How I got to Canada

Yesterday, October 22, I talked with a Sunday school class of teenagers at my church about my experience during the Vietnam War. In preparing for telling this story, I noted that October 25 was the 49th anniversary of my entry into Canada.

It’s been a little while since I’ve reflected on that experience, and I again beg forbearance for using another blog post as personal memoir.

First a bit of context. I grew up in a small Mennonite community in Mahoning County, Ohio, on the border with Pennsylvania. My father, David Steiner, was the minister and bishop in the congregation of 100 members in my community, as had been his father, A. J. Steiner, before him. There had been four generations of ministers before that back into Europe. My mother, Katie, was an elementary school teacher and a 1930 graduate of Goshen College in Indiana. I was the youngest of six surviving children.

Barry_Goldwater_photo1962

Barry Goldwater, ca. 1962. Library of Congress photo

In my high school years from 1960-1964 I became a philosophical mixed bag combining religious agnosticism with political conservatism. While I rejected what I considered to be a naive Mennonite faith, I embraced a naive American patriotism that scorned the growing Civil Rights movement and believed Fidel Castro was a real threat to the United States. I favored Barry Goldwater in the upcoming 1964 election.

President John Kennedy had been assassinated less than one year before. In 1964 the U.S. war in Vietnam was beginning to heat up, though few Americans had yet been killed. The Cold War was expanding – the Berlin Wall had only recently been erected. The Civil Rights movement, then primarily in the Southern States, was making Americans uncomfortable as African-Americans called for justice in voting rights, education and basic human services.

I turned 18 a couple of weeks after I entered Goshen College as a freshman in September 1964. As was the legal requirement for all American young men, I registered for the military draft at that time. Normally Mennonite young men also stated their desire for conscientious objector status at time of registration, submitting the appropriate forms requesting that status. I didn’t do so, but wrote to my parents that I was neither a pacifist nor a Christian.

Sam-Steiner-1965

Goshen College Foolscap, 1964/65

My first year at Goshen was a difficult one–I enjoyed playing cards (bridge) more than I did the classroom work. I discovered I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, and my social introversion isolated me within a fairly small group of friends. During fall 1964 I could best be identified on campus by the Barry Goldwater election sticker on my briefcase.

In March 1965 I joined a carload of students who wanted to check out the third Selma-Montgomery march–the one that actually got to Montgomery. I can say without qualification that March 24-25, 1965 was a conversion experience for me in my worldview.

During that car ride into Alabama I finally became emotionally involved in the visible racial injustice that had always been around me. For the first time I experienced internally the underside of the American way of life through the hatred in the eyes of white people, and the huge class disparity I saw between whites and African-Americans. That’s ironic, since my older brother, Albert, had been in a Mennonite voluntary service unit in the near south side of Chicago, and I had visited him several times with my family. But the poverty and repression of black folks living in the south side of Chicago was a curiosity – something to see but not to absorb internally.

Selma-Montgomery-March

Entering  Montgomery on third Selma to Montgomery March. Martin Luther King in center. AP photo used by Daily Beast

In Montgomery, Alabama we Goshen students were billeted with the demonstrators at the City of St. Jude, a Catholic complex that included a  high school, hospital and church. It was surrounded by a chain link fence, and every ten feet around the perimeter of that fence a United States soldier, armed with rifle and bayonet, protected an estimated 10,000 of us from other Americans as we slept. The night of the 24th we enjoyed a concert from the likes of Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Nina Simone and The Chad Mitchell Trio, as well as some words from Martin Luther King. After the march to the state capitol building with 25,000 others the next day I was a different person. I heard the hopes and dreams of black men and women, in sharp contrast to the white hatred and black poverty around me.

When I returned to Goshen College from Montgomery, Alabama, I recognized I could not kill another human being on the basis of political (or economic) differences. I also saw the need to combine social justice with my new-found (or rediscovered) pacifism. Belatedly I registered with my draft board as a conscientious objector, but on philosophical, non-religious grounds. I argued that life was inherently sacred, and that I did not have the right – ever – to terminate another human life. I believed I did not have the wisdom to make that kind of decision, nor did I believe Lyndon Johnson had that authority. Since I was still a student, no action was taken on my application.

