Book is ‘old school’….literally
By: ROCHELLE A. SHENK Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
Teaching, sharing stories and family are three key elements of Mary Becker’s life.
The Akron resident and retired Warwick school teacher published a book in the spring about her parents, entitled "Michael and Jennie Wenger: Pictorial Genealogy."The 200-page book is filled with photos and stories of ancestors, descendants, former school students of Michael’s, schools and church buildings. There’s even a photo of the town in Switzerland where the Wenger family traces its roots.
Michael was a teacher for 50 years–half of that time he taught in one-room schools, and the latter half he taught at Christian schools, including Ephrata Mennonite School and Gehman’s Mennonite School. He was also a minister.
"A lot of people remember him, and he touched a lot of lives. I thought my parents had stories that should be told. I began collecting stories about my parents, and then people in the family asked me to include a genealogy," Becker explained. (This year also marks the 90th anniversary of his graduation from Millersville Normal School, now Millersville University.) She also said that writing this book and collecting the photos was a way for her to become familiar with her new computer.
There’s also a section on the Lauver (also spelled Lauber) Hill School, a now defunct one-room school in Akron. Wenger not only taught there, but Becker and some of her 11 siblings also visited the school during his years there. Becker said that she and her siblings grew up on a farm outside of Rothsville and would visit their father’s school during in-service days at their school.
She said that many of the stories illustrate life in the area during the 1900s. Michael was born in 1903, went to school at Farmersville Elementary, and later attended what was then West Earl High School (she said that the building now is part of Brownstown Elementary School). Becker said he walked two-and-a-half miles to attend the school, which had what she described as an accelerated program, allowing him to complete high school in three years. He then attended Millersville.
"In those days a lot of people didn’t go to high school, let alone complete it and go on to complete college. School was a big part of my father’s life, and he walked from Farmersville to Brownstown, where he got the trolley that took him to Millersville — he would get the trolley Monday morning, stay in the dorm at Millersville and then take the trolley to Brownstown on Friday afternoon," she said.
After two years, he had a teaching degree, and began teaching in 1922 at age 19. Becker said that her father was the first member of the Groffdale Mennonite Brick Church to graduate from college, and when he began teaching at Fairmount School near Farmersville, he was known as "the boy teacher" because he was so young.
"Teaching was my father’s life. He enjoyed teaching secular subjects and teaching the Bible, so becoming a minister was a natural fit," Becker said. He became a Mennonite minister on July 1, 1943. He was the first minister at Carpenter Mennonite Church near Talmage, and continued in that post for nearly four decades. He also served as founding co-pastor of Millport Mennonite Church.
"Both my mother’s family and my father’s family were story tellers. My dad also liked to tell stories He said that stories are the window that leaves the light in," Becker said.
Becker not only became a teacher herself, but her first job as a teacher was at Ephrata Mennonite, where her father was also the principal.
"It was interesting to be at the same school with my father; it gave me a different perspective when I worked with him," she said.
Since publishing the book, Becker has spoken at a number of family reunions and welcomes the opportunity to speak with people about the book.
Books are available at the Clay Bookstore, 2450 W. Main St., Ephrata; the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, 2215 Millstream Rd., Lancaster; and the Muddy Creek Farm Library, 296 Wheat Ridge Dr., Ephrata. For further information, contact Becker at 859-3397. More BECKER, page A6