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A Moment in Time: J. E. Hartzler

As he drove from Hartford, Connecticut to Goshen, Indiana in 1947, what did J. E. Hartzler think as he reflected on the twists and turns on his journey?

Hartlzer and his wife Mamie had lived in Goshen in the 1910s, and he had been president of Goshen College. Then, amid financial crisis and theological controversy, he had been removed from the post in 1918. It had been a very public parting.

Now, almost thirty years later, he was retiring and returning to a place that held a mix of old friends and painful memories. The intervening years in Kansas and Ohio had held both good times and more disappointments, as his preaching and teaching were appreciated but institutions to which he dedicated himself foundered financially. During the 1930s John and Mamie spent four years in Beirut, Lebanon, where John taught at the Near East School of Theology and the couple formed friendships with missionaries from many denominations and parts of the world and spent some time traveling in Europe.

Somewhere amid their travels the Hartzlers must encountered the idea of a church parlor – a room not just for meetings, but for conversation, reading, and contemplation – and they apparently brought the idea with them as they returned to Goshen. When the church building was expanded in 1957 it included a church parlor, furnished by J. E. Hartlzer in memory of Mamie. Perhaps the parlor also represented Hartzler’s genial return to Goshen, retirement years that “proved to be a time of quiet reflection, a renewal of relationships with Goshen College, and a fruitful relationship with the younger generation of leaders within the church.”

In 2010 the parlor became the church office, although the original parlor plaque remains on the northwest corner of the room. For many members today, the courtyard garden continues the spirit and purpose of Hartzler’s parlor.

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John E. Hartzler was born in 1879 in Noble County, Indiana to an Amish Mennonite family who soon relocated to Missouri, where Hartzler grew up. He was ordained as an (Old) Mennonite minister in 1904 at Bethel Menonite Church in Cass County, Missouri. He married Mamie M. Yoder of Bellefontaine, Ohio, in 1910; she died in 1955. Their children were John Jr. and Helen.

Hartzler studied at Elkhart Institute, Moody Bible Institute, and McCormick Theological Seminary and earned degrees from Goshen College (B.A.), Union Theological Seminary in New York (B.D.), University of Chicago (M.A.), Hamilton College (LL.B.), and Hartford Theological Seminary (Ph.D.).

He was pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart (1910-1913), dean and the president of Goshen College (1911-1918), professor and president of Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas. (1918-1921), president of Witmarsum Seminary, Bluffton, Ohio (1921-1931), and professor at American University in Beirut and Near East School of Theology, 1931-1935, Bonebrake Seminary [United Brethren], Dayton, Ohio, 1935-1936; and Hartford Theological Seminary, 1936-1947. In 1940-1941 Hartzler had returned to Goshen to serve as Eighth Street’s acting pastor while pastor George Stoneback took a year of seminary study at Hartford.

Hartzler married Myra H. Weaver in 1957. In May 1963 the couple traveled to Pennsylvania for Myra to undergo a specialized surgery. As she recovered, John suddenly became ill and died in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His body was returned to Goshen and his funeral was at Eighth Street, led by retired pastor A. E. Kreider.

Source: Warkentin and Gingerich, comps., Who’s Who Among the Mennonites (1943); E. G. Kaufman, ed., General Conference Mennonite Pioneers (1973);Rachel W. Kreider, The History of the Eighth Street Mennonite Church, 1913-1978 (1987).