NYT-Jan-1966

Demonstration in New York City with other Goshen College students in January 1966. New York Times photo

By 1966-67 the number of American soldiers going to Vietnam– disproportionately young, non-white and poorly educated– increased. The political conversion I had experienced led to an activist phase in my life. I joined radical student organizations
like Students for a Democratic Society and participated in mass demonstrations in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Petition-chapel-cards

Petition against my suspension for not turning in chapel cards. Goshen College Maple Leaf photo

The culture of the “1960s” also came to Goshen College. On three occasions I was suspended from the College – the first time for illegally entering a building, the second time (for a semester) for refusing to hand in computer cards to track my attendance at compulsory convocations/chapels. The last time, in the fall of 1967, it was an indefinite suspension for my role in the Menno-Pause underground newspaper described in another blog.

From the fall of 1967 until my move to Canada in October 1968 I lived on the north side of Chicago, Illinois, most of the time with a fellow Menno-Pause editor, Jim Wenger. I  focused my attention on military draft issues. As long as I had been a student, my military obligations had been “deferred.” Now this was no longer the case. A series of legal procedures unfolded that included two appeals to local and state draft boards. At my local appeal back in Youngstown, Ohio, the Draft Board was only interested in whether I had a formal religion. They refused to hear my arguments, or to hear a character witness I had brought along with me. The hearing probably lasted all of 5 minutes. My appeal to the state board was also denied.

I worked for some months as a supply clerk at a hospital in Evanston, Illinois. Some of my co-workers were Mennonite young men who were putting in their two years of “alternative service.” Throughout the Vietnam War it remained relatively easy for young
men from peace churches like the Mennonites and Quakers to avoid military service if they stuck to the routine. Sincerity of belief (for a Mennonite) was not a crucial factor, and some of my Mennonite co-workers at the hospital thought North Vietnam should be bombed to oblivion to stop the Communists. I also learned the hospital liked to hire Mennonites to do alternative service in order to avoid hiring African-Americans “from the South Side.”

Gradually, I became more absolutist in my position. I connected with the Chicago Area Draft Resisters (CADRE) . This group, formed by Gary Rader, an ex-Green Beret, advocated open resistance to the draft, including the step of going to prison. They generated much literature for distribution at high schools, provided draft counselling for minorities, and joined in demonstrations against the war. I participated in an increasing number of these activities.

In March 1968 I received an order to appear for a physical, in anticipation of potential induction into the army. In response I tore up my draft card, which all American men were legally required to carry, and mailed the pieces back to the draft board informing them I would no longer participate in the military system. Among other things in my letter to the draft board, I questioned the use of death as a technique for conflict resolution.

I also questioned the alternative service system, lovingly embraced by Mennonites for decades. I believed “alternative service” simply helped the U.S. military system work more efficiently as Mennonites and other pacifists often performed meaningless service that aided the “national welfare” or replaced the work of others who needed employment.

Word quickly spread at the hospital about what I had done. I was promptly fired from my position.

I soon received an induction order for April 20, 1968. I returned to Ohio to publicly refuse induction. I created a one-page handout outlining my reasons for refusal. My demonstration was in front of the federal building in Youngstown, Ohio, where men were to board a bus for transport to Cleveland for induction. My sign included my induction order, and was headed, “I must resist because I cannot help mankind by destroying it.”

19-Demonstration-1968

L-R: Dan Leatherman, Albert Steiner, Tom Harley, Sam Steiner, FBI agent

Four persons joined me in the protest–my older brother, Albert, my political science prof  from Goshen College, Dan Leatherman, and my friend, Tom Harley. The fourth person was Lowell Rheinheimer. The fact that actually moved me the most was my 67-year-old mother telling me that if no one else had come to stand with me in the demonstration, she would have done so.

The demonstration took place 16 days after Martin Luther King, the most prominent of the pacifist Civil Rights leaders, was assassinated in Tennessee. The aftermath of that assassination had led to violence and burning in many U.S. cities, including Chicago. The sheet I handed out at my demonstration pointed to King’s death as further evidence that death and violence, state-sanctioned or not, was an inadequate response to conflict.

After I lost my job, I could no longer pay my part of the rent. CADRE had friends of draft resisters who provided housing for those who needed it. For a couple of months I lived in a large apartment while the renters were on an extended vacation. The other folks living in the apartment included a small-time drug dealer, and a hippie “guru”, who with his 15-year-old female partner officiated at “weddings” for like-minded souls. They were later arrested for this.

