old Colony church split, the New Reinland Fellowship kept this building. It has since been replaced with a new building. Photo by Abe Harms.

Although Low German Mennonites began to arrive in Ontario in 1952, they did not begin their own schools until 1989. Prior to that time a few attended Old Order Amish or Old Order Mennonite private schools, but most attended the public school system at least sporadically. Their experience was mixed — some public schools tried very hard to make a safe place for the Low Germans,  who often suffered discrimination and ridicule from fellow students. But some students came to dread school because they were picked on, and were expected to take part in activities like gym classes that were uncomfortable and unfamiliar to them.

Even with the more positive experiences, however, parents were concerned about having their children turned into English speaking, secular thinking Canadians.  An Inter-Mennonite Parents Association, that included Low German Mennonites, did some effective work with the public system.

In one case, in the Dresden area, a Peter Dyck family began home schooling in 1988 using materials produced by Pathway Publishers, an Old Order Amish publisher in Aylmer. As more families from Mexico moved to the area they joined the Dyck children in the upstairs of their home.  This formed the core of a school that was eventually established in 1990.

Earlier efforts to start an Old Colony private school failed, but efforts late in the 1980s succeeded. Minister Peter Dyck of Wheatley was involved in meeting with Education Department officials who were already familiar with, and respected, existing Old Order Mennonite and Amish private schools. Dyck and others visited some of these schools in Waterloo Region, and believed they could operate something similar.

Several Low German leaders from Manitoba encouraged the Ontario Old Colony Mennonites to use the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) program. ACE had a strong fundamentalist edge to it, however, and did not teach about some of the boundaries of separation from secular society that were important to the Old Colony.

Consequently, the Ontario Old Colony Mennonites elected to use the Christian Light Education (CLE) curriculum produced by conservative Mennonites in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Part of the planning included taking a short course with a CLE director named Peter Peters in Michigan.

Schools in Wheatley and Aylmer opened in 1989, followed by two more in Dresden and Glen Myer in 1990.  Particularly in the Wheatley school, the assistance of Peter Sawatsky, a retired teacher from the public system, was particularly helpful. By 2015 the Wheatley school had grown and was being held in a former public school purchased in 2000.

The Dresden school purchased an old Jehovah’s Witness church building for its school.  Henry Dueck, who had pastored in Paraguay, Leamington (the Leamington United Mennonite Church), and Mexico, taught at the Dresden school for three years as it was becoming established. He was a mentor for the early Low German leaders in the school.

Old Colony Christian Academy at Cottam.

Old Colony Christian Academy at Cottam. Source: Wikimapia

In 2015 there were 11 Old Colony Mennonite private schools in Ontario. The largest, at Wheatley, had 275 students. Three other schools also had over 200 students. They all used CLE curriculum. Rev. Abram Dyck and Rev. Jacob Neudorf provided administrative to the “East Side” and “West Side” school districts. These districts correspond to the two Ältester or bishop districts of the Old Colony Mennonite Church of Ontario. The larger schools offer a full high school program.

Old Colony Christian Acadmey Kingsville

Old Colony Christian Academy, Kingsville. Photo by Sam Steiner

The “East side” included Aylmer, Walsingham, Glen Myer, Tilsonburg, Brussels and Virgil. The “West side” included Wheatley, Kingsville, Cottam, Dresden and Charing Cross.

To learn more about Old Colony Mennonites in Ontario, read In Search of Promised Lands.