Menno Pause Revisited

(Goshen, IN., 1995)

In this memoir, derived from personal experience,Hess gives a personal—yet restrained and reportorial—account of a crisis at Goshen College that has become legendary among students.

I was walking in the Rec-Fitness Center late one afternoon, as was a habit of mine. The elevated track circled the basketball court below and the handball courts on the second floor. Sometimes I walked with others, but usually preferred solitude. On the track with me on this day was just one other person, Paul Mininger, former president of Goshen College. He was in his 80s, and rather heavy, so he walked slowly. I passed him and gave a greeting. Then I noticed that he sat down in the northwest corner. When I walked past I saw his bowed head and wondered if he might not be feeling well. As I came around the second time, he motioned for me to stop.

He began to talk, and in his usual manner, quite slowly. I had no recorder with me, but this is the essence of what he said: "Now that I am old and have grandchildren and experience their issues and struggles, I am drawn to reflect again on the Menno Pause episode."

What he was referring to is its own story, situated nearly 20 years earlier, which I will now tell, even in the middle of President Mininger's quiet monologue with me:

On a Friday morning that should have been the beginning of a quiet autumn weekend in Goshen, I opened the door to my office to find a mimeographed paper entitled Menno Pause. In the right ear was a paul mininger (sic) quote "...AND WE ALL NEED A SENSE OF HUMOR." In the lower left side was an editors' statement:

Recognizing the need for a spontaneous voice for student opposition and reaction to the Goshen College "establishment", a group of students have formed an "underground" paper. The Menno-Pause is a gadfly (poking and prodding the GC sacred cows), a watchdog (checking and analyzing disciplinary action), a critic (positive or negative analysis of GC education), an extended student opinion board—and general all-around crap.

It was signed by the "campus underground newspaper team" of James Wenger, Sam Steiner, Lowell Miller and Tom Harley.

I quickly browsed the paper. On page two was an opinion piece—the reason for the drop in the male enrollment includes "a lucrative job market created by the draft, a confused draft, and a compliance with the draft…."

A carelessly drawn graph with a sharply descending line was entitled "The decline and fall of the covering (the Mennonite prayer veil)."

On page three a writer scoffed at a housing policy that "farsightedly extends to both the girl from a sheltered Mennonite community who is being exposed to the world for the first time and to the returnee from abroad who in a GC-sanctioned program has spent two undoubtedly sin-filled years living in an apartment by herself."

Menno Pause sponsored an election for Homecoming King and Queen.

The editors reported to have deleted the following, less than acceptable words from the articles: goodness gracious, golly-gee, heck, shucks, asinine, fink, raunchy, LBJ and fuck (37 times).

I learned that it had been distributed in the dining hall at breakfast.

Of course I was tickled that my students had a sense of humor and enough energy to put together a funny sheet. I wasn't the only faculty member who liked it. One of my colleagues, an economist, planted his tongue firmly in cheek and wrote a harshly critical note about the axes in the graph about coverings.

What I didn't know until Monday morning was that a number of students, as well as "the establishment," didn't find the publication funny. They were not only offended, but angry to the point of calling for sanctions of some kind. Hearing of this counter revolt, I called the four editors together. All four were excellent students (far better than their unedited prose indicated) and could turn out top-quality work consistently. Two had published their Expository Writing essays. All were good thinkers and friends. We agreed that the opposition was stronger than expected and could prove to be dangerous for their wellbeing, and I suggested that they bring out a second issue that clarified their function of providing innocent fun.

Very bad advice.

Out came a second issue. This time the ear on the front page quoted martin luther (sic): "A CHRISTIAN SHOULD AND COULD BE GAY, BUT THEN THE DEVIL SHITS ON HIM." And in the place where the first editorial statement had been, the guys reprinted a poem from Eberhard Kronhausen, Pornography and the Law, p 158.

Oh perish the use of the four-letter word
Whose meanings are never obscure;
The Angels (sic) and Saxons, those bawdy old birds,
Were vulgar, obscene and impure.
But cherish the use of the weaseling phrase
That never says quite what you mean.
You had better be known for your hypocrite ways,
Than vulgar, impure, and obscene.

This time three editors and a fourth partner invited fellow students to join the Students for a Democratic Society. My name got into the publication. In a sympathetic feature about Mary Oyer, a writer said, "Last year she asked Prof. Dan Hess to sit in one of his classes for a discussion on McLuhan. (If you don't know him, you're hopeless. Go to the bookstore.) Who ever heard of a prof doing that?"