As my finances dwindled I sold possessions like my camera to maintain myself. At the lowest point I sold my blood for money, and lived on 18 cents a day, enough to buy a Kraft dinner.

When my CADRE-provided lodgings ended, my friend, Jim Wenger, took pity and allowed me to move back to his apartment even though he now had another roommate, and I could contribute nothing to expenses.

DMC-Police-Riot

Police riot at Democratic National Convention, 1968

It became a time of waiting for the government to take action. On one occasion the FBI invited me to come downtown for a chat. They were non-committal on when I would be arrested.

The Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago in late August. Lyndon Johnson had pulled out of the presidential race, and the convention became a focal point for protests against the Vietnam War. I participated in a number of the demonstrations in Grant Park in downtown Chicago. The police riot on the last night of the convention in late August resulted in hundreds of arrests and injuries when police charged demonstrators from three sides forcing demonstrators into crowded streets in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. I escaped that charge at the last moment because of access to a friend’s car parked nearby and a warning from a police officer that something was about to happen.

My experience during the Democratic National convention left me disenchanted with the radical Left in the United States. I came to believe that the New Left leaders, like Tom Hayden, also invited violence against the masses to help bring their revolution to fruition.

My emotional health began to suffer and paranoia increased. I took a civil service exam, hoping to get a job with the post office, but wondered whether it was worth it, since I could be arrested at any time. I heard rumors that neighbors had been contacted asking if I was still living at the apartment. An emotional crisis in late September 1968 led me to go to Goshen to see friends; this visit included a long conversation with Sue Clemmer in the cemetery near the seminary building at Goshen College. On October 13  three Goshen students, Dean Jost, Carol Beechy and Sue Clemmer came to Chicago almost as an “intervention” to persuade me to go to Canada, as well as to celebrate the first anniversary of Menno-Pause.

Donovan_1969

Donovan, 1969. Wikipedia photo

One of these visitors had become especially important to me. Sue Clemmer and I had been part of the publications “Bruderhof” at Goshen College, and initially were just friends. But in the turmoil of 1968 my attraction to her went much deeper. We had talked more deeply several times that August as we reflected on earlier romantic disappointments we had each experienced. We went to a concert that weekend, along with other Goshen people, to hear Donovan, the Scottish-born singer/songwriter.  Somebody else must have bought my ticket.

Our relationship changed for good that weekend, and Sue was key in persuading me to pursue the Canadian option. I returned to Goshen with my friends and a suitcase of clothes, and made plans for departure. Dan Leatherman, my political science prof, had married a Canadian woman, Kathryn Shantz, whose family was rooted in Waterloo County, Ontario. He offered to drive me to Canada as part of a family visit. I agreed and asked Sue to go along with me as support. After some hesitation she agreed to postpone taking an exam for graduate school, and joined me on the trip.

We drove into Canada as visitors on Friday, October 25, 1968. As it happens, Kathryn Leatherman’s oldest sister was Lorna Bergey, who later became a mentor to me in matters of Ontario Mennonite history. My first night in Canada was at the home of another sister, Beth and Paul Good, and on Sunday morning we attended the Blenheim Mennonite Church, where I was a bit of a curiosity. The Leatherman family and Sue then returned to Goshen.

Jim-Reusser-2005

Jim Reusser in 2005. Sam Steiner photo

I contacted a former roommate from Goshen College, Peter Enns, and was invited to stay at the home of his parents for a few days as I sorted things out. A visit to Walter Klaassen at Conrad Grebel College (who I understood to be involved with assisting draft dodgers) resulted in being put in touch with Jim Reusser, then pastor at the Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church in Kitchener. Jim arranged for me to be a lodger at his wife’s aunt’s home. Stella Cressman was a retired single women who lived on Pandora Ave., and had rented rooms previously. Jim also contacted Lester Zehr, a parishioner at Stirling Ave., and president of Zehrs Markets. Lester gave me a job as a grocery clerk at the store at Bridgeport Road and Weber Street in Waterloo. I have been forever grateful to Jim Reusser for his assistance, and mourn his recent death.

