The Good Influences On My Life
I will write a few things about the men that influenced my early life. I remember several of them during different phases. There were of course the ministers, John Raugh and Walter Fry. Then followed ones I talked about before, Watson Feathers and Ben Knisley. Then there was the Musselman clan and Warren Stiffler, my hunting buddy who I went with on hunting trips to our Clinton County hunting camp. There were others also, but we will talk about them later. Pastor Raugh was a down to earth minister. He did a lot of visiting. If there was a butchering or a day of boiling applebutter he was there. He came to help and not to just look on.
I went with Pastor Raugh and Melvin Smith to the Eastern District Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America over a period of several years. We would stay with some of the members of the host church. The Conference usually lasted four days, and many different matters were brought up for a vote. The Smith Corner church, which by the way, was built on a corner lot in the "village" of Smith Corner, where gambling parties were previously held, was a mission church and received most of its aid from the Conference. I remember one time we were at one of the churches (most of them were in eastern Pennsylvania), and we had been joined by Ernie Grace from the Roaring Spring Church. While we were being served our dinner, one of the waitresses spilled a dish of gravy on his lap.
I remember Ernie lending me his good Arrow shirts to wear. I also remember the discussions concerning the time of the sessions. At that time daylight saving time was not observed all over the state. The programs simply stated that the sessions would be on the prevailing time of that area. So it sparked a discussion regarding in which area the church was located. We usually came home on Sunday. Being Sunday, at a time when Sundays were respected and held as a "day of rest", there were only a few places where you could buy gasoline and maybe some candy and pop. It took some doing to make sure that we had gasoline before starting out, and that we were able to find something to eat along the way. I usually had an ample supply of Life Savers candy, which started a standing joke, that if nothing else, I could supply the Life Savers. Of course my ample supply consisted of about three rolls.
Life was more laid back and simple in those days. I am speaking of the late 1930s and early 40’s. Pastor Raugh was a person you could take your problems to, and he would give good advice. He was there when I graduated from high school, and he was there to perform our wedding vows. Pastor Raugh was a friend when I went to the Army and also when I came home. I remember that he smoked a pipe. When we were at conference, he would go outside and smoke. One of the more "devout" Mennonite people of the church asked him if he did not think that sinful. His reply was a jewel, he said it was no more a sin to smoke tobacco than to raise it for others to use.
I and Pastor Raugh made one last trip to the Mennonite Conference together before his death. That trip was different, because by that time there were shopping centers and there were gas stations and diners open on Sunday. Things were definitely not the same in 1947 as they were in 1936. During John Raugh’s Pastorate I was good friends with Watson Feathers and Ben Knisley. I spoke earlier of them in a previous paragraph. What I would like to mention now is the fact that, when we got together, we had discussions about our personal faith and about more general scriptural doctrines. One of them would usually take me home, especially if it was at night. John Raugh held his last sermon right before Christmas, he died right after his morning sermon.
John Raugh left a legacy to me, a lesson I learned to take with me through life. From the years that I spent under the preaching of Pastor Raugh I learned that basically all men had the ability, if they used it, to get along with other people. The days passed quickly from my and Dollie’s wedding on Sunday to my induction in the army on the following Wednesday. I used that formula while in the army and then after I returned home unscathed. I found that trying to get along with other people, regardless of how they treated you, took a lot of will power and faith. John Raugh used that will power and faith while he was a pastor, by helping everyone that he could. One last thing should be mentioned. Pastor Raugh said that God forced, or rather led, him into the ministry by having him go broke in everything he tried. He operated a store before going into the ministry full time. He told of trying to sell a little red wagon near Christmas. All reductions in price did not attract a buyer. In desperation he put a sign in the window of his store saying any one could have the wagon for their child simply by stopping in and asking for it. This ploy did not work either, so he closed the store and let the Mennonite Conference know that he was ready to serve as pastor. They sent him to Smith Corner. There would be pages of incidents that I could write about Pastor John Raugh, and just maybe I will come back and write more.
