California Mennonite Historical Society disbands

After 59 years, organization holds final meeting in April

Photo: Getty Images

The California Mennonite Historical Society has disbanded after 59 years. Members acted on the recommendation presented April 20 at a lunch and lecture held at Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, California.

The society’s assets were distributed to the Fresno Pacific University senior professionals group and the MB Historical Library and Archives housed at FPU. CMHS and FPU enjoyed a mutually supportive relationship, says Bruce Leichty, society vice president, in an email to the Christian Leader.
CMHS has been functioning since 1965, according to the event flyer prepared and distributed by Kevin Enns-Rempel, director of FPU’s Hiebert Library.

In recent years many of the founders and visionaries have died, says Leichty. Leichty has convened the board since the death in 2021 of Richard Unruh, the most recent CMHS president and FPU political science professor. In the 10 years prior, the society lost prominent board members Peter Klassen, social sciences dean and history professor at California State University, Fresno, as well as Paul Toews, FPU history professor, and Jane Z. Friesen, Fresno, who played a large role in creating the genealogical data base now known as GRANDMA.

GRANDMA will continue to function under a committee that began as an adjunct of CMHS and now has a separate existence, says Alan Peters, who moderated the final meeting and who will continue to be associated with the GRANDMA committee and database.

CMHS was inter-Mennonite in its membership as was the pool of speakers it brought to Fresno on an annual basis. That changed when the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to cancel the Spring 2020 meeting. The 2024 meeting was the first meeting since that time, Leichty says.

The speaker for the 2024 meeting was Devin Manzullo-Thomas, Grantham, Pennsylvania. Manzullo-Thomas spoke on, “Preserving Sacred Pasts: A Brief History of Christian Historical Societies in the United States.”

Speakers in the decade preceding the pandemic included Bill Rempel, Los Angeles; John Roth, Goshen College; Don Enns and Xavier Pina, California; Raylene Penner, Bethel College; and Andrej Savin, Russia.

For many years, the society sponsored a popular tour of points of Mennonite ancestral interest in Poland under the leadership of Alan Peters and was the beneficiary of many ground-breaking trips made by Paul Toews when archival collections began opening up in the former Soviet Union. Peter Klassen launched the Mennonite-Polish Friendship Association in 1991, now operated as the Mennonite-Polish Studies at Bethel College, with CMHS support.

In addition to Peters, Leichty and Enns-Rempel (ex officio), society board members who attended the final meeting were Ron Froese, Rod Janzen, Valerie Rempel and Steve Schmidt.


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