The next weekend the Leatherman family and Sue Clemmer came to Canada again to take me back to the border to apply for landed immigrant status. It was possible in those days to apply for this status at the border. From my draft counselling days I understood that the Port Huron/Sarnia border point was “friendlier” than the Detroit/Windsor point. So on Saturday, November 2, we returned to the U.S. through Detroit and went to Port Huron to cross the border again.

Immigration-card-1968When we crossed the border at Sarnia I indicated I wished to apply for landed immigrant status. While the Leatherman family and Sue waited, I was taken for an interview by an immigration official. Canada was already using a “points” system that gave points for years of education, proficiency in English and French, whether a job offer was in hand, location of intended residency, and other things. There were significant points also available at the discretion of the border official.

Indictment-article

Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 1968

The interview went quite smoothly, and as had been mandated by the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, no questions about my military status in the U.S. were asked. (Canada did not have a military draft, so this was not considered relevant on the matter of immigration.) After the official had told me I had been accepted, he asked if I was a draft dodger. I said that I was, and he then asked if I knew the consequences if I tried to return to the United States. He was very friendly and gracious throughout.

Unknown to me, I had been indicted on October 30, 1968 by a grand jury in Cleveland, Ohio for not submitting to induction. I have always assumed I missed arrest by a week or so. My departure from the U.S. meant I missed a scheduled court date in December 1968.

Thus began my life in Canada, and particularly in Waterloo County, Ontario. In about a year, Peter Enns’ father, Jake Enns, got me a job at the Mutual Life Assurance Company, where I worked several years, mostly as a computer programmer.

A-visit-to-Canada-in-January-1969

A visit to Canada in January 1969

Sue Clemmer remained a lifeline as I adjusted to a new world, and battled my feelings of guilt for not going to prison. Sue came to Canada after she graduated from Goshen College in 1969, and we were married at Conrad Grebel College on August 2, 1969. The wedding was also the first time I met her parents, who were understandably less than enthusiastic about their daughter’s decision. Fortunately we developed a very positive relationship over the years.

For the next seven years the FBI would annually visit or call my parents to ask if I had returned to the United States. It apparently became very cordial over time. My parents instructed me not to return for their funerals if one of them died.

In 1975 I asked the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to look into my case from a legal point of view. It appeared several U.S. Supreme Court decisions bore directly on my case. The court had declared that inductions could not be speeded up if someone missed a physical, and more importantly, they had ruled that religious affiliation had no bearing on conscientious objector applications. They ruled that “sincerity” of belief was the key factor, not church affiliation. After the ACLU submitted a brief in late 1975, and my application was heard in federal court, the charges against me were immediately dropped. I was able to visit Sue’s family in Souderton, Pennsylvania, for the first time at Christmas 1975.

Our first years in Canada were not easy. We did not find our way back to the Mennonite Church until the early 1970s. This was influenced by Sue’s employer at Provident Bookstore, Aaron Klassen, who with his wife, Helen, became something of parental figures for us. For some time I continued to deal with feelings of guilt for not following through on going to prison.

The reality that so much of the help we had received had come from Mennonites who did not judge us, was not lost on us. We became attracted to Rockway Mennonite Church, then meeting in the library at Rockway Mennonite School. John Snyder was formally the pastor, but leadership came from many people like Norman High and Wilson Hunsberger, and no ideas about faith were dismissed out of hand. We slowly became more involved, and when I returned to studies at the University of Waterloo I became an intellectual disciple of Walter Klaassen and Frank H. Epp in the study of Anabaptist and Mennonite history.

One thing led to another, and I ended up for 33 plus years in the Mennonite Library and Archives at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, and Sue ended up as a Mennonite minister. We could have found no better home.


My experience with the U.S. draft has appeared in print in the following places:

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.

Sam Steiner. “Confessions of a Lapsed Radical.” Mennonite Historical Bulletin 52, no. 4 (October 1991): 6-10. Available at https://archive.org/stream/MennHistBull1991v52#page/n53/mode/2up  

Samuel J. Steiner,  “Alternative Service or Alternative Resistance? A Vietnam War Draft Resister in Canada.” Journal of Mennonite Studies 25 (2007): 195–204. Available at https://jms.uwinnipeg.ca/index.php/jms/article/viewFile/1234/1226.

My story has also been interpreted in a drama authored by Rebecca Steiner, Gadfly: Sam Steiner Dodges the Draft, and put on in fringe festivals across Canada in 2012, and at Goshen College in 2013 by Theatre of the Beat.

