The visitor to
the Meade, Kansas, Mennonite community is likely to be impressed by four
or five pronounced characteristics.
the impression that the Mennonite settlement is very compact, spelling
group solidarity. Second, as the visitor becomes acquainted with the
people and their homes, he will note the characteristically large farm
families. A third impression is the unique pattern of dual farming. Not
only do practically all of the farmers raise cattle and grain, but it
seems as if every farmer has a side line in the form of a shop, small
factory, commercial service or part-time job in town. A fourth
noticeable characteristic is the dominance of the church in the
community. It is the focal point of all activity in the community. It is
literally and figuratively the source of the community’s strength, the
repository of its best ideas, the very fountain of its collective life.
Finally, the visitor is impressed with the way the community holds its
youth. The Mennonites have their own high school and thus control the
character of their secondary educational system in which their young
people are trained. Few Meade young people go to college. Most of them
find jobs locally or are provided with farms where they settle down in
homes of their own not far from their parents.
There is a
certain colonial frontier pattern of settlement reflected in the Meade
area. Families seem to be settled in kinship groups. As one drives
through the settlement under the guidance of such a well-informed and
promising young community leader as Henry Loewen he is told that in this
area live the Reimers, there the Loewens, beyond the Bartels, the
Friesens, the Rempels, the Wiens, the Edigers and others. This
settlement by families is due to the larger tracts of land which the
early settlers bought and then divided for their sons and sons-in-law.
There is still much of the atmosphere, flavor, and appearance of the
open prairies. Trees are found only around the homesteads and buildings.
Mennonite settlement is located ten to twenty miles south of Meade
running in an east-west direction. At the present time the settlement
expansion is in a northward and eastward direction. As one drives south
from the town of Meade, he can see both the Cimarron River and the hills
of northern Oklahoma. Here and there a number of the original settlers
are still living on the homes they acquired forty-five years ago.
oldest of the residents is Peter F. Rempel, one of the first two
Mennonite settlers, now seventy-six years of age. He is still on his
original farm and occupies himself by carving hundreds of birds and farm
animals and other toys out of wood. He claims one hundred twenty-five
direct descendants, most of them living in the Meade community.
time he came to Meade, all the land was in the form of vast ranches.
Only a few small ranch houses dotted the landscape at great intervals.
The ranchers had homesteaded, but were glad to sell to the Mennonites
who came to establish their families and settle down to growing wheat
and raising families. Rempel moved to Meade in September of 1906, along
with the Jacob B. Friesen family, both from Jansen, Nebraska. The
Mennonites introduced winter wheat into this part of Kansas, and later
also introduced motor power in farming. It is claimed that the Loewen
Brothers used the first wheat combine east of the Rocky Mountains. The
mammoth machine had a 30-foot cutting bar and was pulled by a steam
engine. Wheat is now the chief cash crop on all Mennonite farms in the
area with cattle second. In recent years oil and gas booms have come to
the southern half of Meade County where the Mennonites are located.
Almost all of their land is now leased for oil or gas.
else in the United States or Canada has the writer found so many shops
and industries located on farms as in the Meade, Kansas community.
Almost all of these enterprises are operated in addition to farming.
They provide a useful service to the community, steady employment to the
farmers and their growing sons, and provide supplemental cash income for
the families. To the casual observer it may appear as though the garage
or machine shop on the farm is used exclusively for the mechanical work
done on the individual farm; but upon investigation one finds complete
sets of machinery, and completely-equipped places of business equal to
the small shops found in towns and cities. If one is present during the
week, he discovers that they are well patronized by customers from near
One of the
earliest of the machine shops established was that of George J. Rempel
who lives four miles east and three south of Meade. He came to Meade in
1906 with his father. In 1924 he married Marie Friesen, daughter of
Abraham H. Friesen. In 1927 he moved on his present half-section of land
and began his general auto repair work a year later. He started in auto
mechanics by working in his father’s repair shop draining crank cases in
old model-T Fords and learning the trade of blacksmithing. As cars began
to appear and horses disappear, he shifted from blacksmithing to
mechanics. At the present time Rempel has a fine large concrete-block
structure, fully equipped to do all kinds of motor overhauling and
repairing on tractors and cars. He employs two boys in addition to
himself. Besides the work on the garage, the family farms three quarter
sections of land, most of it in wheat. The Rempels have a family of
thirteen children. Herman, 22, and John, 19, help their father; Willie,
21, is in voluntary service in California while Margaret, the oldest
daughter, spent some time in voluntary service at the MCC Brooklane
Farm, Maryland. Although not all families are as large as Rempels,
families of five to eight children are common throughout the Meade
community. The high birth rate of Mennonites in the Meade area is also
reflected in the large number of children in churches and Sunday school
on Sunday morning.
rural shops and small industries on farms are Dick Klassen’s and Alfred
Friesen’s repair shop; and Henry L. Friesen’s machine shop; Dick
Friesen’s auto repair shop; and the Friesen Brothers windmill company,
operated by Cornie and Henry. This company specializes in erecting the
Fairbury windmills and doing general household plumbing. The Friesens
with Pete Bartel are now engaged in drilling wells.
Isaac has a splendidly-equipped and well kept wood-working shop in which
he specializes more in cabinet work and general finishing. Peter J.