After Pastor Raugh’s death there were several fill-in preachers and lay workers who carried the work of the church. There was the low tide of events that occurred while waiting for a new minister. There was the winter that the furnace was being fixed. Reverend Farnsworth, of the East Freedom United Brethren Church, filled in for the morning worship service. He would not accept any money for his services. There were winter services during which he preached with his topcoat on. Those were days that only a handful of loyal members held the church together. At some services, there were as few as twelve members present. Eventually, the Mennonite Conference began to seek out a regular minister. In the meantime they secured the services of a few young people to work in the church. There were the two students of the Wycleff Bible Translators: Leon Schanley and Betty Hershey, who later were married and went into the mission field. There was Lawrence Smith who played the piano. Later Mr. Smith took over the management of an old folk’s home in eastern Pennsylvania. Harold Nussbaum later became a full time pastor, and a few years ago he was at the Napier Church. Those four people worked in the church until the Mennonite Conference secured Randall Henrichs and his family to shepherd the flock. By the time they arrived, the congregation had grown smaller.
Randall Heinrichs and his family served the Smith Corner Mennonite Church for a few years. They became friends with Grammy Nofsker and visited her often. After leaving to take charge of another congregation, the Heinrichs kept in contact with Grammy. Those were years of change in the church. When any of the Mennonite Conference officials visited this area, they usually stayed with our family. None of the latter had much effect on my life. Things were much the same, I would be Sunday school Superintendent one year and Melvin Smith the next and so forth. I was also elected a deacon in the church and served on the church council for a number of years.
I am not sure of what year Walter Fry came to be Pastor. We became friends almost immediately, and so once again I had a mentor. We discussed religion as it affected people and often talked by telephone very late at night. We began singing as a duet shortly after he came here. The duet gradually evolved into a quartet comprised of Walter and I, with the addition of Walter’s son, Donald, and Warren Stiffler. We were not widely acclaimed but we did sing in a few churches other than our own. One of the churches outside of this area that we sang at was located in Maryland. Ellmore Byler, that church’s pastor, said we could sing anything when, as a matter of fact we knew about four songs. My daughter Carol was our pianist.
Things went rather smoothly with us during Pastor Fry’s period of serving the Smith Corner Mennonite Church. I attended the Mennonite Conference with Pastor Fry, and officiated for him in services when he was preaching at churches in the Bulls Creek area. I might enlighten you on this particular statement. There was a chapel at Bulls Creek, and it was pastored by four different groups, Smith Corner being one of them. So every fourth Sunday, Walter Fry would be there for an early service and then come to his home church. I would start the morning church service, and would lead in a song or two. We would then take up the offering and make the announcements. We would then sing another song. By that time, Pastor Fry would be pulling into his parking place, come in the side door, and then advance to the pulpit to begin his message. That did not always work out the way it should, and we would be singing more songs until he got back. On one such occasion I called for a favorite number. Someone gave a number and we began singing "Just Outside The Door." At the end of verse one, Pastor Fry pulled in outside the church door.
When Dollie and I went to Sunday school and church, we had our own family, but we would also stop for Shirley Weyandt and then for Joann Weyandt. Joann was serving as the pianist at that time. Later on, my daughter, Carol, filled the position playing for the Sunday school, the morning worship service and also prayer meeting. In so doing, she gained more experience and became adept. Carol thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing. This was the basis of my action later on.
Our family was rather active in the church affairs. Dollie and I were always at every service and took our children with us. We did not simply send them to Sunday school; we were with them. At the annual meeting one particular year, I was elected Sunday school superintendent as well as on the deacon board. The assembled congregation elected Carol to the position of church pianist. This is the background for what happened later on. Walter Fry was a good pastor, but he also felt that he was right about everything, and that attitude made him seem like a dictator at times.