Reflections on Menno-Pause

This post accompanies The 50th Anniversary of Menno-Pause, and includes reflections by Lowell Miller, Tom Harley, Verlin Miller and Sue Clemmer Steiner.

Lowell Miller

Fifty Years Later

There once were five guys at GC
Who wrote what they wanted to see
They tried a new style
But just a short while
And the Pres put them all out to sea.

We went separate ways
For most of our days
After what we did write
Was considered a blight
And an insult to Mennonite ways

It’s been fifty years
Since we left GC in tears
We’ve lived normal lives
With children and wives
Have wrestled and overcome fears.

We still like to think
Some with paper and ink
Some by fishing
Some by wishing
And look for a good way to link.

— Lowell Miller, September 2017


Tom Harley

I am now 71 going on 102.  I was then 21 going on 14.

My memory is notoriously unreliable. But if I remember correctly, I wrote two satiric pieces for Menno-pause. One was the article about dancing. It was bitingly satiric. But it was far more ironic than it was satiric. I had never danced. I had no interest in dancing. I couldn’t dance. I wouldn’t dance. I was afraid of dancing. If Goshen College had sponsored a dance, I would have been too shy to go, too scared of women to participate, and too ashamed of my body to make it do anything even remotely akin to dancing. But hey, such is the life of a revolutionary satirist.

But I think I also wrote the “deleted words” summary. I liked it then and still do. It too is ironic. I actually got thrown out of college for deleting the word fuck 37 times. That is a remarkable feat. We had the common decency and social sensitivity to remove obscenities from our writing, and they still chucked us out. In retrospect, I wish we had left those words in. It certainly did us no good to take them out. And it was such hard work – they had been so strategically placed and artfully deployed.

Long live satire. Long live free speech. Long live gay rights. Long live progressive politics. Farewell uptight institutions and quaint Moralism. Farewell homophobia. Farewell coverings.

— Tom Harley, September 2017


Verlin Miller

Post Menno-Pause Reflections Fifty years later

This week watching the PBS Vietnam War series of Ken Burns and Lyn Novick brought back to me the angst, anger and fear during the 60’s. The impulse for Menno-Pause cannot be understood without the experience of the immediacy of a world gone crazy with violence. The Vietnam series is required viewing for anyone wanting to understand. My “coming of age” maybe began with the rude awakening of John Kennedy’s assassination, news of the civil rights movement in the South, the Vietnam war and the draft, and the broader student peace movement of the 60’s.   Our story [my story] can’t be told without folk and blues roots music, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and of course Sargent Pepper. We listened to them together. I also learned to appreciate Tom’s collection of Hayden and more [having not had Mary Oyer was my loss]. And I still have memories of Pete Seeger’s “Waist deep in the big muddy and the big fool says push on” and The Smothers Brothers sarcasm.

We were five young men from rather conservative churches and sheltered cultural backgrounds exploring dissent in a time when leadership was fearful of losing control. We felt that we had been “sold a bill of goods’ –both theologically in our churches and politically/socially by our conservative cultures– which demanded fresh responses. We were not really activists like some people we knew, but felt compelled to speak somehow.

There was a kind of meanness in the suspensions, since all would immediately lose their student deferment and be subject to the draft. Any Girardian or reader of James Alison would recognize right away the dynamics involved in a large majority of Goshen College students standing and applauding President Mininger’s speech justifying the abrupt suspension. “The many righteous have to stand up to the wicked few”. We were not heroes, though in the aftermath, I think Sam and Tom’s resistance to the draft was heroic. But it was clear that for some Menno-Pause was “dangerous” and many of you reading this decided you were on “the other side”-siding with President Mininger’s call for “family values” and exclusion- standing and applauding with approval for removing and punishing the “audacity of a visible danger on campus”. I still don’t understand that need to make a stand against. It was a fearful time. Some no doubt had little idea how to respond or which side they were on.  For the editors there was a personal urgency to call for a sane world. During my years in college I read all I could of the Anabaptist history of dissent, followed John Howard Yoder and the Concern movement as they wrote and spoke.