Rempel and sons, Henry and Edward, build houses and farm buildings;
Klass H. Reimer and his boys engage in the carpentering and building
business; Henry K. Friesen operates a fleet of gasoline and oil bulk
transports and hauls grain in season.
interesting establishment is the Classen Country Store which was started
in August, 1949. At first only books were sold, later a line of
groceries was added. Now the thriving little store also sells gas and
has a pick-up truck which is used to make deliveries to and for his
customers. The store is in the open country about a half mile from the
Meade Academy. People leave cream at the store and Dave Classen takes it
to town three times a week. The Classen Country Store thus becomes a
genuine farmers’ service center. The Singer Sewing Machine Company picks
up and delivers machines for repairing at stated intervals. The gross
business is about $2,000 a month, far beyond what the size of the space
would indicate. The store provides fresh fruits, frozen meats and
vegetables, and in the summer time becomes the watermelon center for the
community bringing in truckloads at a time. Following a dual industry as
all the other repair shop and contractors mentioned do, Dave Classen
farms in addition to carrying on his regular business.
interesting discoveries that the visitor makes is a village which might
be called the Loewen-Friesen village. In this quaint settlement live
H.F. Isaac, Henry L. Isaac, Isaac L. Friesen, Mrs. A. H. Friesen, one of
the first settlers, Mrs. John L. Friesen, Isaac W. Loewen and Dan C.
Loewen. All of these people are in the same family or kinship group. All
of them are primarily dependent on farming, but a number of them
specialize in some side line. Isaac L. Friesen operates a modern dairy
and furnishes grade “A” milk. He is being assisted by his nephews,
Lawrence and Leroy Friesen. Henry L. Isaac has a newly-equipped cabinet
shop with a full line of machinery and is reputed to be a highly skilled
craftsman. He started in 1932 by filing saws; gradually he got into wood
working. That he is mechanically inclined is demonstrated by the
ingenious toy ferris wheel which he made of scrap parts and operates
with a clock spring. He made his own jigsaw out of a sewing machine, a
model-A Ford water pump and some model-T Ford parts.
Loewen, another member of this village and the father of eight children,
operates a farm on a rather large scale. He too, manifests a mechanical
genius. Twelve years ago he bought an old 1926 model, 15-foot Case
combine for $42.50. The owner thought of it as good only for junk.
Loewen repaired the combine and has used it ever since. He installed an
automatic oiler and greaser with parts from an old Hart Parr tractor. He
put on two old B-29 airplane tires and an electric lift that can be
controlled by the tractor driver by merely pressing a button. His entire
combine can be greased automatically by means of tubing from a central
location. Isaac Loewen generally has about ninety head of cattle, around
700 acres in pasture and 420 in cultivation. He has an automatic lift
for his silage so that he need not climb into the silo and throw it out
by hand. Other farmers may operate on a larger or smaller scale but
Loewen’s farm program is somewhat typical for his area.
present time there is the Emmanuel Mennonite Church and an Evangelical
Mennonite Brethren Church. The attendance at services, whether morning,
afternoon or evening, is good. Christianity for these people is
important and taken seriously. The register board in the Emmanuel church
indicates also a high per capita Sunday school giving. On Sunday, March
18, there were 265 present with an offering of $65.16 or about
twenty-five cents per person as the average contribution. On the
following Sunday the attendance was 261 and the offering $84.50 for an
average of about thirty-two cents. This compares favorably with the six
to ten cents as the average per capita giving in most Mennonite Sunday
seriousness with which the Meade Mennonites take the matter of Christian
faith and training of their youth is found manifested in the
establishment and maintenance of the Meade Bible Academy whose principal
at the present time is F.B. Klaassen. Four teachers are employed—Anna
Regier, Andrew Classen, and Henry and Eldora Wiebe. In the Academy all
four years of high school training are provided. In addition, a
specialized course in Bible and Sunday school teacher training is
conducted in the evening. This course is open to all adults as well as
students of high school age. Of interest is a random selection of
statements from the Meade Academy student’s creed. Here are several
“I will not allow myself to become angry.
“I will not worry. If a thing can be helped, I will help it. If not,
I will make the best of it.
“I will plan for at least a half-hour of quiet, for reflection, for
prayers, for real communion with Christ.
“I will do somebody a good turn that is not expecting it of me.
“If any person does me wrong, I will not bear him a grudge. I will
try to forget it.
“I will be more honest, square and prompt than business requires,
more kind than charity requires, more loyal than friendship
requires, more thoughtful than love requires.”
have we an interesting insight as to the ideals of the Meade Academy; we
have an argument for parochial education which can provide moral
training and ethical ideals as well as the acquisition of mental
Christian communities go, the Meade area seems destined to a bright
future because the people put the church and her Lord very much at the
center of their living and thinking. There are, however, evidences of
change present which promise to make themselves felt in the future.
There is pressure for expansion and the large families require
additional land for the establishment of the newly-married young people.
In 1939 seven or eight families moved to De Ridder, Louisiana where they
settled on cut-over timber land. The price was low and it was felt that
a new community might be established. By 1941 all of the families had
returned, concluding that Louisiana was not the place for them. Early in
1924, five or six Meade families moved to Mexico where most of them
remained and eventually assimilated with the Old Colony Mennonites.