Another item: For sale or trade—King James Version of God's word, includes all 66 books. Has leather cover attached. Prefer trade for back issues of Playboy."

The second issue included some letters. A prof wrote, "I think the thing that shook me most was not the rather sickly effort to be pornographic, but the obvious effort to be smart alecky and bigoted and the intent to hurt."

About one day after the second issue hit campus, I was called to the president's office. There the top leadership of Goshen College sat in silence while I was shown a seat. The president presided by giving his summary of the campus upheaval that included profound concern of the board, the faculty and many students. He asked whether I had promoted the publication. I said no, but I was ready to give my assessment of its place in the current national student mood. He invited me to do so. The notes of my speech are gone, but I know I must have talked for eight to ten minutes. When I was finished, the president reached for his desk drawer, pulled out a Berkeley Barb, opened to a page of personals, ran his finger to one particular item and had me read it—a solicitation for a male partner from our own Jim Wenger.

For most Mennonites at that time, homosexuality was an activity from Sodom. For the men in the room, there was no longer a question about the moral intentions of the Menno Pause staff. I was not prepared to respond. The meeting was over.

Things happened very quickly. I received a phone call from President Mininger at home early on Thursday morning, stating that he would be announcing action against the editors at the afternoon faculty meeting and he expected me to support the action. I was thrown into turmoil. I couldn't support severe action against the four editors. On the other hand, if I didn't support the president, would I lose my job?

Shortly after noon, a friend's medical emergency claimed my attention; I stayed with this person for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile at faculty meeting, the president informed the faculty that he would be telling the student body the next morning of the expulsion of the four editors. He called for a unanimous vote of support from the faculty. (Most faculty supported him, a number of faculty abstained from voting.) It was observed that Dan Hess was not present.

When the president announced the expulsion in chapel, many students gave a wild cheer. That minority of students who had supported the publication sat as stunned outsiders to the shared support of the president.

I had final words with the guys. Jim Wenger asked me to tell his mother. And when they left in four directions, some of us were bereaved.

On Sunday afternoon a special faculty meeting was called because numerous members wanted to state their true feelings about the publication, about the Thursday faculty meeting, and about campus process in general. There I explained my absence from the faculty meeting.

On Monday, President Mininger called me to his office and invited me to express myself. I am not exaggerating: I issued a harangue; I told him in terrible language what I thought of him and Goshen College. Never in my life have I exploded as I did in his office. How long did I yell? Thirty minutes or more.

He sat there quietly. When the spring was finally unwound and I became quiet, he gently said, "Dan, is there anything more?"

I learned later that President Mininger defended me when several board members suggested that I be terminated. And when Paul and Mary visited us in Costa Rica, we came to be friends. For the next 20 years he and I never talked about the event.

And now, in 1995, he needed to talk.

He said, there by the walking track, that he wondered what happened to the four boys, whether they had recovered from their expulsion and humiliation. He implied that he wished he could have the chance to do this one over.

I told him what I knew of the four, indicating that in my opinion only one was estranged and wounded—Jim Wenger, the lad who had posted the personal ad.

"What might I do, Dan, on Jim's behalf?" he asked me. I thought he was about to cry. I suggested that he pay a visit to Jim and his partner in Chicago. He asked for contact information; I offered to inquire of Jim whether he would welcome a visit; and we parted.

Indeed, President Mininger went to Jim's house. I don't know the details but I am forever grateful that the visit was made. Shortly thereafter, both Jim and President Mininger died.

About the Author

J. Daniel Hess

J. Daniel Hess is now retired from a career of college teaching (Goshen College), consulting (organizational communication) and writing. Among his books are From the Other’s Point of View (Herald Press, 1980), An Invitation to Criticism (Pinchpenny Press, 1984), and Studying Abroad, Learning Abroad (Intercultural Press, 1997). In 2007 he published Surely Goodness and Mercy, a memoir consisting of 70 personal vignettes, one for each year of his life. Recently he has consulted informally with several people as they write memoirs. Dan is a member of “Bagels and Bards,” a small but active writers’ group in Indianapolis, featured in the January 15, 2011 issue of CMW Journal. His blog appears at jdanielhess.com/blog.