I have been asked in more recent years if I had “survivors guilt”.  I’m sure I felt some of that, but what I remember is the devastation and anger at the loss of my closest friends. I felt deeply the pain and disruption in their lives.  I kept contact in the transition and I knew the time was volatile. I didn’t feel the college administrators were on our side and felt betrayed by the acquiescence of some professors. Today I’m grateful and highly value my time, friendship and shared hilarity with the other four editors.

As far as my own journey, I was heavily influenced by the student house church movement that began on campus and later became a part of the Mennonite “fringe” communal movement of the Atlanta Fellowship, Reba Place Fellowship and the Fellowship of Hope.

The success of Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, also the Marginal Mennonite Society and the Daily Bonnet on Facebook stem from similar impulses. I am shocked but maybe not surprised at the current absurdities of today’s political situation. Fifty years later, dissent and resistance is needed now as much as any time in our history.

— Verlin Miller September 29, 2017


Sue Clemmer Steiner

Navigating Churning Waters

There’s a spot in Indiana where the leafy maple grows;
Tis our dear and glorious Parkside where the Elkhart River flows…[1]

Thus begins the official Goshen College song. Yet in my four years as a Goshen undergrad in the late 1960’s, I ignored the Elkhart River completely. It was a mile away, over by the College Cabin and the dam, and was probably the most beautiful spot in Goshen. Yet I never once canoed on it or even got my pant legs wet from the banks.

But at Goshen College I did get my pant legs wet in another way. I steered a venerable but fragile craft through churning waters, avoiding rocks, trying not to take on too much water or capsize my little boat. The craft I steered was the college’s official student newspaper—The Goshen College Record—housed “across the tracks” in a non-descript cement block building.[2] During my stint as Record editor during the tumultuous 1967-68 school year, I claimed a voice I still own. I also began to imagine myself as a leader.

Thirteen years later I wrote in a commissioned article in the Goshen College Bulletin:[3]

To recall the late 60’s at Goshen College takes almost more energy than
I can muster. The times were heady, frantic, larger than life. It seems to me now that they must have run on sheer energy.

As editor of the Record, I had the job of analyzing the times while they happened. During that era, it seems to me, both the idealism and the disillusionment of the age impinged upon our sheltered institution—and our sheltered psyches—with a force which caught everyone off guard.

That year the war in Vietnam heated up, spreading dis-ease, threatening to keep us coming-of-age folks from the good life we thought was our due. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, spurring a distressed Record reporter to write: “Today the American Dream looks like it is nothing but a gargoyled vision of another time.”[4]

And early in the year, while the Record staff was still finding its way, four male members of our “publications Brüderhof”—including photographer Sam Steiner—distributed two mimeographed issues of an underground newspaper they called Menno-Pause.[5] While I had no part in creating the content, I did unlock an office door so the guys could make page stencils. The “M-P boys” saw their irreverent little rag as “a gadfly…a watchdog…a critic…an extended student opinion board…and general all-around crap.” They assumed it would be officially ignored.

We at the Record struggled with whether and how to officially respond. We were not of one mind. After much discussion, we agreed on a staff editorial stating our hope that Menno-Pause would survive beyond its initial issues.[6] To do so, we suggested, the paper would need to get beyond “immature sarcasm” and crude language and “choose more significant subject matter.”[7] Perhaps we showed our true colours by including in that issue of the Record three photos by Sam Steiner, as well as an innocuous signed news article or column by each of the other M-P boys. Privately, we enjoyed the unscientific stats on the rise and fall of the head covering in Menno-Pause, based on photos from the college yearbook from 1953-67.

None of us foresaw the degree to which Menno-Pause could be interpreted as a political act against the institution and its value system. The suspension of the M-P boys, applauded by a large bloc of the student body at a Presidential Forum, sparked a crisis for campus opinion leaders. The applause took us completely by surprise. It hit me smack in the face. It felt thunderous and endless and directed at me too.

We had dimly realized that some students considered us Record and yearbook folks to be a “self-styled elite.” Certainly some members of our loosely-connected Brüderhof were part of campus subgroups focusing on the arts or on popular music or on left-leaning politics. We tended to inhabit the English department or one of the social sciences. And our religious expressions were less conventional than the campus norm. But we hadn’t grasped how suspect these various associations and inclinations made us to some students.

