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A Moment in Time: Gratitude for Two Years in the West

The seasons were changing. You could feel it in the air as summer gave way to autumn. For Russell and Anna Hartzler, this change of season also signaled that it was time to return to their home community in Northern Indiana after being away for more than two years.

And what years they had been! The day after Anna Bohn and Russell Hartzler had married in 1922, they were on a train to Yellow Stone National Park. Yet this trip was no ordinary honeymoon. They has applied and been hired as seasonal park staff. Anna worked in the dining room at Old Faithful Inn and Russell worked in maintenance and other tasks around the park. When the summer camping season ended, they took a train to Washington state and joined a fruit-picking crew, picking 5500 boxes of apples over the course of a month, and then headed to Los Angeles where they found an apartment and settled into jobs as a restaurant waitress and cabinet builder.

They repeated the pattern, for the most part, the next year – working at Yellow Stone during the summer of 1923 and spending the next eight months in Los Angeles and then returning again to Yellow Stone for the summer of 1924.

Throughout their time in the West, Russell and Anna kept in contact with family back East through letters. It seems that the home folks wondered if their adult children planned to return. At one point Russell wrote, “Don’t know if Indiana with all its charm can hold us and make us satisfied or not when we get back. There’s a call to come back West … that you people don’t know anything about and can’t until you come out here and know it too.”

For Russell and Anna these were two years of new opportunities and experiences: of working with different people, practicing generosity in situations where they had little money themselves, tinkering with radio and electronics as a hobby, sizing up future career possibilities, and learning to love pipe organ music while attending the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles. These were things they would carry with them for the rest of their lives and bring to their many involvements at Eighth Street Mennonite Church in the decades that followed.

But in early October 1924, as the couple arrived back in Northern Indiana, all that was still ahead of them. What they knew just then, was that they had had two years for which they were deeply grateful.

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Russell S. Hartzler (1897-1977) and Anna Bohn (1897-1990) married on June 4, 1922, at the Maple Grove Mennonite meetinghouse, near Topeka, Indiana. The capsule story, above, omits many details, including Russell’s job changes in L.A., their affiliation with the Mennonite mission in L.A., Anna’s sisters joining them to work in 1923 and following, their purchase of a car and camping across the U.S. on their return to Indiana in 1924, and many other things. After returning to Goshen, Russell opened Hartzler Electric and managed the firm for many years. He was Sunday school superintendent or Chair of the Church Board for multiple terms of office, and contributed the electrical work for the 1956-1957 addition to the church building. He was an early investor in International Radio and Electronics Corporation (later Crown International/Crown Audio) in Elkhart, and he made audio recordings of worship services and special programs at Eighth Street as early as 1952 (if not earlier) that are now archived at Bluffton University.

Source: Evelyn Hartzler Bushong, “Russell and Anna Hartzler’s Years in the Western USA, 1922-1924,” 8-page story, plus 11 pages of excerpts from letters.