Walter Fry’s sometimes-dictatorial attitude eventually led to our family leaving the Smith Corner Mennonite Church. We had a member of the congregation, Edna Stiffler (whom everybody called Eddie), who could play the piano, but she did not attend all the services. Eddie was experiencing some emotional problems, so Pastor Fry got the grand idea that it would be good therapy for her to be the church pianist. In spite of the fact that Carol was elected and duly installed at the annual meeting as pianist, and without discussing it with us, Pastor Fry told Carol one morning that she was no longer the pianist. Instead, Edna Stiffler would be taking over that position. I seriously don’t know what would have happened if he would have talked it over with us. I do know that his dictatorial manner of making the decision, and overriding the congregation’s choice, was immediately the reason for that being the last Sunday we spent in the Smith Corner Mennonite Church. There were days that I blamed myself for our quitting Smith Corner Mennonite Church and becoming members of the Altoona Bible Church. In the period following my decision, no member of the church council, the church members, or Pastor Fry visited us. We were totally ignored by everyone.
Despite his involvement in the incident that led to my departure from the Smith Corner Mennonite Church, Walter Fry did influence my life. His influence was different than John Raugh’s. Walter Fry taught me that Bible study should be a part of my everyday life. Walter and I cut and delivered a truckload of paperwood, and we used the proceeds to purchase each of us a Thompson Chain Reference Bible. I now have several bibles. The ones that I have had over the years are two or three different versions. I read and sometimes study. I have no idea how many times I have read this wonderful book, but I usually read one of them once a year. Each time I read several passages I seem to learn something new. I am interested in prophecy and bible archeology.
There were other ministers who were briefly with whom I was briefly acquainted. As I noted before, some of the officers of the Eastern District Conference stayed with us when they visited the church. Names such as Nienschwander, Krehbiel, Unruh and Schwartz come to mind as I think over it. Their visits were simply to see how the church was operating.
Dollie and I have attended services at the Smith Corner Mennonite Church for short periods at a time during the past ten or so years, becoming friends with Pastor Terry Holmes, and later with Pastor Roy Keifer. I made a trip to attend the Eastern District Conference with Pastor Holmes. Dollie and I took Pastor Holmes and his wife Connie and their two children twice to Lancaster on our wedding anniversaries. I forget which, but their anniversary was either a day before ours or a day after. Pastor Keifer was very faithful in visiting me in the hospital and at home after my heart surgery.
So much for our experiences with the ministers of the Smith Corner Mennonite Church. Our other church life was with the Altoona Bible Church and Pastor Henry F. Kulp. Pastor Kulp was one of the finest ministers around and one who probably knew the Greek and Egyptian texts better than any other minister in Altoona or Blair County.
There was one preacher who was briefly a part of my life, but not connected to either the Smith Corner Mennonite Church or the Altoona Bible Church. When I was about ten or twelve years old, Archie Hoskins came to hold miniature tent meetings on Gertie Detterline’s farm. He did not have a tent, but simply used planks or other boards for his audience to sit on. There were not too many people that came to the meetings, but that did not dampen his fervor. I might add that he was retired from the Church of the Brethren, and traveling to preach in so-called "tent meetings" was his only means of support. He would pass out the hymnbooks and ask someone to lead the singing. I remember that it was my granddad Bowser who was chosen to lead the singing. Pastor Hoskins also held meetings in one of Jake Feathers’ fields. On one occasion, while my parents went to Washington DC, my Bowser grandparents were to keep me. Granddad Bowser invited Archie to stay with us. This was quite an experience I might add.
Archie decided to set up a meeting place, as I said before, in Jake Feathers’ field. During that particular meeting, several Catholic people attended. Archie also had Danny Musselman and his wife, Jennie, helping him. Jennie played the guitar and Danny the violin, and Brother Aaron, as he called my granddad, led the singing. Everyone sang loud, even the Catholics. I was usually delegated to take up the offering. Offerings were not usually very large. Somehow Archie got the idea that we should become evangelists. How the five of us were to go from place to place and live on the offerings collected was indeed a problem. He did have grandiose ideas. After my parents came back from Washington and Archie had nowhere to stay, his plans changed and he moved on.