From time to time we claimed to want to know what the “silent majority” thought. Yet we were unprepared when we found out. I and other campus leaders with mildly left-wing leanings wondered if we any longer had a mandate to do our jobs. We felt like a rejected minority.

During those dark days when I felt very unsure of myself, I had two invaluable guides. John Fisher, for whom I graded freshman English essays, advised: the important thing is to stay cool until tomorrow. He informed me that I was not going to even think of resigning. We need your leadership now more than ever, he asserted.

Meanwhile a beleaguered Dan Hess, the young faculty advisor we claimed as almost one of us, called a soul-searching meeting of the Record staff. We talked about the minimum requirement for campus publications to continue—the ability to be able to discern the main body of campus opinion and to present it at face value.

Over the next days and weeks, I glimpsed a way forward. I felt determination rising within me. We’d show those students who applauded. We were going to be darn good journalists!

With Dan’s support, we set ourselves to it. We began with a double-page spread on Menno-Pause which gave due voice to all varieties of campus opinion. Our features on the meaning of Vietnam and of Martin Luther King’s death for Goshen students followed the same pattern. I’m still proud of them.

My editorials took on a tone and angle of approach I still recognize and own. My confidence grew as various people—including a few administrators—wrote notes to me in campus mail, thanking me for my editorials and expressing the opinion that we were doing good journalism.

That year at Goshen, I sorted out how to honour my own views while endeavouring to represent the whole student body, and to some degree those things important to the institution itself. Somehow I figured out how to do this while staying connected with the M-P boys and other friends who expressed little use for “the establishment.” Weekdays I studied and edited the Record. Some weekends I visited two of the M-P boys in Chicago. Less than two years later, I married one of them.

That Record year also afforded me the chance to try my wings as a staff leader, team builder and encourager. Forging a team spirit, making space for others to shine, but also knowing when my own voice needs to be clearly heard—this has always been my best leadership stance. I learned it at Goshen College, navigating a small craft called the Record during that tumultuous year.[8]

[1] “Goshen College ever singing” was adopted as Goshen’s alma mater in 1911. After falling into disuse, it has  recently enjoyed a modest revival.

[2] Previously, caged mice occupied the space as part of a psychology experiment.

[3] Sue Clemmer Steiner, “1967-68: The Way They Were” in Goshen College Bulletin, March 1981 (Vol. 66, No. 2), 4-5.

[4] Dan Kauffman, “A Nation Divided—Will There Be A Sane Answer?” in The Goshen College Record, April 12, 1968 (Vol. 69, No. 12), 4.

[5] Copies of Menno-Pause are on deposit at the Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, IN) and at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario at Conrad Grebel University College (Waterloo, ON).

[6] We adapted a pro-M-P piece submitted by columnist Steve Kreider, reworking it with his participation.

[7] “On Campus Gadflies,” in The Goshen College Record, October 6, 1967 (Vol. 69, No. 2), 2.

[8] In spring 1968, I wrote an 11-page piece for myself and a few others, chronicling what had happened and my reactions.  It was invaluable to me as I wrote this essay.

— Sue Clemmer Steiner, extracted from Flowing with the River: Soundings from my Life and Ministry (2013; no longer in print)


If you have memories of the Menno-Pause affair at Goshen College, please share them in the comment section (“Leave a Reply” at the bottom of this blog.)

See also The 50th Anniversary of Menno-Pause, with historical review and comments by Sam Steiner See also Menno Pause Revisited by Dan Hess, first published in CMW Journal in 2009

Menno-Pause — a personal reflection

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.

Cover of Menno-Pause, issue one.

Menno-Pause, issues 1 & 2.

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.

Menno-Pause editors, October 1967

Menno-Pause editors, October 15, 1967. L-R: Jim Wenger, Tom Harley, Sam Steiner, Lowell Miller. Goshen College Record photo

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.

Sue and Sam wedding

Wedding party L-R: Sara Freed (former Record editor), Sue Clemmer, J. R. Burkholder (minister), Sam Steiner, Tom Harley. Verlin Miller was an usher. 

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, ca. 1992

Jim Wenger, ca. 1992. Photo by Peter Johnsen. Used as a publicity photo for his musical performances.

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.

Menno-Pause editors, 2014

Surviving Menno-Pause editors, June 2014. Back (L-R): Tom Harley, Lowell Miller; Front: Sam Steiner, Verlin Miller

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.