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A Moment in Time: Origins of Greencroft

Above: Mary Hooley, Eighth Street member and Elkhart County social worker involved in early stages of planning the church’s service to older adults.

“What are the needs of older people that the church can best serve?”

That was the subject of a Sunday evening discussion at Eighth Street Mennonite in the fall of 1957. Pastor Robert W. Hartzler interviewed a panel that included Mary Hooley, recently retired from Elkhart County Welfare Department; Frank S. Ebersole, Goshen businessman and former mayor; and Elsie Sutter, who had been a nursing home administrator in Eureka, Illinois; and then Hartzler led the congregation in a discussion of where Christ might be leading the church with regard to issues facing the elderly. At the time, before the advent of Medicare and Medicaid, older adults were the segment of the U.S. population most likely to be living in poverty.

The conversation continued across the next two years and in 1960 the church board appointed Hooley, Ebersole, and Mahlon Hartzler to begin looking seriously as what a community ministry to seniors might involve. Better housing and access to consistent medical care quickly became the focus of dreaming and planning, and generated the formation of an eight-person task force deemed the Informal Committee for Housing for the Aged.  

This group considered buying and renovating or replacing houses on Eighth Street south of the church building in order to create 25 residential units. As the scope of the project grew, planners identified land south of College Avenue for the construction of a retirement community that would combine privately- and publicly-funded housing on the same site. Eighth Street member Donita (Hartzler) Brookmyer, by then a member of board, recommended the name “Greencroft.”

When Greencroft opened in October 1967, seven Eighth Street members were among the resident: Agnes Burkhard, Lydia Burkhard, Libbie Friesner, Ruth Gerig, Belle Koerner, Sadie Morrell, and Anna Yoder.  Robert Hartzler, who had been pastor at Eighth Street during much of the planning for what became Greencroft, served as the facility’s first administrator, 1966-1981.

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Although the vision and early planning for Greencroft came from Eighth Street, by late 1962 the circle of those involved had widened to include representatives from several other Mennonite churches (esp. College Mennonite) and the Health and Welfare Committee of Mennonite Board of Missions, headquartered in Elkhart. Nonetheless, Eighth Street members played a disproportionate role in the early development of Greencroft. The 1960-1961 Informal Committee for Housing had been comprised of Eighth Streeters Robert Hartzler, Ed Brookmyer, John Jennings, Kenneth Plank, Frank Ebersole, A. E. Kreider, Menno Landis, and Marion Yoder. When a formal board of directors organized in 1962, four of its ten member were from Eighth Street: John Jennings, owner of Whitehead-Jennings Insurance; A. E. Kreider, retired pastor and seminary professor; Arthur Weaver, manager at Whitehall Pharmaceuticals; and Dr. Peter Classen. Donita Brookmyer joined the board in 1963 when it expanded to twelve members. Jennings chaired Greencroft’s board from 1962 to 1978. Eighth Street members who subsequently served on the board have included Lynette Bachman, John Liechty, and Laurie Neumann Nafziger. The Greencroft Foundation board has included Paul Goering and John Jennings. In 2013 Cathy Beery Berg is Director of Resident Services, Kathy Smoker is a social worker, Don Mishler is a member of the nursing staff, and Nina Mishler is in sales, all at Greencroft Goshen.  

Source: John Bender, Greencroft Roots, Since 1967 (1997); Rachel W. Kreider, The History of the Eighth Street Mennonite Church, 1913-1978 (1987).